The 1980s were one of the greatest decades for boxing. The 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team won nine gold medals and 11 medals overall. Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield and Virgil Hill went on to the Hall of Fame.
Mike Tyson turned pro in 1985, by 1986 had become the sport’s youngest ever heavyweight champion and by decade’s end was far and away the sport’s biggest star.
Larry Holmes made 16 of his 20 consecutive heavyweight title defenses in the decade. Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello put on two of the greatest bouts of the 20th century. Julio Cesar Chavez ran the table in the decade, going 68-for-68.
In that star-studded decade, a lithe Puerto Rican who was raised in the Spanish Harlem section of New York grabbed the sport’s attention. And at one point in the middle of the decade, when Leonard was in one of his retirements and Tyson hadn’t yet hit it big, Hector Camacho was the guy in boxing.
Camacho began in 1980, a street kid who needed the discipline that boxing provided to keep himself out of jail. By 1983, he was a world champion and by 1986, after a win over Edwin Rosario, he just may have been the finest fighter in the world.
The story of Hector “Macho” Camacho is far more about his fabulous boxing ability, colorful personality, outlandish ring attire and remarkable rise to prominence. Camacho’s story, told brilliantly by filmmaker Eric Drath in a documentary called “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story” that is set to debut Friday at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime, is a tale of life on the edge, of how life in the fast line so frequently ends up in a disturbing head-on crash.
Camacho’s fast life ended way too soon, on Nov. 23, 2012, in a murder in his native Puerto Rico that eight years after it happened, remains unsolved. The murder and the events surrounding his death haunt many of those who knew and loved Camacho.
Drath has made several notable boxing documentaries among his works, including “No Mas” about the Leonard-Roberto Duran rematch and “Cornered: A Life Caught in the Ring,” about a fight in which a trainer removed the padding from his fighter’s gloves.
After talking to Duran about Camacho while filming “No Mas,” and about a year after his murder, Drath felt the urge to pursue the story.
“I asked Roberto what he thought of Camacho’s murder still being unsolved, and this was a couple of months after, and he started to cry,” Drath said. “Duran is this incredibly hard-nosed, stoic guy who barely showed any emotion when we were talking ‘No Mas.’ And when we talked about Hector’s murder, he cried. I couldn’t believe it.
“It made me realize what an impact Hector had. He had such a huge impact on boxing and on the Latino community and this murder was a big, big story in the Puerto Rican community.”
Five years later, he decided to head to Puerto Rico and try to find out why Camacho’s murder remained unsolved. He was one of the island’s most popular and revered figures.
Drath was friendly with Hector Camacho Jr., the fighter’s son who had also been a boxer. As a result, he decided to investigate the murder and traveled to one of the most dangerous areas in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
“If we hadn’t been with Hector Jr., I can’t imagine what might have happened because it was a really, really dangerous area,” Drath said. “I can only imagine how much worse it is now after everything Puerto Rico has been through. There was this sense of lawlessness that was pervasive. There were these kids on dirt bikes who were riding wild around the streets, circling cars and stopping cars and [doing] stick-ups.
“There’s this extreme culture of you don’t snitch, no matter what. Hector came to his end in a really rough place.”
The story began much more typically. Camacho was getting into trouble, and had stolen cars, but was so charismatic and so talented, that people would help him and overlook a lot of things he’d done.
He was a lightning quick-fisted and fleet-footed athlete, but for the first half of his career, he’d stand in front of an opponent and bang. Few could deal with his blazing hand-speed and he was so hard to hit because he flitted around the ring like a jitterbug.
Drath tells the story perfectly of Camacho’s rise to champion status and then the change in his style that occurred after the Rosario fight. Camacho was pounded by the hard-hitting Rosario but still won the fight, raising his record to 29-0.
But that fight caused him to be less offensive and use his legs more.
It may also have been his peak as a fighter. But Camacho was so big at the time, on the poster for that fight was billed as an added attraction was “Young heavyweight knockout sensation Mike Tyson.”
“He was definitely a lucky guy in the sense that he was born with all the talent in the world,” Drath said. “He was a natural showman and was blessed with that gene for showmanship that so few fighters ever have. You had Muhammad Ali, of course. Sugar Ray Leonard to an extent. Tyson had that ability that people just marveled at.
“Camacho had this authenticity. He was different and he just didn’t care. Who he was inside of the ring was who he was outside of the ring. That charm and charisma helped him in the beginning as people maybe enabled him a little more than they might have another person who committed the crimes he did. But his talent saved his butt, too. He had that wonderful combination of talent and charisma and showmanship made him just a remarkable fighter and a remarkable story.”
If you forgot how good Camacho was, or never knew, Drath’s story will pull you in. But it’s the search for the why of the murder that will keep you watching.
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