After the 10th round of last Saturday night's 12-round title fight in Las Vegas, someone in Hector Camacho's corner suggested he toss in the towel. 'No màs—no more," was the dispirited suggestion. Camacho's left eye was closed, and on the other side of his bloody nose there was a bad cut over his right eye. His right side was alive with pain from the hammering of Julio Cèsar Chàvez's savage body attack. The badly beaten but proud fighter angrily refused.
That was what this match had come down to: a study of one fighter's courage. As early as the seventh round, it had become evident that Chàvez would keep his WBC super lightweight championship and run his magnificent record to 82-0. Camacho did not have the firepower to stop the champion. Worse, he had lost the quickness in his legs that he had counted on to keep him out of harm's way.
The Mexican bull had stopped the Puerto Rican matador. Now the bull wanted the bullfighter's ears. Urged on by his countrymen, who filled the Thomas & Mack Arena, Chàvez went for the kill in the last six minutes. "My fans do not want me just to beat him," Chàvez had said last week. "They are begging me to give him a bad beating. They do not like Camacho."
The two fighters, both 30 years old, had first encountered each other in January 1985 when they fought on the same card in Mexico City. That night Chàvez had stopped Manuel Hernandez in three. Camacho had knocked out Leoncio Ortiz in six. They had become uneasy friends, two gunfighters trading small talk while wondering privately what would happen if they ever were to trade bullets.
As the years passed, the anticipation of a Chàvez-Camacho fight grew stronger. Chàvez went on to win the WBC super featherweight, WBA lightweight, WBC super lightweight and IBF junior welterweight championships. Camacho, in winning 40 of 41 fights, claimed the WBC and WBO lightweight titles. It sounded like a classic matchup, but it was not made until June, when promoter Don King offered each fighter $3 million. Then they strapped on their gun belts.
"He's a little crazy, and I think he's kind of effeminate, but I like him," Chàvez said of his opponent before the fight. "It is only when he runs off at the mouth that I don't like him so much. But we have talked to each other. In the ring he is very quick, very intelligent. He moves a lot, and it is difficult to hit him. But I am up for this fight more than for any I have ever had, except possibly Edwin Rosario and Meldrick Taylor.
"Rosario," Chàvez said again, spitting out the name. "That was the fight I was the most angry for, because of the things he said he was going to do to me. My opponents are very foolish to make me angry. I think this is why Hector is being so nice." Chàvez knocked out Rosario in the 11th round in 1987. But first he turned him into a bloody mass.
"Julio is a great human being," said Camacho, laughing. "He is not a hard person to relate to. He is not complicated. Outside of the ring, we get along. But as a fighter, I don't think he is as much as [the media] have painted him. I don't think he can handle my hand and foot speed. It has been a long time since I was properly motivated for a fight. When you train lazy, when you live lazy, you fight lazy. But not for this one. I feel definitely involved. I have everything to beat this guy, and all I have to do is execute."
Execute he did, for one round. Chàvez is a slow starter. The champion's plan was simple: chase down his quicker opponent and then kill his body. It had always worked for him before. Camacho knew what he faced. "He can't handle speed," said the challenger. "I will give him a lot of lateral movement and a lot of feints. And you have to give Julio something to think about. With me, that will be a power jab. The way I punch I don't think it will go the distance."
For Camacho it was a perfect first round. His movements were brilliant; his jab tore holes in Chàvez's pressing attack. As it turned out, the cold-eyed champion was only test-firing his heavy weapons, and a different Chàvez came out for the second round. His attack was quicker. He began to catch the southpaw Camacho with right-hand leads. Quickly, left hooks joined the barrage, digging deep into Camacho's right side, draining speed from the artful legs.
Without the firepower necessary to keep Chàvez off him, Camacho began to grab, often in desperation. By Round 4, unwilling to run, he tried to stand and fight. It was like watching a jackhammer rip up a sidewalk. In Round 7 Camacho's left eye began to close. In the ninth a hook ripped open a cut on the outside corner of his right eye. Savage hooks crashed into his body. The crowd stood and screamed for Chàvez to finish it.
No one ever lost with more courage than did Camacho. Chàvez pressed hard for the knockout, but Camacho took everything the champion threw at him, and at the end he was still firing back, snarling through the blood.
The decision was a formality: Judge Harry Gibbs scored it 120-107, giving the champion every round. Carol Castellano gave Camacho one round, called one round even and scored it 119-110. Dalby Shirley gave Camacho three rounds, 117-111.
"He was a better fighter than I expected," Chàvez said later. "He really took a lot of punches. I tried to knock him out, but my right hand would not respond."
Chàvez had injured the hand when he knocked out Frank Mitchell in the fourth round last month. He said he felt the pain return in the third or fourth round. No matter. He didn't stop bouncing the right off Camacho's head until the final bell.
After the fight, Camacho was clearly awed by his conqueror. "I couldn't keep him off me," he said. "The pressure was amazing. I never fought anyone with courage like he has. I fought a courageous fight, but there is no doubt that he won."
Later, in the postfight interview room, King opened a valise and threw $200,000 in $100 bills on the table. It was the pot from a side bet between the two fighters. Then the promoter announced that he would give Chàvez a red Lamborghini as a bonus. When Chàvez tried to say thanks, his microphone didn't work. King refused to give him his. To King, giving away a $150,000 car is one thing. Handing over his microphone is a much more serious matter.