The elderly se√±ora had driven all the way from Mexico City to Las Vegas last week with the gift of a statue of the Madonna for her countryman José Luis Ramírez. Less than 24 hours remained before the most ballyhooed fight of the WBC lightweight champion's life, and he lay resting in a dark hotel room. The se√±ora whispered to the 26-year-old Ramírez, "May God bless you and watch over you." She then told his manager, Ramon Felix, "That is a noble boy...not like the one he is fighting tomorrow."
Meanwhile, in the 100° heat on the deck of the Riviera Hotel pool, Hector (Macho) Camacho, the challenger for Ramírez' crown, had sidled up behind a man in wheelchair and, unbelievably, shoved both man and chair into the deep end of the pool. A bystander ran to the rescue, shouting, "You can sue. I'm a witness." But the victim of Camacho's prank coughed out, "Sue? It was just an act. Macho Man's a friend of mine."
Camacho's hyperactivity and audacity contrasted sharply with Ramírez' tendency to stare into the distance. On fight night the contrast was further underscored by Camacho's ensemble, in descending layers, consisting of a shimmering Puerto Rican flag of red, white and blue sequins in the form of a floor-length robe, a sequined "shorty" robe and sequined trunks bearing the same rainbow-effect pattern as the shorty, a motif duplicated on boots adorned with the word MACHO on their sides.
The final result was foreshadowed by the first three rounds of the scheduled 12-round bout. In those nine minutes Camacho jabbed, fired machine-gun-like combinations and danced away before Ramírez could retaliate. As Ramírez stalked Camacho in vain, a look of frustration came into his eyes.
Then 63 seconds into Round 3, the champion was staggered by a right from Camacho, followed by a left hook to the face and another flashing right. A wild left hook to the side of the neck pitched Ramírez to the canvas. He rose and the fight continued, but there was no question about Camacho's domination.
Those who had come to view a war were disappointed; Ramírez rarely put two punches together, while Camacho's jabs were sharp and his combinations lightning quick. Time and again he danced away from trouble on the ropes.
The fight was originally scheduled for June 6, but it was postponed when Camacho injured an ankle. In Las Vegas he corrected press reports of the incident. "I was playing with a basketball, not playing basketball," he said.
Camacho enjoys being known as a rogue, but not as a fool. He had never had a worse day than the one last summer when he saw this quote from his ex-manager, Billy Giles, in USA Today: "Camacho's career is over. He's drowning in drugs. He'll never make it back." Camacho had won the WBC super featherweight title from Rafael Limon in August 1983, defended it against Rafael Solis that November, won a nontitle fight in May 1984 and then stopped fighting for eight months. He blamed his problems with Giles for the layoff. "I was depressed," he said in Las Vegas. "Billy had been like a big brother to me, and then he started doing things he wasn't supposed to do, business things, without consulting me first. He never saw me high on drugs, but then he told USA Today that I'd never make it back."
Camacho did make it back, though it was not until last January—after renouncing his super featherweight title to fight as a lightweight—when he TKO'ed Louie Burke in five. In April he decisioned Roque Montoya. These fights were under a new manager, Jimmy Montoya (no relation to Roque), who said of Camacho, "When Hector's in training, he's in bed at 9:30 and he's up to run at four. And since he's been with me I've seen no indication that he's used drugs. I know when people do drugs."
In any case, Camacho appeared to be on top of the world when he arrived in Las Vegas. He had recently bought a $107,000 co-op apartment in New York City's borough of Queens, a short distance, but in a very different world, from the streets of Spanish Harlem where he began fighting. "I want to get into real estate," he said. In recognition of his new priorities, he said he would sell his $118,000 Lamborghini and be content with putting around town in his Caddie and his Corvette. That is no-frills living, Macho Man style.
But Camacho hasn't forgotten what made his life-style possible. "The way to deal with a guy like Ramírez is to give him a lot of lateral movement," he said. "I won't let him get set. I'll hit him with a lot of combinations, hold him on the ropes and spin away."
That's just what Camacho did, and Ramírez looked like a dog chasing his tail. It was a near shutout. Except for the 11th, which all three judges gave to him as a gift, Ramírez didn't win a round on any card. In his 27th pro fight without a loss Macho had won his second world title.
Ernesto Fuentes, a Ramírez adviser, said, "He was supposed to cut off the ring on Camacho, but he couldn't. We told him, 'Stop in the middle, let him come to you.' " But Ramírez paid no attention and continued to plod after his rival, hoping to land a quick knockout punch but paying a stiff price for his single-mindedness every step of the way.
After the decision was announced, the new champ gazed out at his cheering fans, and with typical exuberance shouted, "What time is it?"
"It's Macho time," came the chorused reply. It certainly was, and based on his performance on this night, it could be for quite a while.