This is part of The Shadow League’s Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus series celebrating Latino excellence in sports and culture.
Boxing great Hector Camacho rose out of a life of childhood delinquency, drug use and petty crime in New York’s Spanish Harlem to emerge as one of the greatest Puerto Rican fighters ever. His speed, lightning quick hands and flamboyant personality once catapulted him to the crescendo of the sport in the 1980’s and early ’90s.
Throughout his brilliant career, he won titles as a super featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight. Seeking a fourth belt at the age of 35, he lost his last title bout in 1997 to then-welterweight champ Oscar De La Hoya.
The question around Camacho has always centered around how good he could have been had he plied his craft without the self-destructive tendencies that stalked him outside of the ring.
HBO pre fight feature from 1983. R.I.P Macho Man.
Early in his career, he was spectacular, a true pugilistic scientist and southpaw marksman. As a young fighter, he dispatched accomplished opponents like Melvin Paul, Greg Coverson, Rafael Solis, Rafael Limon and Jose Luis Ramirez with charismatic ease.
After a vicious fight against fellow Puerto Rican Edwin Rosario, Camacho switched his style up and morphed from an exceptional puncher who wasn’t afraid of slugging it out into a more cautious boxer and counter-puncher who dominated with his rapid-fire arsenal, delivering more blows with impossible speed and accuracy than his opponents could handle.
After the Rosario fight, Camacho said, I fought a war and, I can tell you right now, Hector Camacho dont like no damn wars.
He utilized his fleet feet and exceptional agility to defeat some excellent fighters in Ray Mancini, Howard Davis, Jose Luis Ramirez, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Vinnie Pazienza and Greg Haugen. Occasionally, he’d toss in some slick moves that he’d once used in the New York City projects as a street fighter, like spinning his opponents, then hopping and reaching around them to punch them in the head from behind.
The ultimate stamp of approval, as it relates to Camacho’s skills, came from the great Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the sport’s historical Gold Standards when it comes to footwork and hand speed.
[Camacho’s] not only quick, but accurate, Leonard said in 1982 after watching Camacho, then a 20-year-old super featherweight, do away with Johnny Sato in four rounds. I told him that people are always asking whos going to take my place. I told him he could.
The TOP 10 KNOCKOUTS of “MACHO” HECTOR CAMACHO career. 10 stunning knockouts from one of the most flamboyant fighters in boxing history. Subscribe for the latest boxing Top 10’s, Promo’s, Series & Tributes. YOUTUBE: http://youtube.com/EditinKing FACEBOOK: http://facebook.com/EditinKingBoxing TWITTER: http://twitter.com/EditinKing INSTAGRAM http://instagram.com/editinKing_boxing PATREON: http://patreon.com/EditinKing
Camacho earned $50,000 for the Sato fight, a lot of money back then for a kid just barely out of his teens that was fond of running the streets.
“A few years ago, if I had met Sato on 115th street, I would have done the same thing for nothing,” Camacho told Sports Illustrated.
In that article, A Hard Driving Macho Man, Pat Putnam wrote:
Born in Bayamn, Puerto Rico, Camacho was three when he came to the U.S. with his mother and older sister. They settled on 112th Street in Spanish Harlem. Later they moved to 115th. A veteran of street combat by age nine, Camacho began to borrow other people’s automobiles without their permission when he was 12. “I took only the bestBMWs, Mercedes and Caddys,” he says. “Once I took a beautiful Corvette. And I took good care of them. I kept them washed and polished. Those cars really made me stand out.”
They also made him stand out to the police. Not too many kids on 115th Street drive BMWs. The first time Camacho got caught, the judge put him on probation for three years. The second time Camacho spent 3 months in the can. That’s when he decided to find another hobby. “I’ve been on the inside and on the outside,” he says. “I can tell you being outside is one hell of a lot better.”
To get a glimpse of how crisp and talented Camacho was in the ring, check how Putnam describes the Sato fight:
A counterpuncher for the first three rounds, Camacho was content to drive nails into Sato’s face with snapping jabs. They are so swift, that when Camacho delivers them in rapid succession, they appear as one. He was waiting for Sato to throw something meaningful so he could counter through the opening with a hook or an uppercut. “I try to set up for the big punch,” said Sato after the fight. “I first try to catch his punches, but they were coming so fast I no catch them.”
As the fourth round opened, Camacho began swinging all out from both sides. For three rounds he had searched; now he was out to destroy. The game Sato began to wilt. Camacho almost cut him in half with two body shots and then jolted his head back with a right uppercut. Slowly Sato began to sag, as though someone was trying to lower him gently to the floor. Two more uppercuts followed him down, and a straight left nailed him just as his seat hit the floor. Then he rolled over on his side.
As Hazzard counted, Sato stared up at him. Sato could hear the count and he struggled to get up. “My head said, ‘Get off the floor,’ but my body no work,” said Sato.
In 1985, after winning his second title by beating Jose Luis Ramirez, Camacho said, “From now on I’m going to dominate this game.”
When Camacho fought, you were guaranteed to get your money’s worth even before the opening bell. He was known as much for his flamboyant ring entrances as his thrilling wins.
He once walked into the ring wearing a diaper. Another time, he was adorned in a mink coat. At others, he wore a Roman gladiator’s outfit, Native American garb complete with a full headdress, and a loincloth.
There was no one quite like The Macho Man when it came to putting on a show. He fought some all-time greats like De La Hoya, Roberto Duran, Julio Csar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Sugar Ray Leonard. He was a world champion that captured the imagination of not only the boxing enthusiast, but the casual fan as well with his style and charisma.
But sadly, we’ll never know what could have been had he been disciplined outside of the ring. In 2012, he was murdered in his native Puerto Rico, shot in the face while sitting in a car with ten bags of cocaine.
Highlights of the 3 division world champion. Hector Camacho – Was a Puerto Rican professional boxer and singer. Known for his quickness in the ring and flamboyant style, he held major championships in the super featherweight (WBC, 1983), lightweight (WBC, 1985), and junior welterweight (WBO, 1989 and 1991) divisions.
After his death, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Hoffer wrote:
“Boxing is more democratic than any other sport, encouraging ambition without the organizational constraints and hypocrisies others impose. You do not need the pretense of a college education to become a world champion, for one example. And we need only to sample Camacho’s obituary to recall his fashion statements in the ring (he was as well-known for his thong trunks as his pin-point punching), to be reminded that this sport celebrates individual achievement and, above all, permits personality.
It does require, in trade, a high tolerance for chaos, a low threshold of personal safety and the everyday acceptance of danger. Otherwise risky behavior is rewarded here, cultivated. In other words boxing, however welcoming it might be, does not appeal to the average kid.
Camacho turned out to be a colorful enough fellow, that sly grin and cute forelock transforming his youthful malice into a mask of mischief. Born in Bayamn (that’s where he died, in the passenger seat of a car parked outside a bar), Camacho came to New York at the age of three and later became a practiced thief and streetwise thug. In his case boxing (and an interested teacher) lifted him from a life of a nondescript felon to a flamboyant, and rather wealthy, champion, from super featherweight to light welterweight. It was only after his 30-year career ended, his popularity fading as he began to favor retreat over assault (once cheered for his footwork, he was eventually derided for being “balletic”), that he began careening back to those Harlem roots where his erratic behavior once demanded he be expelled from six schools by the age of 15.”
Highlights of the 30 year career of 3-time world champion Hector “Macho” Camacho. May he rest in peace
As we sit here in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the boxing career of a true legend. But sadly, we’re still left wondering what could have been, both as a fighter and in the game of life, for a man who was remarkably gifted and tragically flawed at the same time.