The event drew 5,000 people, standing room only. NBC decided to televise the spectacle. When their television producers walked into the building, they gasped and said, “Oh my, if we could just put this building on wheels.” That building was of course Memorial Coliseum, the Madison Square Garden of the Coastal Bend. “It was the perfect fight venue because every seat in the house was a great seat,” said promoter Lester Bedford. The ceiling was low and rounded and smoking was permitted at that time. The haze of the smoke hung over the ring as the boxers battled it out in front of a packed house. It was loud and the fans colorful, a perfect setting for showing a fight on television. From 1954 until 2004, boxing was the biggest professional sport in Corpus Christi, Texas. That’s where I first saw Hector Luis “Macho” Camacho in person. Macho Man was a young, brash kid from Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Some guys have a chip on their shoulder; he had a whole cord of wood. He came into the fight with eleven wins and no defeats. They should have hung a sign over Camacho’s dressing room door that said “Speed Kills;” he just had such energy. With lightning-quick hands he could hit you so many times you thought you were surrounded. His challenger, Rafael Williams, sported an equally impressive record of 19-1. On May 20, 1984, Macho Man danced while Williams kept catching Camacho’s right-hand jabs with his face. The fight was stopped in the 7 round and ruled a TKO (technical knockout) in favor of Camacho. At 5’ 6” tall and weighing 133 pounds, Hector was a middleweight, a star waiting his turn to shine. Hector wore his hair cut close with a spit curl that hung down in the middle of his forehead. His body was bronzed and his shoulders were broad enough to serve breakfast on. He was a southpaw. He owned guts, wanted glory, and was fifty miles away from being smart.
Hector Luis Camacho Matias was born on May 24, 1962. He was the youngest of five children. At the age of three, Hector moved to New York City’s Spanish Harlem with his mom, Maria, and took up boxing by the age of fifteen. He had been kicked out of six different schools, but managed to win the New York City Golden Gloves Titles, three different times. He was an admitted car thief, a drug user and had been arrested for shoplifting. He eventually served time in prison at Rikers Island. Pat Flannery, a language teacher who taught him to read, became a father figure to Hector. It was Flannery who is credited with giving Camacho his nickname. Sometimes even the harshest of sports acts as a rescue for some.
It has been said that in ancient times strangers shook hands to show they were unarmed. That did not apply to the sweet science of boxing. A precise counter-puncher, Camacho became a flamboyant fighter during a time when the sport was in its heyday. Hector looked like an extra in a gladiator movie. He would dress in unforgettable style and was always a favorite on the Las Vegas strip. He wore dazzling outfits and dressed as a Roman gladiator, in an American Indian headdress, Army camouflage trunks with helmet, a Puerto Rican flag outfit, and cheetah-skin trunks. He won four World Championships in three different weight divisions. Those divisions were listed as super flyweight, lightweight, and junior welterweight. Camacho would win one war after another. He had the temper of a gangster and was so mean he would kick puppies. Along the way he won a unanimous decision over Freddie Roach and Vinny Pazienza and a split decision over Edwin Rosario and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. On September 12, 1992, in Las Vegas, Camacho lost a unanimous decision to Julio Cesar Chavez. Camacho’s record now stood at 27-2. On January 29, 1994, he lost a third time, to Felix Trinidad.
On April 22, 1996, Macho Man returned to Corpus Christi to fight Wilbur Garst. This was a tune-up fight for Roberto Duran. The fight was stopped in the seventh round by TKO; Camacho was again a winner. I was at ringside with my pal Scott Robinson; what a fight. Angelo Dundee was Hector Camacho’s trainer.
A total of 17 World Champions have fought in the old building: From Frankie Warren to Buddy McGirt, Jesse Benavides to Ronnie Shields, Lupe Suarez to Evander Holyfield, “Sweet Pea” Whitaker to Meldrick Taylor, and Jorge Paez to “Jesse” James Leija. I even remember Jerry Quarry singing the National Anthem before a fight at the coliseum. Yeah, the old gal had seen a lot. The coliseum was finally torn down in 2010.
On June 22, 1996, Camacho fought and out-pointed Roberto Duran for a win, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. On March 1, 1997, Hector fought and knocked out “Sugar Ray” Leonard, sending Leonard into permanent retirement. “He was not only quick, but accurate,” said Leonard. But then he lost his next fight to Oscar De La Hoya. “I remember Emanuel Steward told me, ‘You are not going to knock him out; his chin is made of granite, and his heart is twice the size,’” said De La Hoya. Even though De La Hoya knocked Camacho to the canvas, Steward was proved correct as Camacho went the distance with De La Hoya, but lost by a 12-round unanimous decision. Camacho would ask and get a rematch with Roberto Duran on July 14, 2001. This fight would go the distance with Camacho winning for a second time over Duran.
CBS loved the guy. They always wanted to air his fights because he got them good ratings. Camacho would retire in 2010. His thirty-year career record stands at 79-6-3 with 45 knockouts. It seems kind of odd these days to write about boxing, a sport in which a concussion is usually the preferred outcome, while the game of football goes on trial every day in regards to eliminating concussions.
On Tuesday, November 20, 2012, Hector Camacho was shot in the left side of his face while sitting with a friend in a black Ford Mustang. His friend, Adrian Moreno, was also killed by the drive-by shooter. After surgery, he was declared brain dead on Thursday and removed from life support. Camacho threw his last jab at life on Saturday, November 24, 2012. He was 50 years old and died of a heart attack. Cocaine was found at the scene, and there was no arrest at that time. There is no doubt that he lived in the fast lane, as dangerously as he fought. Camacho had five children from different relationships. Camacho’s son, Hector Camacho Jr., is also a boxer like his dad, who is also survived by his parents.
The President of HBO, Ken Hershman said, “Everybody at HBO Boxing is saddened by the tragic passing of Hector Macho Camacho. During the prime of his career, he played an important role in driving the sport’s popularity. He was one of those fighters you had to keep your eyes on.” Bob Arum, the long-time boxing promoter, who put together the Oscar De La Hoya-Hector Camacho fight said, “I always thought Camacho was a fool, a loose cannon, but then I realized that he was very, very clever. He had an instinct to know what would bring attention to him and the event. Even though De La Hoya was the star, it was Camacho that carried that promotion,” said Arum. “He was one of those rare athletes, a dynamic package of energy, talent, raw nerve, and arrogance,” said HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant. Everybody knew that he had always been fighting for his life.
In life as in death, time moves forward. Macho Man and fight night at Memorial Coliseum are no more.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or [email protected]