by Charles Jay
I was somewhat saddened to hear about the charges of child abuse charges that were filed this past week against Hector Camacho, and certainly the hope here is that it doesn’t turn out to be as bad as it sounds.
Camacho has more often than not provided for an eventful atmosphere, so that the cops were called because a neighbor complained of excessive noise was not the least bit surprising.
Camacho’s situation strikes this particular reporter with a little more impact because with all the talk about Mayweather and Pacquiao these days, I wonder how a fight between Camacho in his prime and Mayweather would have been such an interesting tactical encounter, and a fight with Pacquiao may have presented a classic boxer-brawler match of southpaws.
One thing you can be assured of is that even though he could be an elusive man to deal with (he could, after all, disappear on you at any time), Camacho would hold up his end of the hype.
As I was talking to a couple of members of the boxing community last week about the concept of developing stars (since boxing is badly in need of it), I mentioned Camacho as an example of someone you couldn’t just manufacture out of whole cloth.; you couldn’t create him just by putting him on HBO.
I have learned through hard experience that no matter how hard you try and try, you can’t “create” personality in a fighter. You can affect a “buzz” of sorts, but at some point the guy himself has to do the heavy lifting. And the kind of charisma Camacho carried with him was something a PR person could highlight, but couldn’t necessarily fashion. And often it’s that mystique outside the ring, enhancing that which occurs inside the ring, that makes the difference between a star and a superstar.
People who are just getting acquainted with boxing now are aware of Hector Camacho mostly as a cautionary tale. But he was, for a while, one of the hottest names in all of boxing.
Camacho, the way I looked at it, really had four different phases of his career. In the first, he was a genuine hotshot, outclassing everything in his path, and as he rose to prominence he didn’t step in with stiffs either. As a developing fighter on his way to a title shot, he beat Melvin Paul, Greg Coverson, John Montes and Cubanito Perez, all pretty capable fighters, before stopping Bazooka Limon to win his first world championship. He went from 130 to 135 and then easily beat Joe Luis Ramirez for the WBC crown. The guy was simply too fast and slick for anybody he went in with, and looked close to unstoppable. And because network television (CBS, for the most part) gave him exposure, he was able to project the kind of personality that made him a household word.
Then came the fight with Edwin Rosario, in June 1986, where he got nailed back a few times, something he hadn’t had to experience before. He barely got out of that one with a split decision win, and he was never the same again.
Not that he started losing. Camacho was talented enough to get by against world-class opponents for several years after that. But, recognizing that he was never a guy to get involved with slugfests, he became over-cautious; a fighter concerned with safety first and safety above all else.
That approach was not going to get it done against the best fighters, so Camacho struggled through a controversial defeat to Greg Haugen, and subsequent losses to Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad.
Then came the next phase of his career, as he was steered onto the comeback trail by promoter Mike Acri, who took him on a road show of sports, leading to an “oldies but goodies” series of fights that included a win over Roberto Duran and a stoppage of Sugar Ray Leonard, finally cashing in with one last big payday as he got a shot at Oscar De La Hoya’s welterweight title, where he never really got close.
Ever since then, it’s been “mop-up” time for him, fighting in venues that will have him, and even having a rematch with Duran. who was a month past his 50th birthday at the time. Camacho was last seen in a boxing ring in May 2010, as he lost a clear decision to Saul Duran (no relation to Roberto), who was recently served up as fodder for middleweight contender Andy Lee.
What explanation could there be for this latest brush with the law? What explanation could there be for Camacho going through crawl space to break into a computer store several years ago? You can say the same thing for any number of bizarre occurrences through the years.
The explanation that has to suffice is that Camacho was one of the most spontaneous, unpredictable boxing figures of our time. Sometimes the spontaneity got him into trouble. But sometimes it was fun.
From the standpoint of a personal anecdote, I distinctly recall walking him back to his hotel from a press conference we had for his fight with Leonard, at Planet Hollywood in Miami. I had a fighter in the semi-main event, but I also had a local radio show at the time. Inasmuch as this show was “off the wall,” to say the least, I thought I would test the Macho Man’s powers of improvisation. As I’m walking, with tape recorder in hand, I ask him about his impression of lesbians on film, right out of nowhere.
Camacho didn’t break stride for a second, nor did he indicate any shock at the question. He immediately replied, “Oh, I love lesbians on film,” then went on for a few minutes non-stop.
You just can’t coach something like that.
This was a guy who had “it,” and “it” is not the easiest thing to find in a pro fighter.
Unfortunately, as the speed is gone and the talent has faded, perhaps this is the phase where “it” becomes part of the problem rather than part of the charm.