BOXING’S cavernous graveyard claimed another prisoner when Hector “Macho” Camacho died in hospital on November 24, 2012 in his native Puerto Rico. The 50-year-old, a former three-weight ‘world’ champion, was shot in the face while sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car that contained 10 bags of cocaine. His mother opted to turn off the life-support machine after he was declared brain dead.
“It’s so sad what has happened because he had started to grow up a little bit,” his long-time friend and former WBC featherweight champion, Juan LaPorte, told Boxing News. “He was special. Everybody likes to point out the things that went wrong but he was a good man. He would throw money to bums in the street, he didn’t care if it was 10 dollars or 100. He still had that boy in him but that’s who he was. It’s tragic. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Three years after being born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico in 1962, young Hector and his elder sister were taken by their mother to New York’s Spanish Harlem. He began boxing at the age of 11, met trainer Billy Giles in the ‘La Sombra’ gym on 108th street at 14 (where he also met LaPorte), and only another two years passed before he claimed the first of his three New York Golden Gloves titles. In between, Camacho had time to father a child (future contender Hector Jnr), steal cars (only expensive ones, he would claim), and was sentenced to three-and-a-half months at Rikers Island, an institution for young offenders.
After compiling an amateur record of 96-4, Camacho turned professional in 1980 and soon became a favourite with the Hispanic fans. He knew how to entertain and he knew how to fight; the TV networks were soon interested in the cheeky playboy.
He had quick hands, but his mean streak was clear – often he would spin opponents round so he could hit them from behind, he would drag opponents down with his right arm and clock them with his southpaw left.
“I can get rough if I want to,” he told Boxing News back then. “I’ve still got some of the streetfighter in me and sometimes I take it into the ring. If you’re dirty, I got something for you.”
But beyond all that was exceptional skill, and outrageous flamboyance. By 1983 he had claimed his first world title – the WBC super-featherweight strap – when he halted Rafael ‘Bazooka’ Limon. At that time, despite his $150,000 purse, he insisted on living in the same rundown 10-storey building with his family. There were already rumours of cocaine use, a bad habit he could never kick, and he insisted on staying close to friends he made as a troublesome teenager.
“It’s ghetto here,” he said of his hometown. “The people here are decent. Decent, but not always honest. I’m only a ghetto kid. What else do you expect?”
After adding the WBC lightweight crown when he dominated Mexico’s Jose Luis Ramirez two years later, he was widely regarded among the best fighters on the planet, pound-for-pound. His ring apparel became as famous as his fighting prowess; leopard skin trunks, sparkly trunks, trunks that consisted of barely anything at all.
But in 1986 he was hurt badly in a defence against Edwin Rosario and he hung on to claim a controversial decision. Something changed from then – his style became safety-first and his reputation dipped. He went onto to claim the vacant WBO light-welterweight strap when he outpointed Ray Mancini in 1989, but he lost his title, and his unbeaten record to Greg Haugen two years later. He refused to touch gloves before the final round of that Las Vegas showdown, for which he lost a point that cost him a draw.
Despite fighting on for another 19 years, Camacho’s best days had gone. He did get revenge over Haugen in a rematch but would lose punishing decisions to Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad in bouts that proved Hector’s immense courage and durability.
He went on to beat an ageing Roberto Duran in 1996 (Camacho topped him again in 2001), and a year later dominated another faded force, Sugar Ray Leonard. It would be his final big-time triumph and it earned him a shot at welterweight king, Oscar De La Hoya.
“The Golden Boy” promised to become the first man to stop him, and Camacho insisted he would cut his famous kiss curl off if the pledge came true. It didn’t, but Hector was widely beaten.
As his career wound down, his out-of-the-ring behaviour got worse. He last fought in 2010, a loss to Saul Duran, and was talking about yet another comeback for 2013.
“He made mistakes but he was a good man,” said LaPorte. “He brought all the flashiness to boxing that you see in the ring today. He was one of a kind.”