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5 takeaways from ‘Macho’ documentary: Hector Camacho ‘had a lot of demons’

  | USA TODAY

One word that keeps coming up is “demons.”

“He had a lot of demons,” says Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood of the late Hector “Macho” Camacho.

“When a demon lives inside you,” says Camacho’s childhood friend and bodyguard Rudy Gonzalez, “he doesn’t leave.”

Their comments were part of the Showtime documentary “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” which debuted Friday night and takes an unflinching look at Camacho’s turbulent career, life and death.

With interviews with friends, family members, boxing luminaries and law enforcement officers in Puerto Rico, former journalist and two-time Emmy Award-winner Eric Drath directed the film, which chronicles Camacho’s delinquent childhood in New York’s Spanish Harlem, his meteoric rise in the boxing world and the personal demons that eventually led to his murder in 2012.

Those demons – drug and alcohol abuse, run-ins with the law – are on full display in the documentary, which airs on Showtime and all Showtime On Demand platforms.

At one point in the film, Gonzalez describes waking up from a nap during a car ride with Camacho from California to Florida only to find out the car Camacho is driving is approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. The problem? Camacho tells Gonzalez, “I’ve got a little present in the trunk”: a kilo of cocaine.

Gonzalez quickly tells Camacho “I need you to do Macho Time right now, right here” and Camacho jumps up on the hood of his $90,000 Jaguar and starts demanding “where’s (Mexican boxer Julio Cesar) Chavez?”

Camacho’s antics cause enough of a commotion that border patrol allows them to do a U-turn and leave despite the presence of drug-sniffing dogs. The incident prompts Camacho to eventually stop the car and bury the cocaine on the side of the highway, only to come back later and spend all night trying to dig it back up. 

When Gonzalez dropped off Camacho at his home, he tells Camacho’s wife Amy, “Here he is. I don’t want to talk to him for a year.”

Amy would eventually divorce Camacho because she said she knew his destructive behavior “was never going to stop. … He blatantly said, ‘I like it. I love it. You met me like this and I’m going to stay like this.’ “

Here are four other takeaways from “Macho”:

Camacho’s impact on boxing

The film opens with Drath saying, “of all the boxers I’ve known none were as unforgettable as Hector Camacho.”

There’s no denying Camacho’s impact on the sport of boxing. He fought professionally for three decades, debuting against David Brown at New York’s Felt Forum in 1980 before retiring in 2010.

He fought some of the biggest stars spanning two eras, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Roberto Duran.

He won three Golden Gloves titles as an amateur, won super-featherweight, lightweight, and junior welterweight titles, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016.

Drath points to the original fight poster for Camacho’s successful defense of the lightweight belt against fellow countryman Edwin Rosario as an example of Camacho’s impact. 

“You know who was on the undercard? Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson, and Camacho is on the top of the card, the headliner,” Drath told USA TODAY Sports. “So there was a moment when he owned the sport, and I don’t want that to be forgotten.”

Camacho’s flamboyance wasn’t an act

You never knew how Camacho would be dressed as he entered the ring, but the outfits were always flamboyant.

Whether he was dressed in a full Native American headdress, as a Roman soldier, bullfighter, Uncle Sam or as a walking Puerto Rican flag, Camacho had a distinctive style.

And Drath said it wasn’t an act.  

“A lot of guys came in with the outfits and costumes but they go back to the locker room, they take them off and they walk out their street clothes,” Drath said. “Camacho was completely authentic. He was just as comfortable being outside of the ring as he was inside the ring with some of these costumes.”

The pride of Spanish Harlem

Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Camacho grew up in Spanish Harlem, where he was a beloved figure, despite his personal issues.

He spent much of his childhood in Spanish Harlem getting in trouble: fights at school (“I was thrown out of six schools,” Camacho proudly boasts in the film), stealing a car at age 16, doing time at Rikers Island prison and getting caught using cocaine by his mother Maria when he was 17.

In the film she talks about flushing his drugs down the toilet and demanding he straighten himself out. That’s what led him to start training at a gym and get into boxing.

Camacho’s boxing career made him the pride of Spanish Harlem, which was evident as thousands lined the streets of his neighborhood to mourn his death and celebrate his life, chanting “Macho, Macho” as a horse-drawn carriage carried his casket to St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church. 

“It really was quite something,” Rev. Francis Skelly, who presided over the funeral, says in the film. “You could see like the panorama of his life out there.”

‘Very dangerous in Puerto Rico’

As Camacho lived out the final years of his life in his hometown of Bayamón, he was partying, going to strip clubs and living “the fast life, drugs, alcohol, sex, jail,” his son Hector Camacho Jr. says in the film.

Camacho’s family and friends tried to get him to leave Puerto Rico and come back to New York.

“We were like, ‘Get out of Puerto Rico, Macho’ ” Gonzalez says. “He goes, ‘You know what? I want to get out of here, man. I really do,’ but you can’t force someone to fight. There was no stopping him.”

On Nov. 20, 2012, Camacho was fatally shot while sitting in a parked car. A friend also died at the scene of the shooting, where police said they found several bags of cocaine. Four days later, Camacho was declared dead at age 50.

Early in the film, Camacho’s mother Maria emotionally says, “They killed my baby … Who killed Macho? Who killed my son?” 

Toward the end film, she is shown traveling in November 2019 to Puerto Rico to get an update on the murder investigation. The case had been transferred to San Juan, where a new detective was handling the case.

The detective is heard off camera telling Maria that police know who killed Camacho and they are working to get a conviction. The news clearly lifts Maria’s spirits.

But, to date there has been no arrest in the case. And the film ends with a chilling postscript:

Miguel Angel Santiago “Pasteles” Fiol, a taxi driver who was one of Camacho’s friends and his quasi-chauffeur was shot in the face four months after his final interview for the film, and like in Camacho’s case, “no arrests have been made.”

“It was very dangerous and it is very dangerous in Puerto Rico right now,” said Drath, who says in the film that only 23% of crimes committed on the island get solved. “There’s definitely people that don’t want this story to be told. … A lot of people don’t want to talk about it. And there’s already a no-snitch environment down there or culture and … people are very weary of coming out. … It’s very hard to protect people down there.” 

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