Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Macho Man' tore up life's fast lane

Brain-dead boxing great had his share of crashes

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During his fistic prime, the only thing faster than Hector Camacho's hands -- or his mouth -- was his lifestyle. They were all a blur.

We don't know what is more astounding: That Camacho -- declared brain-dead Thursday and clinging to life in a Puerto Rican hospital -- made it to 50 years old... or that the former teenage car thief raised on the streets of Spanish Harlem fought professionally for 30 years, earning millions while pursuing decadence with reckless fury.

Camacho drove through life without a speedometer. And if anyone needed a governor on a high-revving engine, it was the mischievous "Macho Man" -- a 5-6 born-to-be-wild whippet of sass.

Last year, Camacho was shot in Puerto Rico as he drove away from what he said were carjackers. On Tuesday, the former three-time world champion was shot in the face as he sat in the passenger's seat of a vehicle; the driver instantly was killed. Police said they retrieved 10 bags of cocaine from the vehicle, nine in the driver's possession.

Back in the early '80s, Camacho's then-estranged manager, Billy Giles, told USA TODAY that his fighter was "drowning in drugs," that he "never will make it back."

Indeed Camacho never seemed to leave. He fought for another quarter of a century. His last fight was in 2010, only 10 days before his 48th birthday.

Dripping in gold, and sporting a devilish curl of black hair on his forehead, Camacho was a cartoon character come to life -- amusing, flamboyant, irreverent. He admired Bruce Lee, compared himself to Elvis. But make no mistake: Hector Camacho also was highly accomplished in matters of hand-to-hand combat.

From 130 to 135 pounds, the clever southpaw possessed blinding-fast hand speed and footwork to match, the latter of which he came to rely on after his confrontation with hard-hitting lightweight challenger Edwin Rosario at Madison Square Garden in 1986.

That night ultimately stifled Camacho's true potential. Only 24, he was rocked like never before. Badly sliced over his left eye, legs wobbly, Camacho summoned his pride and courage, and he (barely) prevailed.

Camacho, a sharp but soft puncher, would spend much of the rest of his career in safety-first survival mode. Many Puerto Ricans, losing respect, never let him forget it.

An ultra-sensitive sort, Camacho once told me: "When you get picked on all the time, you have a tendency to get insecure."

He would later fight several boxing luminaries: Julio Cesar Chavez, Ray Mancini, Oscar De La Hoya, Roberto Duran, among others. But Camacho long ago had lost interest in his craft, carelessly squandering a shot at true greatness. After a narrow victory against Greg Haugen in 1991, he told me: "I can't abuse my body (anymore), living the nightlife as I do. It's going to kill me down the road."

Few, if any, were as talented or adept at self-promotion, hence his longevity. Who could forget the Macho Man's outlandish, often skimpy, ring attire? Our personal favorite: the Roman soldier get-up he donned to fight Sugar Ray Leonard in 1997. We can only imagine how Camacho's knack for showmanship and controversy would've blown up in today's social media-saturated environment.

Mostly, Camacho's bizarre life continued to veer out of control.

During one of the few instances when he managed to ease off life's accelerator, Camacho still got sideways. In 1988, a Florida trooper pulled over the fighter's new black Ferrari because Camacho was doing only 35 mph on I-75.

Well, Camacho was doing a little bit more than that.

The officer later was quoted as saying he pulled over Camacho because "he was doing the wild thing" with a woman on his lap.

Booze, drugs, women, frequent arrests -- Camacho tore down the party lane of life like no other athlete, not even a hard-driving Mike Tyson.

John Russell, who began training Camacho in the mid-'90s, said that Camacho loved to drive "super-fast," and had a terrifying habit of passing cars on the right -- on the berm.

"He always patted me on the leg and would say, 'Relax, relax,' then would fly around someone on the right," he said. "They would be freaking out."

Camacho once bragged about wrecking a Lotus, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a Corvette during his lifetime -- also a regular old Jeep, but who cares when you're destroying exotics? In pure Macho Man logic he said, "As long as I have a license, I'll keep crashing cars. That's how you become a great driver."

He just never knew when to lift his foot.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 C8

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