Three-division former world boxing champion Hector "Macho" Camacho died Saturday after being shot in the face in Bayamon, P.R. on Tuesday. He was 50.
Camacho, a boxing legend who could be considered a bridge between boxing's past and its future, was declared dead by doctors shortly after his family took him off life support.
During his career, which spanned 30 years, he represented the sport's modern era with his over-the-top personality. He was colorful, he was braggadocious, he was outlandish and, at the height of his game, he was a must-watch attraction.
He debuted more than a decade before the pay-per-view era kicked off, but if ever there were a fighter who was made for pay-per-view, it was Camacho. He could sell a fight as well as anyone who ever lived.
"He understood the importance of marketing a fight and selling the fight," said Oscar De La Hoya, who scored a unanimous decision over Camacho in 1997. "He had his fans and they would be behind him so strong, but he also knew how to get under the skin of the opponent's fans and they would watch his fights hoping to see him get beaten.
"When I fought him, that was the first fight I was involved in where the opponent was really selling the fight hard. He was definitely advanced when it came to the marketing side of boxing and selling himself."
But Camacho was also a bridge to boxing's past, because unlike so many of the sport's current stars, he eagerly sought out and fought the best of his era. Camacho didn't worry so much about purse-split percentages, pay-per-view shares (because he didn't have to) or billing. He was a throwback to an earlier time in that he possessed an anytime, anywhere mentality.
He demanded attention with his flamboyance, but because of the length of his career, and the high-profile nature of many of his opponents, he hasn't been accorded the kind of respect his 79-6-3 record would suggest he deserves.
There will be a battle, but Camacho clearly deserves induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. At his peak, he was a lithe, quick boxer who was virtually impossible to hit with clean punches. And though he didn't have a reputation as a puncher, De La Hoya said he could hit.
"He actually did have quite a bit of pop," De La Hoya said. "He wasn't feather-fisted, definitely not. I can tell you from experience, it's not like he had pillows on the ends of his hands."
Camacho's Hall of Fame credentials are bolstered by wins over the likes of Rafael "Bazooka" Limon, Jose Luis Ramirez, Edwin Rosario, Howard Davis, Tony Baltazar, Ray Mancini, Vinny Pazienza (now Paz) and Greg Haugen. He also defeated well-past-their-prime versions of Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard.
But in his biggest fights – against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Felix Trinidad and De La Hoya – he came up short. Still, he fought the best of his era at their best weights and, usually, at the peak of their careers.
"This guy was a throwback," promoter Don King said. "When I had a fight, he would just say where and when. He was totally fearless, and he loved to fight. The bigger the fight, the more he loved the challenge."
Chavez was never bigger than when he defeated Camacho in 1992, the year that De La Hoya turned pro. Chavez was 81-0 and sat at the top of the pound-for-pound rankings.
Trinidad was 21 when they met in 1994 and blossoming into the most dangerous welterweight in the world. And De La Hoya was 24 and coming off a win over the great Pernell Whitaker when he met Camacho.
"He was definitely difficult to hit because he had great legs, great movement and he was very fast," De La Hoya said. "I learned a lot from fighting him. He taught me patience. The knockout is not always going to come. He taught me the importance of setting up my punches and to take a little off of them from time to time. I grew a lot as a fighter from fighting him."
Perhaps the most under-appreciated element of Camacho's game was his chin. He was never stopped, a remarkable note considered the punchers he faced and the sheer volume of times he competed.
His first fight came on Sept. 12, 1980, while Jimmy Carter was still president. His final bout was on May 14, 2010, against Saul Duran.
He was around so long that Floyd Mayweather Jr., now the world's best fighter, was just 3 when Camacho made his pro debut in the Felt Forum in New York.
To not be knocked out during that time was a remarkable feat. He was past his prime in 1994 when he met Trinidad, a murderous puncher who at that time had 19 knockouts in 22 fights. Still, Trinidad was unable to get the finish.
"Camacho was a great athlete and, without a doubt, he is fighting now his toughest battle yet," Trinidad told Primera Hora, a Puerto Rican newspaper. "I wish God can work a miracle for him. The 'Macho Man' is one of the greatest boxing champions this country has ever had and has made a lot of people proud."
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