Born in Bayamón and raised in New York City's Spanish Harlem, Camacho became one of the most popular fighters of the 80s and 90s, winning world titles in the Super Featherweight, Lightweight, and Light Welterweight divisions. Camacho put up some dominant performances during his 30-year career, in which he won 88 fights, and only lost six. He knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard, and twice defeated Panamanian Roberto Durán, but also lost highly publicized bouts with Julio Cesar Chavez, and Oscar de la Hoya, who defeated Camacho in 1997.
When Camacho was 14 he began working with Robert Lee Velez, an ex-gang member who had also spent time in jail as a youth. Velez, then 38 years old, had become a butcher and moonlighted in his spare time as a boxing instructor. Impressed after seeing Camacho box, Velez began coaching him, turning the teenager from a slugger into a finesse boxer, and teaching him to use strategy along with his lightning speed to his advantage. Camacho began attending Manhattan High School, a school for troubled kids who were too disruptive in regular high schools. There he received support and guidance from Pat Flannery, a language-arts teacher. When Camacho arrived at the school at the age of 15, he was basically illiterate. Flannery became his mentor, teacher, and father figure. He taught him how to read and helped him clear up his nearly unintelligible diction.
At first Flannery discouraged Camacho's dreams of becoming a boxer, but when the boy persisted, Flannery supplied him with boxing shoes and helped him sign up for the Golden Gloves competition. It was Flannery who came up with the nickname "Macho Camacho." In 1982, with an amateur record of 96-4, Camacho quit school during his junior year to pursue a full-time boxing career. During 1980 Camacho fought twice, winning both matches. During 1981 he stepped up his schedule, entering the ring ten times and winning all, half by KOs. In December of 1981 he beat Blaine Dickson in New York City in a 12-round contest to take the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) junior lightweight title (super-feather weight). In 1982 Camacho successfully defended his NABF junior lightweight title three times. During that year Camacho began to fight outside of New York, with bouts in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. His bout with Johnny Sato in August of 1982 earned him space in Sports Illustrated, which noted that Camacho has "the purist's blend of artistry and speed, and only occasionally reverts to some of the less refined moves he learned in the streets. He has been known to hit on the break and has a knack for spinning an opponent and then whacking him from behind." Camacho's flashy style in and out of the ring made him a prime candidate for television, and CBS booked him for six bouts that were nationally televised, greatly increasing Camacho's name recognition.
"Macho Camacho", Won Titles
In August of 1983 Camacho returned to Puerto Rico to face Rafael "Bazooka" Limon for the World Boxing Council (WBC) junior lightweight title. Fighting before a crowd of 10,000 in San Juan, 21-year-old Camacho destroyed 29-year-old veteran Limon, who was at the time ranked third, earning a technical knock out (TKO) in the fifth round. Camacho entered the ring in leopard-spotted trucks with a jacket to match. Sports Illustrated reported: "A buzz saw, not a belt, whipped Limon. Camacho leaped out of his corner at the opening bell and chased Limon backward, nearly bowling him over in the first 10 seconds. Camacho dominated that round as well as the second, while Limon was able only to send out his long, slow, looping rights and lefts."
In June of 1984 Camacho, who consistently struggled with maintaining a disciplined training schedule, gave up his super-feather weight title because he couldn't make the required weight (126 pounds) to defend it. At the peak of his career, Camacho suffered a personal and professional setback after a disagreement with his manager-trainer, Billy Giles, which ended the boxer's relationship with his manager. Giles then announced that Camacho had a serious drug habit. "The streets got Camacho again," he told New York. "A lot of drugs. You could tell by his performance in the ring, the way he was starting to lose his oxygen." Camacho fell into a deep depression, and did not fight for the remainder of the year. He returned to the ring in 1985 and claimed the WBC lightweight title in a 12-round decision in Las Vegas against Jose Luis Ramirez. He successfully defended the title twice in 1986. His bout with Edwin Rosario in June of 1986 was a split decision, and although he managed to hang on for the win, Camacho took a beating from the knock-down power punches of his opponent. After just three fights in 1987 and 1988, Camacho stepped into the ring on March 3, 1989, to defeat Ray Mancini in a 12-round decision that awarded Camacho the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior welterweight title. After two non-title bouts, Camacho defended his welterweight title twice in 1990.
Later Career Wins and Losses
Greg Haugen handed Camacho his first professional loss in 1991, breaking Camacho's perfect 39-0 record. After losing the 12-round decision, Camacho briefly relinquished the junior welterweight title; however, in 1991 he went another 12 rounds with Haugen to regain the title. In September of 1992 Camacho faced Julio César Chávez, one of the greatest boxers in the lighter weight divisions. Over his career Camacho had battled critics who thought he was a great talker and a great showman, but not a great boxer. A win over Chavez would quiet the critics. Camacho had told Sport two years earlier, "The Chavez fight is the ultimate. I have to be my very best to beat him." Unfortunately for Camacho, he lost the bout in a 12-round decision, turning over his WBC junior welterweight title and missing an opportunity to pick up the International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior welter-weight title.
After three non-title bouts in 1993, Camacho had a shot at the IBF welterweight title in 1994, against Felix "Tito" Trinidad, but lost by decision in 12 rounds. However, the next year proved to be a time of renewed commitment by Camacho. He won ten bouts, took the International Boxing Council's (IBC) welterweight title in January, and successfully defended it in two title fights during the year. In 1996 he entered the ring six times, winning five of the fights, with one draw. The highlight of his year was a 12-round win over boxing great Roberto Duran. In 1997 he pounded an aging Sugar Ray Leonard, who was making his last comeback attempt, and won by TKO in the fifth round. In March of 1997 he faced Oscar De La Hoya for a $3-million payout, the largest of his career, for the WBC welter-weight title. The younger De La Hoya outmatched Camacho, who was by then a step off his signature quickness. De La Hoya, hoping to be the first to beat Camacho by a KO, settled for being only the second fighter to knock Camacho to the ground, winning by decision.
Between 1998 and 2000, Camacho fought ten times, winning nine and fighting to a draw in another. In 2001 he once again faced Duran, who was attempting a comeback. Camacho won a 12-round decision and claimed the National Boxing Association (NBA) super middleweight title, but the fight, between two boxers now considered to be elder statesmen, had little fanfare. With no fights in 2002, Camacho returned to the ring in 2003 to win by TKO in the ninth round against Otilio Villareal. Though his own boxing career is winding down, Camacho has now become deeply involved in the boxing career of his oldest son, Hector, Jr., a successful boxer in his own right..
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- North American Boxing Federation, junior lightweight title,
- 1982; World Boxing Council (WBC), junior lightweight title,
- 1983; Super-feather weight title, ca.
- 1984; WBC, lightweight title,
- 1985; World Boxing Organization (WBO), junior welterweight title,
- 1989; National Boxing Association (NBA), super middleweight title, 2001.
- It is impossible to understate what Camacho was able to do for the sport of boxing in the 1980s and '90s. He helped usher in a new era that was more about flamboyant personalities and playing to the crowd than being controversial for the sake of being controversial.