Hector Camacho Jr. had seen the bright lights that accompany fame and fortune. He had seen what crowded training camps, sold-out arenas, and lavish parties looked like.
His father was the late Hector “Macho” Camacho, a boxing superstar with a flamboyant personality and superb fighting skills that would assure him a place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Camacho Jr. had seen what all that looked like. Perhaps from something of a distance as his famous father was absent for stretches of his childhood, but he had seen it.
In July of 2001 the bright lights were focused on Camacho Jr. himself.
He was headlining the main event of an HBO broadcast from Keyspan Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn. On the fast track to a world title shot at super lightweight, and boasting an undefeated record of 32-0 the night he stepped into the ring to face Jesse James Leija. It was “Junior” time now.
Leija was a tough, experienced veteran standing as a gatekeeper. He was a serious challenge for Camacho Jr. If he passed through the gate he was well on his way to a title opportunity, and the acclaim that would go along with being Puerto Rico’s next rising star in boxing.
A head butt from Leija opened a cut over Camacho Jr.’s right eye in the midst of the action. The pressure was evident as Camacho Jr. dealt with being cut during the most important fight of his professional career.
When he returned to his stool at the end of the fifth round, a decision was made by his corner. Camacho Jr. would not be able to continue because the blood from the cut was affecting his vision.
After some ringside confusion between the referee , the judges, and the time keeper, the bell sounded for round six. Both fighters moved toward the center of the ring before the fight was waved off and Camacho Jr. was awarded a technical decision win.
His father, who was in attendance at ringside, left the ball park quickly, before any media could ask his opinion of the stoppage. Leija complained that Camacho Jr.’s vision was fine and that the fight should have been allowed to continue.
To make matters worse, two weeks later the NYSAC overturned the decision and ruled the bout a no contest.
In what seemed like an instant the boxing world turned on Camacho Jr. and the night at Coney Island changed him as a fighter.
In the months and years that followed the Leija bout Camacho Jr. seemed to go through the motions, his heart no longer fully invested in the demanding world of the sweet science.
He had trouble making weight for his bouts and would even move up to middleweight to accommodate the extra pounds. He continued to win with a few losses sprinkled in, but the losses came against name opponents.
The fast track was replaced by a bumpy road that found him occasionally fighting on the same cards with his father. The Camacho name was the currency that drew fans into ballrooms and arenas around the country.
As the bouts in relative obscurity wore on, Camacho Jr. was off the boxing radar. His father’s name was still active in the press, but usually associated with exploits outside the squared circle.
In November of last year Camacho Sr. was shot and subsequently died from a gunshot wound suffered during an apparent robbery in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Camacho Jr. and his family dealt with the tragedy. Camacho Sr. was being kept alive only through life support measures. The decision was ultimately made to remove him from the machines that were keeping him functioning and allow him to pass away.
The aftermath of his father’s untimely death left Camacho Jr. in mourning and dealing with the pain of losing his father. It also found him reflecting on his boxing career and place in the sport.
An honest review of his career left him with an unsatisfied feeling. There was still something to prove. He felt he still had something left to give and there was a goal to reach for, to try and capture the world title that had almost been in his grasp, but slipped away.
As he prepares to face Irish junior middleweight champion Lee Murtagh (33-14-1, 1 KO) on August 8th at Frontier Field in Rochester, NY, in an eight round junior middleweight bout, Camacho Jr. (56-5-1, 31 KO) is back in the ring with a new sense of dedication and purpose. Securing his legacy in the world of boxing is clearly on his mind. His father’s legacy is secure and it is now “Junior” time again.
Realizing that he almost squandered the talent he is blessed with, at 34 years old, Camacho Jr. is ready for one last push towards a world title.
While his father’s death serves as the primary motivating force in his renewed commitment to boxing, Camacho Jr. also credits his conversion to Islam with giving him the maturity and mindset needed to undertake this comeback.
Indeed one of the religion’s tenets proved challenging for the Puerto Rican boxer as his training camp for this bout coincided with the observance of Ramadan. During the thirty day observance of Ramadan Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink any liquid from sunrise to sunset.
In some of his workouts with longtime trainer Carlos Santos, Camacho Jr. would feel dizzy and have to stop and gather himself. “I would be working on the heavy bag and at times feel like I was going to faint,” the fighter explained. “It was difficult not to be able to take a drink of water. I told myself if I can push through this, the fight will be easy.”
The eight round junior middleweight bout, with a contracted weight of 157 lbs, is being promoted by Pretty Girl Promotions, based in Rochester, NY. Company president Mercedes Vazquez had first approached Camacho Jr. about being the guest of honor at a fight card she was holding in Rochester as a tribute to his father this past spring.
Camacho Jr. accepted her invitation and when he arrived to a sold-out arena filled with boxing fans, many of them of Puerto Rican heritage, he was impressed. “I was pleasantly surprised to see an audience of three thousand people fill the arena. The fights were entertaining and Mercedes handled the promotion with a lot of class,” Camacho Jr. explained enthusiastically.
When she called him with the offer to fight Murtagh, Camacho Jr. was already impressed enough to accept readily.
In the week leading up to the fight Camacho Jr. reflected on his storied father’s passing and the personal boxing legacy he is trying to resurrect. “I still haven’t healed from my father’s death. I’m still in the process of healing. That will take time,” he explained at his New York hotel. “Returning to boxing and the discipline of the sport has helped with the healing process. Throughout my life whenever I had problems I would turn to boxing. It has always been my outlet.”
Coming to terms with the man who was his father is not so easy. “In a way his death has allowed me to feel free. I’ve stepped outside his shadow. He has moved on to a better place and I am here to finish the work that is in front of me,” a somber Camacho Jr. stated. “It’s like my father was two different people to me. As a parent he was never really around much. He became a father at age fifteen, so what could I expect from him. He had the type of personality that he couldn’t sit still for five minutes. That’s just who he was.” The proud son continued, “As a fighter he was so gifted, his boxing IQ was so high that I could have learned a lot from him. He could watch me spar or shadowbox and within minutes his eye would spot any mistake or area where I might need to improve. The problem was he never stayed in the gym long enough to help or watch me improve. Had he really invested time and effort with me in the gym, my boxing would be on an even higher level.”
To provide an example, Camacho Jr. recalls his training camp for the pivotal Leija fight. “We were in Denver for a six week training camp. My father was not in the gym with me once. As I would be leaving the hotel in the early morning hours to do my running, my father would just be getting back from a night out. We would pass each other in the lobby and say hello.”
Taking a look a little bit past the fight in front of him, Camacho Jr. would like to remain busy and fight as often as necessary to get back into title contention. A scrapped bout with Dmitriy Salita that had originally been scheduled as part of the Zab Judah/Danny Jacobs undercard may be revived in the fall in New York City.
Camacho Jr. has also started the “Guns Down, Gloves Up” foundation, based in Puerto Rico. Using the tragic death of his father as a personal example of how guns can destroy lives, the boxer speaks to youth about finding a healthy outlet for their anger and aggression through boxing.
When he finally hangs up the gloves Camacho Jr. has begun planning for a “Macho Wear” clothing line that will feature boxing gear in the flamboyant Camacho tradition.
There is also a bronze statue of his father that Camacho Jr. has commissioned. The statue will be crafted by an artisan in Spain and unveiled in a place of honor in Puerto Rico.
He is his is father’s son.
POSTSCRIPT: Camacho Junior weighed 167 pounds, ten pounds over the contracted weight, at a Wednesday weigh in. He will be re-weighed at noon the day of the fight, and if he hasn’t gained weight the fight will go on, the promoter informs TSS. If he has gained weight, his opponent would have to decide whether or not to participate.
Hector Camacho Jr. faces Lee Murtagh in an eight round junior middleweight bout Thursday, August 08, 2013 at Frontier Field in Rochester, NY. Tickets priced from $20 -$100 are available at the Frontier Field box office.