This story isn’t about the list of legendary fighters Hector Camacho fought, who he beat, who he lost to and how many titles he won. Other writers who covered him and followed him can relate all that to you.
This is about Hector Camacho the lovable, vain, effervescent, problematic, charismatic, loquacious, entertaining, narcissistic man-child I came to know from the time he was in the amateurs, became a father at 16, turned pro at 18, graced the offices of The Ring Magazine during my years as editor-in-chief (from 1979-1984) and lived life as a free spirit his remaining years among us. The Camacho I first met back in the late 1970s wasn’t much different—other than his age—than the Camacho who was gunned down in Puerto Rico last week. I am not shocked his life ended this way.
Looking down on us—that’s down, not up—I’m sure he’s not shocked, either.
It was Friday, February 28, 1997. I sat alone with Camacho in his hotel suite in Atlantic City and reminisced about his career, about his boxing plans for the future and about his plans for life after boxing. Naturally, it was all filled with flamboyance and flash.
The “Macho Man,” as sports fans had come to know him, was 24 hours away from stepping into the ring at the Convention Center against Sugar Ray Leonard.
Drinking a bottle of water, Camacho sat on a couch with his feet up on an ottoman, looking totally relaxed and sounding as confident and brash as ever. He was 34 and past his prime, but had enjoyed one of his finest training camps ever. The great Ray Leonard, what was left of Leonard as a fighter, at 40, had not.
Camacho told me he was going to win the fight. I could see he meant it. He could see I believed him.
He also said he was going to win the fight big, that he would dominate Leonard, even knock him out. I could see he meant those words, too. I could see he believed what he was telling me. He could see I didn't.
He told me he was not the "Macho" Camacho of 1987 any more, but quickly pointed out it wasn't the Sugar Ray Leonard of 1987, either. He told me the 1997 version or Hector "Macho" Camacho would be too much for the 1997 version of Sugar Ray Leonard.
Camacho was right. The next night, he consistently beat Leonard to the punch. The next night, he knocked Leonard down in the fifth round. The next night, he stopped Leonard with a barrage of punches at 1:08 of round five.
Yes, Leonard’s right calf was badly injured. And yes, he had taken an injection of Lidocaine into the muscle approximately 90 minutes prior to the fight. But that’s how Lady Destiny chose to make things happen, and that was the result. Camacho was healthy and ready. Leonard wasn’t. Camacho won. Leonard lost. On top of it all, Camacho won as he told me he would: Big! Dominant. By knockout.
Right after referee Joe Cortez ended the fight—and Leonard’s competitive boxing career—Camacho walked over and embraced Leonard.
Camacho told Leonard he was a great champion and a great fighter, and that he always had been a big fan of his. He told him he'd always be his fan.
That was the Hector Camacho I knew.
I first met Camacho when he was a teenage amateur star fighting out of Spanish Harlem in New York City. When I began my career at Ring Magazine in 1979, Camacho used to come up to our Manhattan office on a regular basis. On a few occasions, he even brought his infant son, Hector Jr., with him.
As little Hector played, his dad talked boxing with me and my staff. His presence and glow used to override even the thick cigar smoke from Bert Sugar’s private, paper-strewn office.
Right from the time he turned pro on September 12, 1980 in Madison Square Garden’s 5,000 seat venue—which was then called the Felt Forum—Camacho visited my office regularly. He’d constantly tell Bert and me how he was going to be champ one day, saying “It’s inevitable that I am going to be champ. Nothing can stop me.”
Nothing, as it turned out, except Camacho.
Bert and I loved seeing Camacho. Both of us believed he was on his way to greatness and took pride in being ringside for all but one of his first 18 fights.
After a while, however, we realized his late-teenage testosterone was running amok and that he was coming up to visit two of our lovely Puerto Rican secretaries at least as much as he was coming up to visit us. He was also there to visit two of the stock boys we employed to share a few lines of “blow” with them. I used to admonish them all, but it was no use.
As the habits of the stock boys grew—and as Ring Record Books disappeared at an alarming rate—Bert and I dismissed the stock boys, preserving the Record Books and other Ring material for consumers.
Camacho didn’t care. He still had his Puerto Rican beauties. They, on the other hand, wanted no part of his attraction to cocaine or his attraction to them. What they wanted was his charm and boyish charisma. Nothing more. They were smart.
On an early September afternoon in 1981, he sat in my private office while I edited stories. He discussed his next fight, a scheduled 10-rounder at Madison Square Garden on September 16 against 25-2 Robert Mullins. I told him I would be missing the fight, as that date matched Sugar Ray Leonard against Thomas Hearns in Las Vegas, and I was part of the announcing team. He understood and said he was happy I got the assignment.
Camacho was 9-0, and the fight against Mullins was by far his biggest fight to date. Camacho told me how he planned to dazzle Mullins with speed, batter him with combinations and “knock him out in the sixth" round.
After telling me what he planned on doing to Mullins (he fulfilled his prophecy, even stopping Mullins in round six), Camacho completely changed directions in his conversation.
“How do you think you’re gonna die, Randy?” he asked.
“Huh?” I looked up from my editing.
“How are you gonna die? Do you ever think of that?” he asked. I was 33.
“To be honest, Hector, the thought has never crossed my mind.”
“Really?” he responded. “I think about that a lot. I think about what’s gonna happen at the end.”
“And what do you come up with?” I inquired. “Do you have the same answer, the same ending, each time?”
“I do,” he said. “I really do. Wanna guess how I see myself going out?”
“Not really!” I said.
“Come on, take a guess!” he prodded. I looked at him wearing a puzzled look and sort of squinting.
“Come on,” he continued. “Take a guess.
I reached for some ridiculous answers.
“A car wreck?” I said.
He shook his head.
“A plane crash?” I came back with.
Again a head shake.
“You’re gonna die in bed with two women?”
“That’s a great way to go,” he said, “but not how I picture me going out.”
“I give up,” I told him.
“One more guess,” he requested of me.
“You’re gonna die in the greatest round of action in the greatest action fight ever?” I said.
“That would be pretty cool,” he said. “But no, that’s not it.”
“How, then, do you see yourself dying, Hector? Tell me. The suspense is overwhelming.”
“I see myself going out in a blaze of gunfire,” he said. He stared right at me. I stared right back.
“Uh, how?” I asked him. “Will it be a firing squad somewhere? Are you gonna hold up a bank and get taken down in a hail of swat team bullets as you try to escape? Where will you be when you buy the farm in a hail of bullets?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t see a whole picture. I don’t see any shooters. I just see me going out that way.”
I shook my head and used his prophecy to segue onto another track.
“Actually, I just realized how you’re gonna go out,” I told him.
“How?” he asked.
“Cocaine,” I said. “Drugs.”
“Come on, Randy, chill out!” he’d say. “I appreciate the big brother stuff, but I can handle this. I’m just having some fun.”
As it turned out, he couldn’t “handle it.” Nobody can. But he was still having fun. His associates were known drug dealers, pushers and users. They became a major part of his entourage. I loved seeing him rise to superstardom and become boxing’s Father of the Flashy Entrance. I was thrilled at seeing him in nationally-televised fights and becoming champion in several weight divisions.
But I cringed at the creepazoids and lowlifes who permeated every one of his training camps. He enjoyed the hangers-on, and of course, they enjoyed the free ride, the lavish hotel suites, the late nights and the fast women. And of course, they all loved the cocaine. It was like you see in the movies. It was all over their rooms.
At the International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in 2008, I spent a few hours with “Macho Man.” At one point, he reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a small bag. It was filled with white powder.
“Want some?" he asked.
“You know I don’t do that stuff, Hector!” I said.
“I can’t believe you won’t even try it,” he said.
I grabbed his wrist.
“PUT IT AWAY! PUT IT AWAY NOW!” I said, angrily. “Damn, you’re 46 years old. Isn’t it time you grew up?”
He looked at me with puppy dog eyes.
“I’m sorry, Randy,” he said. “This stuff always makes me…”
“STOP!” I barked. “JUST STOP! You are too good of a person, too much of a man, too much of a fighter, too much of a champion, to let this evil possess you like this. Hector, as your longtime friend, I beg of you to stop. Please?”
He put a hand on my shoulder. He looked as if he was going to cry.
“I can’t promise I will stop,” he said. “But I promise I will try. I promise.”
That was the last time I saw Hector. Then came the phone call from a producer/colleague/friend at SiriusXM Radio, Lou Pellegrino.
“Randy, Hector Camacho’s been shot in Puerto Rico,” said Pellegrino.
“Initial reports say he died,” Pellegrino told me. “But this is just coming in now. I know you were friends with him. I wanted to let you know right away.”
I walked into my home office and sat down at the computer. Nothing was on the Internet. Maybe Pellegrino was wrong. But within a few minutes, the Internet lit up. So did my phone. We all know the rest of the story.
I sat at my desk and thought about Camacho, of those early days at Ring Magazine, of how he entertained us, of the fights he won, of the titles he won, of the superstars he fought and of all he meant to boxing. I thought of how he should certainly be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Then, I heard his words to me. They sent shivers throughout my body.
“I see myself going out in a blaze of gunfire.”
Just like his predictions on many of his fights, Hector Camacho was right on how he would meet his end.
I wish it didn’t end this way. But it had to. He knew it. It was the life he chose and the life he lived.
Hector “Macho” Camacho packed a whole lot of life into his half-century on Earth. It’s not how he died that I will remember.
It’s how he lived.