Published On: Mon, May 18th, 2009

Short Story by Jose Corpas: The Camacho Jab

Photo Mike Tyson once said that for years before beating Larry Holmes in 1988, he had imagined beating him countless number of times.  I bet you that someone somewhere is doing the very same thing about Wladimir Klitschko or Floyd Mayweather Jr.  All young fighters do it.  When I was a teenager, the big name was Hector Camacho.  I first saw him box in 1982 when he stopped Louie Loy on network television.  Once I started boxing in the mid eighties, I began preparing myself for a possible future encounter-a fight that I hoped would’ve been some sort of changing of the guard type of match.  I studied all his moves and watched him train at gyms like La Sombra in Spanish Harlem and Jimmy Glenn’s Times Square Gym on 42nd Street.  I knew his strengths and weaknesses.  I felt I could beat him.  Sometime in 1990, at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, I got my chance. 

The gyms were usually empty once the weather warmed up.  This forced many fighters to go gym-hopping searching for new flesh to pummel.  We all knew that was the reason Hector showed up that day.  Known for his outrageous antics out of the ring, Hector was all business in the gym.  And boy did he love to spar.  Lightweights, middleweights, light heavyweights, it didn’t matter to him.  On this particular day, Hector was running out of guys to spar with.  Tunde Foster, a rising prospect, was there but for some reason, they didn’t let him spar.  Tim Burgess had just finished training and was in his street clothes although he did offer to change back into his shorts.  Then they pointed my way.   I was ready.  Like Mike Tyson when he fought Holmes, I had my plan.   

Although Hector was coming off of an impressive win over Vinny Paz, his recent performances did not impress me.  I felt I had nothing to worry about.  I knew he was fast and experienced but I also considered him a light puncher and a runner.  He didn’t like to get hit and would often jump on his bike and pedal real fast to avoid a punch.  That was his new M.O.-ever since round five of his fight against Edwin Rosario.  Before that, Hector was brilliant and a case can be made for him being the greatest junior lightweight ever.  Sugar Ray Leonard once said that he never saw hands faster than those of Hector.  Not even when looking in a mirror. Bob Cannobbio and the crew at CompuBox might have gotten carpal tunnel syndrome had they worked Camacho’s early bouts.  The flashy New Yorker’s style, all glitter and gold with a healthy dose of street leather, was copied by many.  In and out of the ring his influence can be seen in many boxers including Prince Naseem Hamed, Bobby Czyz, Vinny Paz, and Joey Gamache.  Yes, the first Hector was a special fighter.     

The second Hector was different.  After the Rosario clash, he became a safety first boxer with a hit and run style that would make Wladimir Klitschko blush.  He would run and hold or whatever else it took to avoid getting hit.  Apparently, all it took for this amazing transformation to occur was a single left hook from Edwin Rosario.  Their fight took place on June 13, 1986 and it was in the fifth round that we witnessed the transformation.  Rosario landed a crackling left hook right on Hector’s chin.  Camacho’s leg turned to jell-o as Rosario, who Edwin Viruet said hit harder than Roberto Duran, continued wailing away.  Camacho survived the round by getting on his bike.  He stayed on that bike the rest of his career.  

It was the bike riding Hector who showed up at our gym.  When our sparring match got under way I planned to “bring it.”  I figured a couple of lead rights were all it would take for him to go into his shell.  I knew his jab was still quick but it often fell short of the target.  His opponents, I thought, were strangely passive.  They seemed content being kept at bay, apparently waiting for an opening-an opening that more often than not did not come.  They lacked a plan.   

While getting my gloves tied for the session, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I met Hector.  It was at Gleason’s also only some five years earlier, when the gym was located over the Brooklyn Bridge and straight up Broadway, near Madison Square Garden.  He was lightweight champ and I was a teen playing hooky from school.  There was a turnstile at the entrance of the gym and they charged a buck to enter to watch the pros train.  I had been there before to watch Pipino Cuevas and Wilfred Benitez work out.  Ira Becker was the owner back then and he approached me as I entered.  Wearing a faded blue cardigan that might have been painted on since I don’t recall seeing him without it, he asked me if I paid the dollar.  He put his arm around me and before I could answer, I noticed he was walking me right out the door.  Just as he opened the door, Hector was making his way in.  “What’s the matter Ira, you need your stinking dollar?” he said in a booming, playful voice.  Hector pulled out a dollar, handed it to Ira and told me to get comfortable and enjoy the show.  Ira turned beet red, laughed sheepishly and let me back in.  “Don’t get in anyone’s way”, he said to me while tucking his new dollar into his right front pocket.   

This time I was part of the show.  Had I seen anyone walk in at that moment, I would’ve told them to get comfortable and enjoy the show.  Good thing I didn’t.  Like he did that day five years before, Hector was the one who put on the show.  He had what you call magnetism.  You couldn’t help but watch him whenever he fought.  Even in the later stages of his career, when he became for all intents and purposes a boring fighter, fans tuned in to watch him.  And it just so turns out that for the better part of the first round, I was a spectator too.  Eating a few jabs and a pair of
right hooks to the ribs helped me get over my awestruck moment.  Then I thought about my plan.  I looked for an opening for the right but didn’t see one.  I didn’t see much of anything.  Hector was an incredibly loose fighter, able to change directions at a moments notice.  And he never stopped jabbing.  He threw so many that it didn’t matter if they came up short or missed.  So fast and so frequent were the jabs that in a sense, it was as if he was straight arming you.  Larry Holmes loved to use the straight arm to keep opponents at bay even thought the tactic is not allowed.  They shouldn’t of allowed Hector to throw that jab of his either. 

All you saw was a blur.  And when he decided to let loose his straight left, it landed only a split second after the jab.  His one-two rates among the fastest in history.  You can just youtube him if you’ve forgotten how fast he was.  When I did manage to sneak under his punches, Macho had no problem dropping an elbow or forearm to block my path.  Three rounds came and went and, like Cornelius Boza-Edwards; like Ray Mancini; like Vinny Pazienza; like Jose Luis Ramirez and so many others; I could do nothing but follow him around the ring.  I tried at times to just let the punches go but there’s no point beating up air.  That day, in the darkness of the gym, I saw Hector in a different light.  

After our sparring match I called Hector over and told him that I owed him a dollar. “Keep it” he said.  “And if you need another one, let me know.”  I never got to tell him why.  I bumped into him again a few years later at the Copacabana.  He was on stage with salsa singer Tito Rojas.  The band was playing the instrumental version of I Like It Like That and Hector began singing to the beat, “Macho Time…Macho Camacho.”  Then he asked the crowd to put their hands together and sing along with him “Macho Time…Macho Camacho.”  No one did.  I went up to him a few minutes later.  He greeted me with a hug, told me some story in that animated way of his, a story I couldn’t hear amid the loud music.  He gave me his drink to hold and then disappeared.  A few hours later, on my way out of the club, I saw him again.  He was talking to a man in that same wide eyed, arms all over the place way.  Then he turned and left the guy standing there.  The guy had two drinks in his hands.   

I learned a few things from my three rounds with Hector.  Like fighting fire with fire, you can’t fight speed with speed.  The faster man will always win.  You have to use angles and timing.  Those things weren’t part of my plan.  Things look mighty different in the ring than they do from ringside or from the couch.  Boxing rings should come with a warning similar to the ones that come on a car’s side view mirror.  It should warn that “objects in ring are closer than they appear.”  Strange thing is that even after our sparring session, I wasn’t always impressed when I watched Hector fight.  I continued to see things that convinced me that I could devise a plan to beat him.  If only I could get past that damn jab. 

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Short Story by Jose Corpas: The Camacho Jab