Remembering Macho Camacho – Freshness, Fun and Frolic
by Charles Jay
Hector Camacho was a handful.
And I say that in an endearing way.
I learned a lot about that when I experienced a day in the life of both the Macho Man and Keeping Up With the Macho Man.
I was marketing a show, along with a partner, for Mike Acri, who had Camacho under a deal. We were waiting for him at the Miami International Airport, with a limo in tow, as we readied ourselves to take him on a whirlwind tour of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area in a series of press opportunities in advance of his June 1995 fight with Juan Arroyo.
We waited. And waited. And waited.
His scheduled flight from Orlando had arrived, and we were about as close to the gate as we could get, but there was no Macho. We scoured the airport. No Macho. We paged him. No Macho. We made a number of phone calls. No Macho.
Somehow, some way, we found him – about ten miles away at a friend’s house, doing God knows what. He took an earlier flight. He just didn’t want to tell anybody.
We got him in the car and took him to each of the media outlets, one by one. We had been disappointed with our turnout at press conferences and figured the best way to get someone to do a story was to bring the subject to THEM. And Camacho was quite the subject. Who could turn him down once he showed up? Some of the appearances were planned; some of them were not so planned. We learned quickly that you couldn’t follow a rigid agenda when you were dealing with the Macho Man.
It didn’t matter where we showed up; no one was disappointed. Well, almost. Along the way we got to the offices of Telemundo, the Spanish network, and since we didn’t speak Spanish at the time, we didn’t know that Camacho was being ushered into the studios of that network’s tabloid show, where all they wanted to talk about was some drug escapade he had on Miami Beach or in New York or somewhere. He handled it, but it put a damper on his next appearance, at a radio station, where he kind of walked out, suddenly, leaving the host, a former Miami Dolphin named Kim Bokamper, a little bewildered.
But the highlight was earlier in the day, at that same radio station, ironically, when we dropped in unexpectedly on Phil Hendrie, who was doing mid-afternoons in Miami at the time. If you live anywhere in Southern California you know exactly how legendary Phil Hendrie has become, and you are aware of the fact that he will use several voices during the same conversation, and they will ALL be him.
Well, Camacho didn’t know who he was, but he got interested in a hurry. Hendrie starts talking about his childhood, his grade school teachers, and how awful they were (Phil’s invention). After the segment, we rode away in the limo, on to the next appointment, and as we listened to Hendrie on the air, his callers (real people) lined up on the phones to debate whether what they had just heard was really Macho Camacho or Phil Hendrie DOING him. After he heard about five or six of these calls, Camacho just started rolling around in the limo, laughing.
Once we got Camacho corralled, he was easy and cooperative to work with, although he might have disappeared on us a few times with his friends at TV stations (your guess is as good as mine).
I don’t know how much he may have contributed to humanity, but he certainly contributed to this sport because he made it more interesting to watch. And this guy was beautiful to watch – damn near untouchable early in his career, and even though he became perhaps a little less aggressive and a little more “safety-first” after he was clocked by Edwin Rosario in their June 1986 championship fight, he was still able to get by quite nicely on his talent and guile.
Sure he had a dark side, and he had more than his share of bizarre incidents. But he brought a sense of fun to the proceedings, and that always made it interesting to work with him and be around him, and when you are going through all the drudgery that surrounds a fight promotion, that counts for something. While one might grant that he was not without some mean-spirit at times, there was still some humor attached to it, like the time he referred to Lou Duva and Kevin Rooney as “Fred and Barney from the Flintstones.”
On one occasion in Atlantic City, when the reporters got on his case for something, he just said, “You guys just can’t accept the fact that I’m the Macho Man, and that your girlfriends and wives want to be with me.”
He was outrageous, and always original. After a while you noticed that so much of it was made up on the spot. So one day I tried an experiment.
Camacho was at a press conference at Planet Hollywood in Coconut Grove (Miami) in February 1997 pumping up his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. My fighter (Robert Daniels) was in the semi-final, so I was at the press conference too, but I had an additional function, in that I was hosting a radio show at the time. I knew Macho pretty well by now, so I asked him if we could walk back to the Mayfair Hotel together because I wanted to do an interview.
I figured I would throw the master of improvisation a curve ball. So as we’re walking, I pointed the microphone at him and asked what he thought about the idea of lesbians on film.
Without batting an eye, breaking stride or even looking at me, Hector Camacho launched into a two or three minute dissertation on the virtues of lesbians on film, punctuated with the closing line, “So all you guys, get your s**t together and get into lesbians.”
After the fight with Leonard, which ended in short order, one of the funnier Camacho moments came at the post-fight press conference. Keith Holmes, who was at the time the WBC middleweight champion, had been trolling around the Atlantic City Conventional Center all night wearing his championship belt for no reason in particular, other than possibly to convince people that he was indeed a champion.
As Camacho spoke at the press conference, Holmes was heckling him from the seats. Camacho stopped what he was saying, gazed out at Holmes, and said, “Man, you’re so black, I can’t even see you.”
Usually, people wouldn’t know how to react to something like that, but many in the crowd erupted, because, after all, it was just the Macho Man turning the situation around and having some good, harmless fun.
I’m happy to say that I had some role to play in the “second act” of Camacho’s career. I was bringing the fights in at Casino Magic in Mississippi, and, having had some success with Roberto Duran, I wanted to follow it up with some more “show biz.” That was perfect, because Camacho was looking for someplace to fight after he lost to Felix Trinidad. Acri (who also had Duran) was convinced that if I went to Camacho’s house with him, things would go more smoothly.
We drove an hour and a half to his neighborhood off an Indian reservation in Florida, and all we had to do to find the place was ask some of the kids playing in the street where the Macho Man was. We arranged a three-fight deal with him (he only fought there twice before moving on to fight Duran, Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya); then we were invited to stay for some pork shoulder.
We probably should have. We’d have had some laughs.
This guy knew what to do when the camera was on. But he didn’t really need a TV audience to be himself. The zaniness reached an almost insane level one day at Don King’s office, which was then in Manhattan. As the story goes, King wanted to negotiate some kind of deal, and Camacho insisted on $5000 before even talking to him. King gave it over. Then Camacho explained that he had changed his mind. With cash in hand, he found a bath towel, wrapped it around his neck, declared “I’m Batman” and went out the window. He jumped from the third floor balcony to the second, and then onto the street. King reportedly almost had a heart attack.
That was Camacho, playing his own version of the superhero. He had beaten Don King out of money.
In this era where it seems like we either have the athletes who so cliche-ridden to the point of boredom, or those who transparently manufacture a “personality,” this guy was a godsend; a self-promoting machine with natural charisma who looked like he didn’t have to go to acting school to pull it off. Boxing could certainly use more like him, as he knew enough to be deadly serious about fighting, but to be not so deadly serious about what happened before and after.
His persona might have been a little tongue-in-cheek, but what a persona it was.
I miss the guy already.