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Camacho

Boxing: Ever the showman, the Macho Man has chance to put substance over style in fight against De La Hoya.

September 11, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — Hector Camacho, the indomitable showman, is still kicking at 35, way past his prime but set to earn millions again.

Actually, during Wednesday's final Caesars Palace news conference for his title fight Saturday at Thomas & Mack Center against World Boxing Council welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya, Camacho was karate-kicking and grape-tossing and otherwise gloriously glomming all the attention.

Exactly as expected, on cue and apparently worth the $3 million promoter Bob Arum is paying him.

"He's very marketable and the people just love him," said Amy Camacho, his wife of 2 1/2 years. "They always want to know what he's wearing and everything.

"He's more exciting than Oscar will ever be. Bottom line: He's the more exciting person, and fighter. He's not trying at all, it's just natural."

Beyond the lopsided analysis of styles, speed and punching power, the proper selling point of this bout was symbolized and accessorized Wednesday at the podium:

De La Hoya: dressed by Armani in cool, dark tones.

Camacho: in an aqua leotard and black leggings, apparently dressed by Richard Simmons.

And though Camacho is certainly a talented fighter, this is why everything he does seems like a sideshow, and tends to obscure his other, subtler moments of athletic accomplishment.

There is this simple logic: The flash and goofiness are what sell.

"It's about names--pay per view is basically name recognition, is it not?" said Camacho's promoter, Mike Acri. "That's what it's based on.

"It's funny, if you're a baseball fan, you know who plays second base for Cleveland and you know who plays shortstop for the Dodgers. But, in boxing, you only know 10 names."

Camacho climbed the ladder by beating Edwin Rosario, Vinnie Pazienza, Howard Davis and many other top names at the top of their games; and he has never been knocked out, even while absorbing punishment at the hands of Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad.

But along the way, Camacho earned the reputation as a runner, as someone who always prided safety over valor, who gave up a chance at true greatness by dabbling in drugs and women and chose the easy way over the warrior's road.

"The saying in boxing is that once Rosario hit him with that right hand [in a Camacho 12-round victory in 1986], he's been running ever since," said De La Hoya's trainer, Emanuel Steward.

By his late-20s, Camacho was a hip-swerving, leopard-skin-wearing party animal who could not be taken seriously. Pummeled by Chavez in September 1992 in front of 20,000 screaming Chavez fans, Camacho never fought at the 140-pound limit again.

In 1994, Camacho was chased and walloped by Trinidad for 12 rounds, ending his association with Don King and, in many people's eyes, possibly his run as a top contender.

"Three or four years ago, when we started coming back [after the Trinidad loss], I told him we were going to fight De La Hoya someday," Acri said. "He was looking at me like I was nuts."

At that time, De La Hoya was fighting at junior-lightweight (130 pounds) and Camacho was fighting anywhere from 147 to 160.

But as De La Hoya moved quickly up to lightweight, then junior-welterweight and now to the 147-pound welterweight division, Camacho reeled off 21 consecutive victories.

These have come against relatively unheralded opposition--a tired Roberto Duran in 1996, 10 fights in 1995 against guys such as Verdell Smith and Homer Gibbons--but Camacho has maintained his ability to attract attention, love and anger from his opponents.

"They don't hate him at all," Amy Camacho said. "If they say they hate him, they love to hate him, you know? Just when we got out of the limo, everybody's screaming MA-CHO! and they carry on like that.

"He was not molded to become a fighter like they did with Oscar. He was born to be a fighter. And now Oscar's in his prime and Macho's about to make an ending to his story. I think this is a perfect ending."

Fighting at middleweight, Camacho whomped 40-year-old Sugar Ray Leonard on March 1, knocking out the wobbly-legged former superstar in the fifth round--which was just impressive enough to intrigue Arum, and bizarre enough for Arum to believe that Camacho presented little risk to his No. 1 money-maker.

Could Camacho, never a big hitter, realistically get down to 147 pounds--which he hasn't fought at since January 1996--without draining himself for a matchup against a younger, faster, stronger fighter?

Yes, says Camacho, who was just a fraction above the welterweight limit weeks ago and showed off his lithe physique at the news conference. And Camacho argues that De La Hoya isn't the destroyer he has been made out to be.

"Oscar's come up fast--but he beat two guys who were coasting," Camacho said, referring to De La Hoya's victories over Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. "They started getting lazy, I know.

"Chavez, forget it. It's not his nature. They said he was the greatest, and now he doesn't come out because he's ashamed. Too many excuses. Whitaker, he's a drunk. He got star-struck. This guy pushed him around."

Camacho, who seemed genuinely pained he was not applauded at an appearance Monday at De La Hoya's Youth Center in East Los Angeles, said he believes a victory Saturday would lift him alongside Leonard and Muhammad Ali in the boxing pantheon.

"This is my golden opportunity to beat this kid, come back with a rematch and gain another great fight for mucho money," Camacho said. "Then a bigger fight, and then I could settle back.

"I want to leave my mark in boxing history. And this is not proving it once again, it's doing it once and for all.

"I will beat Oscar."

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