SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Hector “Macho” Camacho was a brash fighter with a mean jab and an aggressive style, launching himself furiously against some of the biggest names in boxing. And his bad-boy persona was not entirely an act, with a history of legal scrapes that began in his teens and continued throughout his life.
The man who once starred at the pinnacle of boxing, winning several world titles, died Saturday after being ambushed in a parking lot back in the Puerto Rican town of Bayamon where he was born. Packets of cocaine were found in the car in which he was shot.
Camacho, 50, left behind a reputation for flamboyance – leading fans in cheers of “It’s Macho time!” before fights – and for fearsome skills as one of the top fighters of his generation.
“He excited boxing fans around the world with his inimitable style,” promoter Don King told The Associated Press.
Camacho fought professionally for three decades, from his humble debut against David Brown at New York’s Felt Forum in 1980 to an equally forgettable swansong against Saul Duran in Kissimmee, Florida, in 2010.
In between, he fought some of the biggest stars spanning two eras, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Roberto Duran.
“Hector was a fighter who brought a lot of excitement to boxing,” said Ed Brophy, executive director of International the Boxing Hall of Fame. “He was a good champion. Roberto Duran is kind of in a class of his own, but Hector surely was an exciting fighter that gave his all to the sport.”
Camacho’s family moved to New York when he was young and he grew up in Spanish Harlem, which at the time was rife with crime. Camacho landed in jail as a teenager before turning to boxing, which for many kids in his neighborhood provided an outlet for their aggression.
“This is something I’ve done all my life, you know?” Camacho told The Associated Press after a workout in 2010. “A couple years back, when I was doing it, I was still enjoying it. The competition, to see myself perform. I know I’m at the age that some people can’t do this no more.”
Former featherweight champion Juan Laporte, a friend since childhood, described Camacho as “like a little brother who was always getting into trouble,” but otherwise combined a friendly nature with a powerful jab.
“He’s a good human being, a good hearted person,” Laporte said as he waited with other friends and members of the boxer’s family outside the hospital in San Juan after the shooting. “A lot of people think of him as a cocky person but that was his motto ... Inside he was just a kid looking for something.”
Laporte lamented that Camacho never found a mentor to guide him outside the boxing ring.
“The people around him didn’t have the guts or strength to lead him in the right direction,” Laporte said. “There was no one strong enough to put a hand on his shoulder and tell him how to do it.”
George Lozada, a longtime friend from New York who flew to Puerto Rico on Saturday, recalled that just hours after he was released from prison after serving a murder sentence, he received a call from Camacho, who was waiting outside his apartment in a black Porsche.
“He said, ‘Come down, I’m taking you shopping,’” Lozada said, wiping away tears.
“Because of him, man, I got what I got today,” he said, pointing to pictures on his smartphone of his 6-year-old daughter. “Because of Hector, I stopped the drug scene ... He’s helped so many people.”
Drug, alcohol and other problems trailed Camacho himself after the prime of his boxing career. He was sentenced in 2007 to seven years in prison for the burglary of a computer store in Mississippi. While arresting him on the burglary charge in January 2005, police also found the drug ecstasy.
A judge eventually suspended all but one year of the sentence and gave Camacho probation. He wound up serving two weeks in jail, though, after violating that probation.
Camacho’s former wife, Amy, obtained a restraining order against him in 1998, alleging he threatened her and one of their children. The couple, who had two children at the time, later divorced.
He divided his time between Puerto Rico and Florida in recent years, appearing on Spanish-language television as well as on a reality show called “Es Macho Time!” on YouTube.
Inside the boxing ring, Camacho flourished. He won three Golden Gloves titles as an amateur, and after turning pro, he quickly became a contender with an all-action style reminiscent of other Puerto Rican fighters.
Long promoted by Don King, Camacho won his first world title by beating Rafael Limon in a super-featherweight bout in Puerto Rico on Aug. 7, 1983. He moved up in weight two years later to capture a lightweight title by defeating Jose Luis Ramirez, and successfully defended the belt against fellow countryman Edwin Rosario.
The Rosario fight, in which the victorious Camacho still took a savage beating, persuaded him to scale back his ultra-aggressive style in favor of a more cerebral, defensive approach.
The change in style was a big reason that Camacho, at the time 38-0, lost a close split decision to Greg Haugen at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in 1991.
Camacho won the rematch to set up his signature fight against Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez, this time at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Camacho was roundly criticized for his lack of action, and the Mexican champion won a lopsided unanimous decision to retain the lightweight title.
“Even though people say I beat him easily, it wasn’t that way,” Chavez told Mexico’s ESPN-Radio Formula this week. “He was a very fast fighter, he faced everything and it was very hard for me.”
“He revolutionized boxing, Chavez said. “It’s a shame he got mixed up in so many problems.”
After that loss, Camacho became the name opponent for other rising contenders, rather than the headliner fighting for his own glory.
He lost a unanimous decision to another young Puerto Rican fighter, Trinidad, and was soundly defeated by De La Hoya. In 1997, Camacho ended Leonard’s final comeback with a fifth-round knockout. It was Camacho’s last big victory even though he boxed for another decade.
The fighter’s last title bout came in 1997 against welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya, who won by unanimous decision. Camacho’s last fight was his defeat by Saul Duran in May 2010. He had a career record of 79-6-3.
Doctors pronounced Camacho dead on Saturday after he was removed from life support at his family’s direction. He never regained consciousness after at least one gunman crept up to the car in a darkened parking lot and opened fire.
No arrests and have been made, and authorities have not revealed many details beyond the facts that police found cocaine in the car and that the boxer and his friend, who was killed at the scene, had no idea the attack was coming. “Apparently, this was a surprise,” said Alex Diaz, a police spokesman.
Survivors include his mother; three sisters, Raquel, Estrella and Ester; a brother, Felix; and four sons, Hector Jr., Taylor, Christian and Justin.