Hector “Macho” Camacho, a former three-division boxing champion who had 88 professional fights against a who’s who of legendary opponents stretching from Ray Mancini (whom he defeated in 1989) to Oscar De La Hoya (who beat him by decision in 1997), has died. He was 50.
Camacho was pronounced dead Saturday after being shot in the head four days earlier while seated in a car outside a bar in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He was taken off of life support after undergoing cardiac arrest early Saturday, Dr. Ernesto Torres, director of the Centro Medico trauma center in Puerto Rico, told the Associated Press.
Another man in the car, who had nine bags of cocaine in his possession, was also shot and immediately declared dead, according to the Associated Press.
Camacho, known for wearing outlandish trunks ranging from a leopard loin cloth to others adorned with lights or tassels, well understood the importance of selling a fight and employing some mental warfare.
Before fighting Mancini, he said, “I never did nothing to the character. How can he dislike a good-looking guy like me? It's jealousy. He can't even be in the same room with me because he knows he can't beat me mouth-to-mouth.”
The late Times columnist Jim Murray assessed the crowd-pleasing disparity between De La Hoya and Camacho like this:
“Oscar was winning a gold medal for his country, Macho was stealing one for himself. Oscar plays golf, Macho plays craps. He was a hyperactive child, and he's a hyperactive adult.
“He has a positive flair for rubbing people the wrong way, doing exactly what nobody wants. For instance, in his last fight, he committed the unpardonable sin of beating up Sugar Ray Leonard, no less. That's about as endearing to the public as burning the flag.”
Camacho’s theatrics were combined with an admirable desire to take on the best opponents possible. He faced the likes of Freddie Roach, Cornelius Boza Edwards, Rafael “Bazooka” Limon, Felix Trinidad, Roberto Duran and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. His overall record was 79-6-3.
Camacho was born in Bayamon on May 24, 1962, and moved to New York City with his family. His career launched after he admitted to stealing cars in Spanish Harlem as a youth, with one transgression forcing him to jail in Rikers Island, N.Y. There, he boxed other inmates and was so good, one asked a question that stuck with him: “What are you doing here?”
“When he was young, you couldn’t hit him, that’s why he won his first 50 fights,” veteran boxing publicist Bill Caplan said.
The success emboldened his flair for flamboyance, as former Times boxing writer Richard Hoffer captured in a 1985 story:
“His style of dress … is outlandish enough to make Liberace look reserved. He wears enough jewelry to make Mr. T look like a man who only dabbles in accessories. It must be great fun to watch Camacho walk through a metal detector.”
When Camacho suffered his first loss in a 1991 World Boxing Organization lightweight title bout against Greg Haugen at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, his personable nature shined.
“You’d think the guy would be devastated, but 15 minutes after the loss, he was back in press row for the second fight of the HBO doubleheader, shaking everyone’s hands,” Caplan said. “Just a happy-go-lucky guy who loved people.”
The flash wasn’t a mask to toughness. He was never knocked out.
Camacho’s grit was unmistakable to anyone who observed his 1992 beating in front of a sold-out Las Vegas fight crowd at the hands of Chavez Sr., Mexico’s greatest fighter who was at his peak when he pummeled Camacho with body shots en route to a unanimous decision.
De La Hoya knew the importance of beating up and knocking down Camacho in their 1997 bout:
“Listen, Chavez … and Felix Trinidad couldn't knock him out or drop him,” De La Hoya said afterward. “At least I dropped him.”
Camacho’s love of the sport was evident both in his desire to entertain beyond fisticuffs and instances such as his 1995 fight in the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.
There, recalled promoter Don Chargin, main-event fighter Camacho showing up with his hands wrapped, in a robe and colorful trunks to sit alongside off-night fighters and managers in complimentary seats to watch preliminary matches 90 minutes before his own bout against Tony Rodriguez.
“He just wanted to be with people,” Caplan said.
Camacho’s son, Hector Camacho Jr., is a middleweight boxer with a 54-5-1 record who most recently fought in July.
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