Emerging from the slashing switchblade streets of 1970s Spanish Harlem—not a neighborhood listed in Baedeker—Hector Camacho was one of the brightest young stars of the 1980s. Breathtakingly fast—like a shot from a Widowmaker—this gifted southpaw was all dashing streetpunk flash. Before mirrorball after mirrorball called his number and the yayo refused to let him go, Camacho was considered a lock for true ring greatness. It never happened. Stalled by party hats, battles with promotional fat cats, and a never-ending case of the continental NYPD blues, Camacho was headline news and earned millions, but he never came close to reaching his limitless potential.
June 13, 1986, New York City
By 1986, Edwin Rosario was thought to be on the downside. Injuries, a suspect chin, and a recently-developed seek-and-destroy style all conspired to hold “Chapo” back. Stopped by Jose Luis Ramirez in a savage brawl in 1984, Rosario, once dubbed “The Roberto Duran of the 1980s,” had since struggled to outpoint Frankie Randall to earn another shot at the lightweight title. And Hector “Macho” Camacho, in the first defense of his lightweight title, was expected to send Rosario back to Puerto Rico, where he could doze on a beach beneath the wide brim of a straw hat and drown away defeat with a few cans of Cerveza Medalla.
Unfortunately for Camacho, it was Friday the 13th.
Over 10,000 fans gathered at Madison Square Garden to see this Battle of the Boricuas. Camacho, 30-0 and the gaudiest personality of his day, entered the ring to his own theme song—horrifying electro-funk kitsch—and a glittering Puerto Rican robe said to have cost $8,000. That was a hell of a lot of lettuce in those days. But Camacho spared no expense when it came to playing street punk Falstaff for his not-so-adoring public. Certainly, the stunt he pulled on Rosario before the fight required not only cash but a dash of lewd imagination.
From World Boxing:
“I went to Gimbel’s and bought a pair of ladies’ panties for Rosario. They were red, brief and lacy. The sales lady looked at me like I was weird.” Camacho placed the undergarment in a box along with his autograph and a red rose, and sent it to Rosario’s room at the Penta Hotel, across the street from the Garden. On the card attached to the box he wrote, “Couldn’t make it, wish you the best,” signed Rafael Hernandez Colon (who is the governor of Puerto Rico). “That made him fight harder,” Camacho said in the understatement of the year.
After dancing in the ring and exhorting his seven-year-old son, Hector Jr., to flurry for the crowd, Camacho was ready to put on a show. A stylish Camacho boxed his way to an early lead into the fifth round, when Rosario cracked him with a left hook that had “The Macho Man” holding as if he were on the Copacabana dance floor. Rosario struck again in the 11th, rocking Camacho with a hard right and firing heavy shots from every conceivable angle while Camacho sagged against the ropes. Between these two rocky moments, however, Camacho boxed, ran, held, and occasionally opened up with blistering combinations from his southpaw stance. At the end of 12 give-and-take rounds, Camacho came away with a split decision, the echoing sound of thunderous boos, and a sudden blood simple outlook on the sweet science.
“If I fight him again,” growled Camacho the next morning, “I want a million dollars. If I’m going to come out looking like a Cabbage Patch doll, I want to get paid for it.”
Indeed, Camacho seemed stunned that his profession could be so taxing. “He hit me. Wham! Wham!” said Camacho. “I say, Damn, it doesn’t hurt, but it sure feels funny. Wham! Damn, I fought a war and I can tell you right now, Hector Camacho don’t like no damn wars.”
Camacho would prove that point emphatically over the next 20 years, one of the longest free-falls in boxing history. And it was Rosario, the jibaro with fists as hard as coconuts, who took away the Camacho strut. Only 24, Camacho was never the same fighter again. Incredibly, even Camacho himself admitted it, years later, in an interview with KO: “I don’t know. Maybe he made a pussy out of me. Maybe I went to more defense. I don’t know.”