A Talk with Christian Giudice, Author of Macho Time: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of Hector Camacho
This is your fourth biography of a Latin American boxer. Where does your interest in them stem from?
I have always been fascinated with Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, and what made him so endearing to his people. On a whim in the late 1990s, I considered writing a biography about Duran, and traveled to Panama to start the process. I fell in love with Panama, and decided that I wanted to always be a part of learning and conveying the compelling stories of Latin American boxers. Initially, I did not connect with Duran, but I came back to New Jersey, learned Spanish, and then went back to Panama. By speaking Spanish, I was able to gain his respect. I eventually wrote the book Hands of Stone, which became the subject for a major motion picture. Each of the fighters I have written about has endured so much heartache and, in the same breath, has touched so many lives in and out of the ring. I vowed to focus on these fighters and their amazing backstories.
If Macho Time were adapted to the big screen, how would you want the arc of Hector Camacho’s life story to be depicted?
I would start with the family escaping Puerto Rico and a young Hector looking for fights in the park as a young boy, whose sole purpose is to protect his mother. I would then bring in his teacher and mentor, Patrick Flannery, who is the one person to truly reach Hector and manage to stay in his inner circle. In the process, Hector would start to train with Robert Lee in various gyms throughout New York. Another vital element of his ascension would be to depict the mental and physical challenges that Hector faces in those tough gyms, so the audience gets a clear understanding of how difficult he has it at times. Then, I would have him finishing up a marvelous Golden Gloves career, but also trying to resuscitate his image of a kid from Spanish Harlem going in and out of jail. From there, I would move to the championship and the birth of his son, Junior. I would focus the movie around his rise to stardom, rather than the way he died.
What was the difference between how you covered Camacho in comparison with the three previous Latin American champions?
All three of the other fighters had much different storylines that I had to address. Arguello was political; Gomez was a ladies’ man; Duran was intimidating; but Hector was brilliant for a short time and then fell off that pedestal pretty quickly. Gomez and Duran were also brilliant young fighters, but Camacho was immediately being branded as an all-time great after his first ten fights. However, a combination of external influences and inactivity led him astray. I should mention that, despite the differences, there are also common storylines that connect the four fighters, in addition to the obvious one of them being Latino. They all started off living in poverty, each fighter won three titles in separate weight divisions, they all moved up in weight and maintained their greatness, and they all won and lost great fortunes. And of course both Camacho and Arguello died from gunshot wounds. Arguello’s was confirmed as a suicide and Camacho was murdered over a bad drug deal.
What’s one thing about Camacho that changed over the years? What precipitated his personal downfall?
Hector spent his whole life adhering to certain standards that he believed made him macho. Now, whether he truly believed them or not, I’m not sure. What I do know is that beneath the exterior was a man screaming for help. He’s the only boxer I have ever seen who could consistently take drugs and still be the ultimate competitor. I am sure the drugs zapped his speed and diminished his movement, but he still managed to fight years past his prime. But he would never ask for help or accept that others wanted to help him. So when he was burned by managers and friends or when he broke down crying in the ring after a fight—those types of moments started to pile up over the years. Somehow, Hector just always pushed them aside, and reverted back to being “Macho,” but later on the show, as well as his own sense of self, started to deteriorate.
How did you justify the recession of Camacho’s skills from the 1980s to the early 1990s?
When he was young, Hector was so inherently blessed with talent that he could dabble in drugs and other vices and still be one of the best fighters in the game. But over time his life outside the ring started to overshadow his brilliance in the ring. That erosion of skills became evident by 1988 when he started to get tested by lesser fighters like Reyes Cruz. It must have been an extremely stressful time for Hector to see how far he had fallen. Ironically, getting knocked down by Cruz in the first round in 1988 may have been exactly what he needed because he was able to see what he was doing to his body. Eventually, Hector bounced back.
What fight was Camacho’s best performance and what made it so special?
1985 against Jose Luis Ramirez—pure perfection. He disarmed one of the great Mexican champions, who at the time was nearly flawless. As soon as the opening bell sounded, Ramirez had no chance. When Ramirez came forward, Hector hit him with 3 and 4-punch combinations. When Ramirez tried to use his strength, Hector countered him and slipped away. Hector even knocked him down early, and deflected a late-fight rally. It was the type of performance that Hector needed to catapult himself back to greatness, especially because layoffs and managerial issues had alerted the critics to his potential downfall.
If you had to ask Hector Camacho one thing about his career, what would it be and why?
I’d ask why he didn’t seek help for his addiction when he knew he needed it the most? Toward the end of his career, Hector had moved into a bad place, physically and emotionally. It was hard to believe he could sustain that lifestyle for so long. Truth is, no one can. Sure, Hector appeared reinvigorated in brief moments, but his demons haunted him. It’s just hard to believe that a guy who looked like he had everything under control put himself in such dangerous situations again and again.
What type of insight did Hector Jr. provide that others could not?
I knew from the beginning that Hector Jr. could take me to places in regard to his father that no one else could. To me, I always wanted to tell Macho’s story through the lens of someone who understood the man outside the ring before he knew anything about him inside it. Hector Jr. saw a man, a hero in his eyes, who had flaws and strengths just like anyone else. Most people highlighted the strengths and glossed over the flaws. I felt like learning how Hector Jr. saw his father would be beneficial to the book and provide a unique perspective.
What insight did childhood friends give that family members may have been reluctant to discuss?
After speaking with several friends from Hector’s childhood, I began to see an interesting dynamic emerge. All of them reflected on how, during their childhood, they looked at Hector as a model for what they could one day achieve. None of them harped on the negative aspects such as the stealing or the fighting; instead they talked about how Hector was a part of their family, a neighborhood fixture and, more important, how he helped them when he became champion. Of course, they also talked about his fighting ability and how growing up in tough Spanish Harlem made you fight. They also gave specific accounts of the wild and tough sides of Hector. One time he took on three guys after they mocked him at a Bruce Lee movie. They did not fare well. Most of all, each one of Hector’s childhood friends explained why they deeply admired him. They all saw a part of themselves in Hector and vice versa.
Camacho’s life had many ebbs and flows. Which storyline do you think was the most compelling?
A poor boy from Spanish Harlem who made it out and became a hero to a lot of the same people who doubted him in the beginning.