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Even after 30 years, Camacho still 'Macho'

Photo by Luis M. Alvarez

Photo by Luis M. Alvarez

NEW YORK -- It's been nearly three decades since Hector Camacho won his first world title, and almost two decades since he won his last.

For those 10 years in between, he was among the most exciting and controversial figures in boxing. He was a brawler who reinvented himself as a defensive fighter, whose rivalry with Julio Cesar Chavez made just as many headlines as his outsized personality.

He's 47 years old now, reduced to fighting in places like Coconut Creek and Biloxi instead of Las Vegas and New York. The glitzy casinos and glamour of Madison Square Garden have given way to hotel ballrooms and small convention centers, as the man nicknamed "Macho" keeps trying to stave off obscurity the best he can.

"This is something I've done all my life, you know?" Camacho said by phone after a workout for his next fight, against Allan Vester on March 26 in Kjellerup, Denmark. "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."

Camacho's life and career have taken more turns than a pulp novel, from the gritty streets of Spanish Harlem to the bright lights of the Golden Gloves, from walking between the bars of a jail cell to stepping between the ropes of the ring.

His record stands at 79-5-3, the most recent win coming just last year against Yory Boy Campas, another fighter far past his prime. But scroll down the list of Camacho's opponents and names like Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Ray Leonard are sprinkled among the nobodies and never-weres that hoped to make a name for themselves.

"Hector Camacho is a fantastic boxer, one of the greatest in history," said Vester's promoter and father, Anders Vester. "(Camacho is) the biggest boxing name who has visited Denmark since Mike Tyson in 2001."

Camacho claims he doesn't need the money -- that's not why he's fighting in Europe for the first time, in the co-main event alongside a women's title fight. He simply needs action, and points to guys like George Foreman who had successful comebacks years past their prime.

"He's still very confident," said Camacho's adviser, Steve Tannenbaum. "He's still got a bit of that wild child in him."

Like many fighters who achieved fame and fortune during the 1980s, Camacho became entangled in a web of drug and alcohol abuse -- problems he said are now in the past. Twice his wife filed domestic abuse complaints against him, and she finally filed for divorce several years ago.

More recently, Camacho was sentenced to the maximum seven years in prison for a burglary charge in Mississippi. A judge suspended most of the sentence and gave him probation, which Camacho said he violated about three months ago. After a two-week stint in jail, Camacho was back in the gym and getting ready for his next fight.

"When I came out, I've been training every day for four, five months it's been," he said. "And now I'm ready to take on someone like Allan Vester, you know?"

Camacho became reviled during his career for his showboating style, making the long walk to the ring in everything from diapers to leotards to loincloths.

He promised that hasn't changed.

"I'll give them satisfaction," Camacho said. "I never fought in Denmark, I never fought in Germany. Those people want to see me, they want to see the Macho Man."

While he claims to want to fight at least five or six times over the next year, Camacho is also realistic. He admits that losing in Denmark would likely be the end, and he might turn his attention fully to promoting or training young fighters.

He's worked for years with his son, Hector Camacho Jr., who turned 31 not long ago. The two once appeared on the same undercard in Tucson, Ariz., and they have even fought a common opponent.

"They're the best things I put in the world," Camacho said of his kids. "I want them to be proud of me, which they are. I just want to do this and do it well."

Although he never quite reached the same stratosphere of contemporaries such as Roberto Duran, Camacho could sell tickets. He brought a certain exuberance to boxing that never diminished, one of the reasons he was continually featured on high-profile undercards.

Even if those days are long past, that boyish enthusiasm hasn't dimmed entirely.

"This is what I do best," he said. "I can probably come back and promote fights. I'd like to go to Hollywood, do movies, entertainment. But this is what I've done all my life, so I'm just going to ride it out. I'm going to ride it out."