While still dressed in his golden trunks and matching miniskirt—nicely accessorized with the World Boxing Organization's junior welterweight belt—Hector (Macho) Camacho left Reno's Lawlor Events Center on March 6 without getting a beer spilled on his head or even a bloody nose.
Not that no one took aim at him. Earlier, Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini had tried for 12 rounds to mash Camacho's nose, but he missed far more punches than he landed. When the fight was over and the verdict announced, Camacho—he won on a split decision—had to summon the fanciest footwork of the evening to dodge the cups of beer that Mancini partisans tried to pour on him.
It had been an ugly fight, marked by run-and-hug tactics, and it was not surprising that the crowd became hostile. For all this, each fighter made more than $1.2 million. Camacho had no sooner slipped into the backseat of his waiting limousine than he saw the future. Like his costume, it was gold. Almost his first words to his chief adviser, Patrick Flannery, were "How much you think a rematch would be worth?"
"Maybe a couple of million each," said Flannery, from the jump seat.
Looking sheepish, Camacho asked, "Five million?"
"Could be even that!" Flannery said.
Why not? After all, in boxing today, the grass is greenest when it's over the hill. In fact, the Camacho-Mancini fight suited ideally a sport that seems to care less about the road to the top than trips down memory lane. In June, Ray Leonard, 33, and Thomas Hearns, 30, will meet in the ring, nearly eight years after Leonard knocked out Hearns. And with 37-year-old Roberto Duran the new WBC middleweight champion, surely Leonard-Duran III is in the offing, perhaps as a 10th-anniversary salute to the "no màs" bout of June 20, 1980. Word is out that Marvelous Marvin Hagler, 34, has gone back into training, perhaps for Leonard-Hagler II, or Duran-Hagler II. Even retired heavyweight Gerry Cooney, 32, says that he has been offered big money to fight ex-champ (1973-74) George Foreman, 41. And 66-year-old Rocky Graziano says....
Mancini, 28, and Camacho, 26, are anything but oldies in this company, but both have worn out their best shoes as fighters. In 1984, when Mancini was the WBA lightweight champion and Camacho held the WBC's super featherweight title, everyone wanted them to fight. It never came off. Mancini lost his title to Livingstone Bramble, and after Bramble beat him a second time in 1985, Boom Boom became a movie actor.
In recent years Camacho has also taken up acting, pretending to be a fighter. Since winning the WBC lightweight title from Josè Luis Ramirez in 1985 (a crown he gave up in 1987 when he could no longer make the weight), Camacho has had only six bouts, turning from an exciting stick-and-move fighter into a shameless runner and holder. At the same time, his life has been in turmoil. Managers came and went, Camacho moved from frenetic New York to somnolent South Florida with a new coterie of friends, and drug rumors circulated.
That was the background as the two fighters entered the Lawlor ring: One returning after four years of acknowledged retirement; the other having done so little fighting he might as well have been retired. Camacho was the 3-to-1 favorite, though hardly with the crowd. The fans hooted him from the moment he stepped into the ring. Camacho answered by dancing in circles, dressed in a red matador hat with earlike protuberances, gold-sequined trunks, overskirt and shoes. He looked like a cross between Midas and Mickey Mouse.
Mancini chased him from the start, pressuring him. Camacho peppered away with his right jab, consistently the most effective punch thrown by either man all night. But to the crowd's displeasure, Camacho also ran, backpedaling and sidestepping the pressure. Mancini made what there was of the fight, with hard overhand rights and body shots, but he lacked precision in his punches and never did real damage. Tiring in the later rounds, Camacho stopped running and started tying Mancini up, and that turned what had been a boring fight into an unsightly one.
When it was over, each man went to his corner thinking he had won. It was too close to make a definitive call. After the decision, Mancini announced plans to get married and left for Los Angeles, undecided about his fistic future. Camacho said he would like a tune-up fight within two months and then wants the return bout with Mancini. He also wants a shot at Julio Cèsar Chàvez's lightweight title.
"I've basically got my life together," Camacho says. "After I beat Chàvez, I'll be finished with boxing. Then I want to do a little acting. My time is coming."
The way he has been fighting, it may have already gone. But there is always the senior boxing tour. Camacho may have gotten a taste of it with Mancini.
And speaking of Rocky Graziano, he can taste it now. It has been more than 40 years since his epic middleweight title fights with Tony Zale. Graziano, reached the other day at his home in New York, said, "Zale don't want to fight me anymore, but I'll fight him again. I'll knock him out this time!"
That's it, Rocky. That's the spirit of these times.