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 back in the Puerto Rican town of Bayamon where he was born, ambushed in a parking lot in a car where packets of cocaine were found.
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 swan song against Saul Duran in Kissimmee, Fla., 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 the International 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.