by Charles Jay
Mike Acri is the guy who helped make Hector Camacho relevant once more.
Acri was revered within boxing circles as someone who had brought Roberto Duran back again and again after he had been declared unimportant, and he was endeavoring to do the same with another of the sport’s charismatic names.
Camacho had lost decisively to Felix Trinidad, which itself had come not that long after a near-shutout loss to Julio Cesar Chavez, and that was essentially the end of the Macho Man as a serious contender.
That is, in the opinion of some, not all.
Camacho’s promotional deal with Don King was finished, and Acri knew he still had some name value, just as in the case of Duran. “He made money with a lot of promoters,” he says, “and it’s because he made those promoters a lot of money. I had know Hector previously, and I knew he was a no-nonsense guy when it came to making money.”
So Acri took a chance, and he took Camacho on a bit of a barnstorming tour. He fought in Mississippi. He fought in Chicago. He fought in Pennsylvania, Texas, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Fort Lauderdale, Foxwoods and the District of Columbia. The guy was all over the layout. He got plenty of exposure on USA Network’s “Tuesday Night Fights,” which was looking for names, and thus he became an entity again.
Just to keep things “in the family,” Acri arranged a fight between his two “legends,” Duran and Camacho. After a unanimous Camacho decision, it was on to another oldie-but-goodie in Sugar Ray Leonard. Although Camacho had purse parity with Duran ($775,000), we was not going to get it with Leonard, who was somewhat higher in the food chain when it came to pay-per-view pull.
So he made $2 million, while Leonard took in roughly double that. of Camacho, who didn’t think Leonard had a ghost of a chance with him, had told Acri “He (Leonard) don’t want to taste no blood,” and indeed it was a relatively easy evening, ending in five rounds. That led to the “big enchilada,” which was a decision loss against Oscar De La Hoya for the WBC welterweight title (he had fought at 160 just fifteen months before). He may not have had nearly enough to deal with De La Hoya at the time he lost by double-digit margins on all three cards) he $3.2 million purse made for good business.
And speaking of business, despite the kind of antics people often heard about, Acri says Camacho has nothing BUT business-like in his dealings with him.
“I was on auto-pilot with this guy,” said Acri. “He was very professional. When I brought him a fight he just wanted to know when the fight was, who the opponent was, and for how much. I sent him a tape of the opponent and $5000 for training expenses. He usually wanted about eight weeks advance notice. And that was it.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a few laughs when it came to some of the promotional appearances.
“I remember one time I took him over to Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers play,” said Acri, “and he saw some of the Steelers in the video room, studying film, and he said ‘Hey fellas. I know you guys must be the scrubs. You’ve got to stay after practice ’cause you can’t get the plays right’. He was always kidding. He ran into (ex-Steelers coach) Bill Cowher, who knew Hector, but Hector didn’t know who he was. He just said, ‘Hey fella, how’s it going’ like he was the janitor. I was laughing so hard.”
All told, Acri had Camacho under promotional contract from 1994 to 2000. During that time, the Macho Man had a record of 27-1 and made a total of $7.2 million in purses.
Acri did not have anything to do with the Duran rematch, which took place one month after the “Hands of Stone” celebrated his 50th birthday. Camacho was by now in a phase where he was long past world contention and more concerned about keeping a legend alive. But hey; there was still cash to be made, and he was all too happy to take it, up until the age of 48.
His last win came in 2008, against the 20-1 Perry Ballard, in a fight that was contested for the junior middleweight title of the “World Boxing Empire.” Ballard took the punches, so he’s entitled to relay his experiences.
“He still had amazing speed with his hands and an excellent defense for his face,” said Ballard. “His foot work was a little slower but his ability to step side to side when a punch was coming was unmatched.” The fight was stopped 27 seconds into the seventh round.
Camacho was not exactly a spendthrift, but he wasn’t as extravagant, say, as contemporaries like Mike Tyson. And he didn’t have massive tax problems like Duran had. He did not have endorsements waiting for him outside boxing like George Foreman, but he was set up by an adviser early on with an annuity program, and he managed to draw from that on his 50th birthday – reportedly something in seven figures – so he was not desperately in need of money.
Whatever else he needed, he was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time last week, and that wouldn’t have been the first time.
But a lot of boxing fans would like to remember him a different way.
“This guy was like a rock star,” said Acri. “he had charisma. You can’t teach it. People tuned in to see him fight, and they stick with him.
“He had big fights with big people, and got big ratings. He was a real television star. Boxing needs more people like him today.”