by T.K. Stewart

After nearly two years away from the sport of boxing, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is preparing to make a triumphant return to the arena that has made him famous and wealthy beyond anything he could have once imagined.

For his last three bouts, Mayweather has earned an astronomical $60 million. But it was not that long ago that “Money” as he is now known, shared a bedroom with half-a- dozen of his siblings and lived in a house in a tough neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Mich. A house that often times went for days without electrical service.

These days, most know Mayweather for his brash manner, his boastful ways and over-the-top personality. It is a public persona that easily overshadows the increasingly private, father of four who retired from the sport in 2007. Over the past few years he has managed to become one of the most wealthy athletes in the world. He has helped promote the biggest names in the world of hip-hop music (Lil Wayne, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige) possesses a fleet of luxury automobiles and now resides behind the tall gates of a $10 million mansion that he recently had built in Las Vegas.

But there's another side to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. - and it's a side that those who know him best - wish the world would get to know, too.

There is probably no one that knows the 32-year-old Mayweather better than his most trusted confidant, Leonard Ellerbe. It is Ellerbe that serves as Mayweather's right-hand man, the CEO of Mayweather's burgeoning business empire and the man that, in Ellerbe's words, “takes care of business outside the ring, so that Floyd can take care of business inside it.”

Ellerbe has known Mayweather for a long time, since back in the days when Floyd's uncle, Roger, trained Ellerbe on the finer points of the sweet science. He was introduced to Floyd before there was any “Money” and before the young virtuoso went on to win boxing championships in five weight divisions, blaze to an undefeated record of 39-0, 25 KOs and become universally regarded as the top pound-for-pound boxer on the planet.

So Ellerbe, who is very passionate about all things Mayweather, sometimes becomes disturbed when he reads and hears things about his friend that don't tell the rest of the story.

“He never gets the credit for his philanthropy , he never gets the credit for that,” Ellerbe said via phone from Las Vegas this week. “There's a perception out there, with him promoting his events, which is just him basically doing his job, and the media gets it mixed-up with who he is as a person. It's a totally false perception that's out there.”

Ellerbe says that, “Floyd has such a big heart” and he wishes more people could see past the wads of rolled up one-hundred dollar bills that stuff Floyd's pockets like the packs on a mule's back. That way they could see the difference between Floyd the public entertainer - and Floyd the private person.

“My challenge has been to change the perception of him from just this mad man, running wild, throwing money up into the air,” explains Ellerbe. “People need to understand that's just a form of entertainment and that's just him doing his job.”

Ellerebe attempts to drive home the point that the Mayweather most people don't know about, is the man that gives to those that are now in a place where he once was. It's a side of the boxer that few see, few know and that most don't care to learn more about. The side that is glitzy and outlandish and entertaining is the man the public have seen on stints with 'Dancing with the Stars' or on World Wrestling Entertainment. It's the man they have watched on the HBO 24/7 series and the man they have seen throwing money into the air like confetti at a wedding.

But Ellerbe says what he sees everyday is the compassion that Mayweather has for those that are less fortunate or those that are going through a rough time in their lives. It's the Mayweather that has serious thoughts of one-day opening a homeless shelter in Las Vegas and the Mayweather that thinks about the people who live just miles away from him that don't get enough to eat.

“That’s just one example of what a tremendous heart that he has,” says Ellerbe. “When people see him on 24/7, that's just entertainment, that’s not the Floyd Mayweather that I know. He’s a great father, he’s a great humanitarian. God has truly blessed him and Floyd understands what that's all about. He knows that he's been put in a great position, with great responsibility, to be able to help other people.”

Last year, Mayweather donated over a quarter million dollars of his own money in order to prevent the National Golden Gloves amateur boxing championships held in Grand Rapids from being canceled altogether.

“At the Golden Gloves, over 300 kids were able to participate and pursue their dreams of becoming a pro boxer – of going to the next level,” Ellerbe points out. “Floyd's reason for doing that is because he came through that same type of program. He’s a five-time national amateur champ and he understands those are the steps needed to become a pro. He used all of his own money and the kids really had a wonderful time. It was great event put on in his hometown.”

Last Friday in Las Vegas, a kindler, gentler Mayweather took time from training for his Sept. 19th fight against Juan Manuel Marquez to speak with a group of teenagers from the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth at their safe place drop-in center. A calm Mayweather was received by the teens with a great deal of excitement. For them, it was a once in a lifetime chance to meet a genuine world champ and celebrity and a chance to hear from Mayweather that life can be what they make of it.

The teens, who attend the NPHY life skills program once a week, were touched by Mayweather's message and were able to relate to the champ's own struggles in life.

“Today was one of the most inspirational days of my life,” said Breanna Watkins, age 18. “It's not easy to keep your head up and push through the storm, but after today, I realize that no matter how much you struggle, it's possible to make it out on top. I really appreciate that Floyd Mayweather and his team took the time out of their schedules to give us words of encouragement.”

Mayweather employs 23 people in Las Vegas, and a couple of more in other cities. Ellerbe notes that his staff consists of people that are not just African Americans, but people of all colors, creed and ethnic origin. Together they work to increase global recognition of what Ellerbe calls the “Mayweather brand” and they also help Floyd bring his humanitarian ideas to life.

“His vision is he wants to give back in any way that he can to his community,” Ellerbe explains. “So we take it from there and I take it upon myself to do these things and make them happen. We are using boxing as a platform to do things that no boxer, except Oscar De La Hoya, has ever done before. Over a period of time we have worked not only in Grand Rapids to fund sports and youth programs, but we have a number of charity events. We have our annual Thanksgiving food giveaways, we have toy drives at Christmas. These are the kinds of things you don’t hear the press write about.”

Certainly in the past couple of years, the image of Mayweather has begun to change. While there are still times that he can appear to be surly, most notably in recent interviews with Brian Kenny of ESPN, there have been more frequent occasions when he is the picture of gentlemanly manners.

“Floyd has developed a persona and people get the two confused,” explains Ellerbe. “He's the biggest star in all of boxing, but that’s his job. On the other hand, he has a tremendous heart and he's given a number people a number of opportunities over the past thirteen years. There are people in his inner circle, people that have had some things happen in the past that wouldn’t allow them the chance to work in corporate America. But Floyd is the type of guy that will give people like that an opportunity. He’s given people opportunities that have really messed up their lives in their past. In any other situation, they can't even get a job, but he exposes them to a livelihood that many people never in their lifetime would ever have a chance to be part of. I mean, with him, they get to make a good income and they get to travel all over the world.”

In a world driven by the 24-hour news cycle, a world where sensationalism rules the day, the lines between perception and reality and news and entertainment have become horribly blurred. Ellerbe's mission then, to separate Mayweather the entertainer - from Mayweather the person - would seem like an impossible task. He knows a Floyd Mayweather that few do and it perplexes him to no end that the rest of us can't see what he does.

“His heart is just so big and Floyd never, ever gets the credit for the kinds of things he does,” Ellerbe says. “The mainstream press just wants to talk about the flash and the flamboyance and not how he’s made a difference in so many kids' lives. They don't see a guy who has worked hard his whole life. They don't see a kid who dropped out of high school to pursue his dream to take his family out of poverty and then turned around and has helped so many kids in so many communities.”

And then as Leonard Ellerbe spoke, he seemed to come to the realization that all the work he is doing down here, the work to change the perception of his best friend, might just be paying off after all. For even if he is able to convince every person that doubts Mayweather's good intentions, there is one that doesn't need to be convinced.

“God understands where Floyd's heart is,” Ellerbe says. “And that's why he continually blesses him.”