Hector Camacho: The Bright Lights & The Sad Demise
There was something rather sad, albeit predictable in many ways, how the boxing career of Hector Camacho fizzled out so quickly. Yes, he had a long career, turning professional in 1980 before belatedly calling it a day in 2010, but Camacho was starting to fade as early as 1986.
The greater the skills often carries a similar narrative of unfulfilled potential. Some fighters believe their own hype, a failure to realise that potential needs to work hand in hand with hard work and dedication. A failure to understand that every fighter only has a small window of opportunity in their careers. They think it will last forever, suddenly they realise it doesn’t.
Camacho the flamboyant Puerto Rican, apparently had everything, dazzling skills, hugely charismatic, highly controversial at times, Camacho was box office, he was seemingly on his way to superstar status.
But Camacho lacked the discipline needed to take his career where it should have gone. A familiar story of achieving plenty, but could have achieved far more. Where he should have had an addiction to his craft, he was addicted to another life, one that was detrimental to his boxing career, a fight he couldn’t or didn’t want to win.
It seemed inevitable that Camacho would become a special fighter, a legendary one even. After a successful amateur career, Camacho turned professional at 18, almost immediately making headlines inside and outside of the ring. Camacho impressed and landed his first world title shot when he was only 21. Camacho didn’t waste his opportunity.
A brief reign as the world super-featherweight champion was followed by a second world title at lightweight. A hugely impressive win over Jose Luis Ramirez in 1985 to capture the WBC lightweight strap promised plenty, but already aged just 23, Camacho may already have peaked. Camacho dazzled and dropped the veteran Mexican, and won a one-sided decision. Camacho looked to be on his way to the next level of the sport, one which very few are able to attain.
But in 1986, everything changed. Edwin Rosario made Camacho look and feel a mere mortal. Camacho failed to prepare as diligently as he should have, Camacho survived, but he was badly hurt on numerous occasions, the judges controversially saved him, but he wouldn’t be the same fighter ever again. In the aftermath of the Rosario fight, we saw a style change inside the ropes but not outside where it was most needed.
The party life wouldn’t stop, Camacho didn’t care enough, living the life of a fighter wasn’t his way, living life by his code, his skills eroding away, all that promise fading away. A special fighter becoming an ordinary one, if we judge it by the future he could have had.
Camacho continued a fighter living on the past even at such a young age. But the hope that he would rekindle the early promise would soon fade. Trainers came and went, looking for the answer that was always there in the mirror.
Ray Mancini was tempted out of retirement in 1989, the fight happened years too late, especially for Mancini. Mancini felt bitter he didn’t get the nod, many agreed, Camacho lost even in victory. The judges were split so were the paying public. Camacho got his 3rd world title, the vacant WBO light-welterweight title added to his collection. But this title meant far less than the ones that came before.
Camacho showed flashes of brilliance against Vinnie Pazienza in 1990, the renewed hope offered soon faded.
By 1991, Camacho was now becoming less relevant, the star was dimming, but he still had his name, and was still unbeaten. With a multi-million dollar offer to fight Julio Cesar Chavez on the table, Camacho took a fight with the unheralded Greg Haugen. The supposed tune-up became a nightmare, the cracks laid bare for all to see.
Camacho didn’t make the weight properly, he struggled with Haugen throughout. He
lost a point at the start of the 12th round that cost Camacho his title and his unbeaten record and any immediate thoughts of facing Chavez.
Camacho got his revenge later that year, but another split-decision failed to convince. Camacho was now in the role of the hunted, younger fighters started to see Camacho in a different light, from one to avoid to one that is beatable and careers enhanced by doing so.
When they did finally meet in 1992, Chavez inflicted a more definitive victory on Camacho, Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya did the same in the years that followed. Camacho was now on that irreversible slide. Wins over Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard were hollow victories against a shadow of the great fighters Duran and Leonard once were. The win over Leonard was followed by the one-sided loss to De La Hoya, that defeat showed where Camacho was in his career.
Camacho kept going, but it was the usual merry-go-round of opponents, Saul Duran beat Camacho in 2010, that would be the end, it should have come long before that.
A record of 79-6-3 looked good on paper, but it flattered to deceive. Camacho won world titles in three different weight divisions, he was never stopped and it is hardly a career of abject failure.
But the close call against Rosario resulted in Camacho losing much of his aura, supreme confidence gave way to self-doubt. The ever-increasing party lifestyle contributed to his demise, boxing becoming less a part of his life as the years went on. Not for the first time a career cut short or ruined by the bright lights of fame that many just can’t seem to resist.
The life of Camacho tragically ended in 2012, aged just 50 after a drive-by shooting while he was in a car with a childhood friend in Puerto Rico. Camacho was shot twice in the incident and died later in a Puerto Rican hospital.
Camacho could never quite escape the street life, and the tragic end to his life had an air of inevitability about it. But in many ways, Camacho packed plenty in a relatively short life, and I suspect if he could do it all over again, he would live his life exactly the same way.