The outrageous Héctor “Macho” Camacho, a world champion boxer at three different weights, has died at the age of 50, four days after a drive-by shooting in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. With a professional career spanning 30 years, in his prime Camacho was a beautiful stylist, but often seemed to revel more in the overtly hedonistic lifestyle that money and fame was able to bring him outside the ring.Only this year, he was starring in a television dating show in which women would compete for the prize of being dated by the host, Camacho. Despite a lifetime’s close acquaintance with drugs and drink, not to mention 100 amateur fights, 88 more as a professional and countless skirmishes on the streets of New York, where he grew up, Camacho had kept his attractiveness to the opposite sex, and knew it.
The stories had already gone down in boxing folklore by the time he fought a faded Sugar Ray Leonard in Atlantic City in 1997. Camacho claimed to have been expelled from six schools and to have been jailed for the first time after taking part in an attempted car theft when he was only 15. There had been years of cocaine abuse and drinking that would surely have incapacitated most, but Camacho brushed them off with a smile.
His long-suffering wife Amy, from whom he was eventually divorced in 2001, had seen her husband flaunt numerous adulterous relationships and have frequent brushes with the law, including one traffic violation where patrol officers, trailing a sports car driven at high speed, were astonished to see a woman passenger astride the driver apparently enjoying a 90mph sexual encounter. When pulled over, the driver, Camacho, duly took his ticket for dangerous driving and happily admitted – as he would tell many an interviewer thereafter – that he had been “doin’ the wild thing”.
By 1997, he and Amy seemed to be happier. Camacho said he was free of drugs and spoke of his family life, and how he would easily defeat Leonard – a prediction that came true, but only after Camacho had provided the event’s most memorable moment, at the weigh-in.
The ceremony was being broadcast, live, on the American television network ESPN. Leonard weighed in first, inside the middleweight limit. Then Camacho, who must have known he was comfortably within the stipulated weight, stripped naked to step on the scales wearing no more than a cherubic smile, leaving the audience in hysterical uproar and commentators speechless.
Camacho was born in Bayamón, but grew up in New York’s Spanish Harlem after his parents separated and moved there with his mother when only three years old. He grew up in poverty and became a noted street fighter, but was steered towards boxing, which helped curb his boisterous teenage aggression.
It was a teacher at Manhattan high school, an institution that specialised in disruptive children, who gave Camacho the “Macho” nickname that stayed with him for life.
A brilliant amateur, with only four defeats in his 100 contests and three New York Golden Gloves titles, Camacho made his professional debut in New York aged only 18. By 1983, he had won the WBC super-featherweight title, knocking out Rafael “Bazooka” Limón in five rounds, and two years later defeated another Mexican, José Luis Ramírez, on points over 12 rounds to take the WBC lightweight crown.
Many thought he was lucky to defeat another Puerto Rican, Edwin Rosario, by a split decision in a defence of that title in 1986. The fight proved to be a salutary experience that would change Camacho’s style. The youthful macho man became a more cunning and elusive tactician, eventually picking up the WBO light-welterweight title with another split-decision win, over Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini in 1989.
Camacho’s winning run ended in 1991, in his 40th fight, when he lost his title through a tight decision to the American Greg Haugen. Although he won in a rematch with Haugen, Camacho’s time as a holder of internationally recognised world titles came to an end when he was trounced by the great Mexican Julio César Chávez in a WBC light-welterweight title fight in Las Vegas in 1992.
Camacho fought twice more for versions of the world welterweight title, against the Puerto Rican Félix Trinidad in 1994 and another American, Oscar De La Hoya, in 1997, losing both on points, and had his last fight in 2010, leaving him with a career record of 79 wins, six defeats and three draws.
Some derided Camacho as a narcissist who made his mark with flamboyant ring entrances, dressed as a Roman gladiator, a Native American brave, in various leotards and, once, merely in a loincloth. But that would be to sell him short. At his best, Camacho was outstanding.
He leaves five children from a number of relationships. His son Héctor Jr was also a pro fighter.
• Héctor Luis “Macho” Camacho Matías, boxer, born 24 May 1962; died 24 November 2012
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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