Flamboyance in sport is a rarity these days. In the echelons of athletic achievement phrases such as 'hard work' and dedication roll slowly over the eyes both in reportage and through the analysis of experts like a headmaster ritual.
In boxing however, the great ooze of the glamour and the gladiatorial has always mixed together brilliantly at the business end of the sport: The lightning whip of the Vegas casinos with its high rollers and Hunters monsters. The ghosts of Maddison square garden where the fighters blood would spray over the starlets dresses. Even Wembley stadium, where Carl Froch recently bookended an exciting rivalry with George Groves has got in on the act - producing a show that seemed to mainline into the Dolce Vita elements of the fight game, where celebrities and the fighters mixed under the glare of shared ambition and paparazzi flashlights.
Of all the characters to revel in the sport both in and outside the ring however, there's only one man whose silhouette was cast in a plume of fierce talent and ostrich feathers. His name was Hector Camacho, a Puerto Rican multi weight champion who was one of the sports most brilliant and self promoting geniuses. Born in 1962, he was one of five children born to Hector Luis Camacho and his wife Maria Matas. By the time Hector was three, his parents had separated and his mother moved the children to a housing project in New York City. It began a period of unrest for the young Puerto Rican. Subject to racial abuse and poverty, by the time he was teenager he'd learned to use the only skill he really had to fight back at his aggressors: violence.
By the time Camacho was fifteen in fact he had already found himself incarcerated for the first time. It was to prove a double edged sword however. Such had been his reputation for street fighting that upon his release he came to the attention of Pat Flannery, a trainer and high school teacher who recognised the potential in the wayward teenager. He began to tutor Camacho in the noble art of boxing. In many ways it was a relationship that made both of them. For Camacho it was a chance to finally have a positive male role model in his life and for Flannery it was a chance to coach a genuine, raw talent. The young Puerto Rican was a natural fighter with incredible hand speed. He quickly acquired a ruthless reputation in the amateurs and would go on to win three golden gloves titles and mark himself out as an exciting future prospect in the boxing ranks.
With an exciting career mapped out in front of him, Camacho also began to use another skill he excelled in too. After turning professional he quickly marched up the rankings as a featherweight and began to display an entertaining ability to sell himself to the media. It was a character trait that came easy to him. He'd had to hustle and participate in street hassles almost his entire life. It was kind of a necessity in the sport at the time too. In the early eighties, boxing was hugely politicised. Unlike the multi divisions of today getting a shot at the world title was no easy thing. Using the media as a bargaining tool, Camacho figured the way forward was to call out the men at the business end of his weight division. It worked. When the World junior lightweight division became vacant, Camacho was a shoe in to fight for the title. He easily outpointed Rafael Limon, stopping his opponent in the fifth round. His self proclaimed talent had proved to be no idle boast. The whip of his fists had easily matched the whip of his tongue with consummate ease. He was now a force to be reckoned with.
The first of these super fights was against Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini. Following a couple of warm up bouts at the higher light welterweight limit, Camacho now aimed to secure his third world title in a different division. Mancini however had been an impressive champion in his golden years,with a heavy armoury of punches and a knock out record to match. He was old school in many ways, the antithesis of Camacho's show business glamour, but what he lacked in glitz he made up for in guts. Crucially however Mancini had not fought for nearly five years after a lay off from boxing due to personal problems and as the fight unfolded struggled to cope with Camacho's superior hand speed. Over twelve fascinating rounds he was consistently beaten to the punch by his Puerto Rican opponent and would eventually lose in a split decision to the judges. Whilst Mancini argued that he'd won the fight, the truth was that Camacho had been the better boxer on a historical night where he became the first to win three different world titles in different weight divisions.
It was now however that cracks began to show in Camacho. Whether it was too many hard fights or dubious lifestyle choices outside of the ring, his legacy was about to be rudely interrupted. Firstly in a mandatory defence of his title he lost on points in an ill mannered affair to Greg Haugen. Although the decision was later overturned due to a positive drug sample from the challenger, and Camacho won a closely fought rematch, suddenly he seemed vulnerable. Vunerable however just wasn't an option in his next fight he had lined up against an opponent who was pound for pound the greatest fighter in the world at the time. The fearsome and undefeated Julio Caesar Chavez.
With a record of 81~0, Chavez was a force of nature at the time, a relentless machine who drove forward consistently in first gear with murder eyes to match. It seemed a tough ask for Camacho, who noticeably and understandably was not carrying the same punching power the higher up the weights he went. Although his usually ebullient self in the lead up to the fight, many experts doubted his chances. Crucially it seemed for the first time a seed of doubt had been planted in his mind too. Even before the fight had begun, Camacho seemed strangely defensive and subdued. It got worse. Over twelve uneventful rounds he refused to be drawn into a battle with Chavez, retreating constantly much to the annoyance of the watching crowd. Eventually he would lose a unanimous points decision and for the first time in his career he was booed out of the ring. It was a bitter pill for his pride and narcissism to swallow.
Camacho was never quite the same again. Although he went on to fight for many more years, his career was more renowned for top level defeats than championship glory. There were glimmers of his past glories, a defeat of Roberto Duran and a knock out win against an ageing Sugar Ray Leanord kept his name in the boxing spotlight, but they were rarities in the revolving door he now came up against which constantly produced younger and hungrier boxers. For Camacho this might have been a cue to disappear into retirement and enjoy his riches, but Camacho did have one brilliant ace up his sleeve. Such had been his flamboyance and eccentricity in the ring, that Camacho had began to hatch plans for another career past boxing. If he couldn't become king of the world in the ring he decided, he would conquer the peaks of another glamorous industry: that of the entertainment industry.
Following his retirement in 2004, Camacho almost succeeded too. Seamlessly he quickly cashed in on his popularity on reality shows and comedy programmes aimed at keeping him in the spotlight. It was a career he seemed to revel in but unfortunately controversy was a close shadow too. His sporadic substance abuse was now becoming a problem. In 2005 he was arrested for an attempted burglary whilst under the influence of ecstasy. Further misdemeanours followed, which hardly ingratiated him to the clean cut world of television producers. With his options running out, Camacho eventually tried to resurrect his boxing career, but he seemed a pantomime figure from a bygone age.
He was no hero in the ring anymore and seemingly had made quite a few enemies outside of it too. In 2011 he survived a near fatal carjacking in which his assailants fired three shots at him narrowly missing the boxer. It was perhaps a sign he should have heeded. In November 2012, Camacho was sat in a car with his childhood friend Adrian Mojica when a passing vehicle pulled up alongside them. Its inhabitants opened fire on Camacho and Mojica, seriously injuring the boxer and killing his friend instantly. Although Camacho was placed on a life support machine, he was officially declared brain dead a few days later and with the blessing of his family his machine was turned off. He was 50 years old.
It brought to an end the life of one of the greatest individuals ever to grace the boxing ring and one of the truest characters in American sport. Hector Camacho was everything he ever claimed to be really. A hero. A peacock. A grand narcissist. A genius. His legacy is one that will live forever. Albeit one in diamond encrusted shorts.