His seven-year-old son, Hector Jr., told him after the fight, "Daddy, you are lucky you're alive." The next morning his girlfriend, Keesha Colon, said his face looked like a Cabbage Patch doll's. Because his mouth was relatively undamaged, Hector Camacho managed a small smile, and he said, only half kiddingly, "Hey, if this is macho, I don't want no part of it."
That was last Saturday. The night before, at Madison Square Garden, Camacho had survived the hammering hands of Puerto Rico's Edwin Rosario and saved his WBC lightweight championship with a split decision. His $500,000 payday came hard: Rosario, who had held the same title from 1983 to '84, had almost knocked him out with an overhand right followed by a left hook in the fifth round, and again, in the 11th, with a left hook that nearly lifted the champ out of his glittery red, white and blue boots. "He hit me. Wham! Wham!" said Camacho. "I say, Damn, it doesn't hurt, but it sure feels funny. Wham! Damn! I fought a war and I can tell you right now, Hector Camacho don't like no damn wars."
The scars of battle were visible on Camacho's face. His swollen nose was scuffed red at the bridge and jutted out between two black eyes. A long pinkish slice on his left eyelid was held together by three dark stitches. "I see my nose in the mirror and I think, My God, I need a Tylenol," Camacho said. "Then I think, Why I need a Tylenol? I don't have a headache. All I got is a big nose. That damn Rosario fight like he mad at me."
It is not unreasonable to theorize that Rosario, who was paid $150,000 for the fight, did not take kindly to the champ's calling him a girl. Or to having a napkin flung hard into his face by the Macho Man during a press conference. Then there was the ugly scene at New York City's Battery Park, four days before the bout, when both boxers were taking part in a campaign to fight drugs, "KO Crack." Spotting a sign on Rosario's car that read EDWIN ROSARIO, THE NEXT LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPION, Camacho pulled it off, ripped it up, autographed one of the pieces and then flung it at the contender. Rosario left in a fury. "See, he is a girl," said Camacho, laughing. "If he did that to me, I'd have punched his face. I've got him intimidated."
Even on the day of the fight Camacho continued his taunting. He went to Gimbels and purchased a pair of panties. "They were red, brief and lacy," he said. "The saleslady looked at me like I was weird." He had them gift wrapped. Inside the box, he also placed a red rose and his autograph, along with his wishes for bad luck on Friday the 13th. On the outside of the box, which was tied with a red bow, he attached a note: "Couldn't make it. Wish you the best." He signed the name of the governor of Puerto Rico, Rafael Hernàndez Colón.
Camacho gave a bellman at the New York Penta Hotel $20 to deliver the box to Rosario's room. He paid him another $20 to relate Rosario's reaction.
"All I know is that the bellman said his face got happy when he saw the first note," Camacho said. "I don't know what happened when he opened the box, but now I regret what I did. I thought it would do one of two things: Either he'd get so upset he'd come out wild, or he would lay back and make it easy. Instead, it made him tougher. If we fight again, I will hug him, tell him he is a man and the best fighter in the world, and please, let's not have another war."
By one informed account, Camacho has acted rashly in other ways. After a career of short, stormy relationships with managers, he had lately come under the wing of Marty Cohen, an 88-year-old businessman who is a vice-president of the WBC. "I looked at Hector's books and couldn't believe it," says Cohen. "Here is a kid who has earned $4 million and he is worth about $200,000, with no cash flow. He's got a condo in Forest Hills, and he bought a home for his mother in Puerto Rico, and that's it."
On Cohen's advice, Camacho purchased a $35,000 training camp with a two-bedroom house in Clewiston, Fla. "I love it there," he says. "I used to ride my motor bikes and the horses, but I got rid of the horses. It's a lot easier putting gas into a bike than hay into horses. Now that is where I go between fights. I don't hang around the ghetto. You don't see the President of the United States standing around on a street corner in some ghetto, do you? I have to be clean. If I'm dirty, on drugs, mothers will be telling their kids, Don't watch him fight on TV, watch Batman and Robin. I am aware of this. I care about my image."
To polish that image, Camacho spent $8,000 to clothe himself and his corner people in fancy outfits at the Rosario fight. With the single white star of Puerto Rico on the seat of his trunks and the U.S. flag at his beltline—he was born in Puerto Rico and was brought to the mainland U.S. when he was three—he was obviously covering all bets.
Not having fought since December, the unbeaten champion (now 30-0) never truly got untracked. He split the first four rounds with Rosario, but early in the fifth, Rosario, who had scored 19 knockouts in a 23-1 career, caught Camacho pulling away from a right hand and rocked him with a left hook. "I wanted him to throw that hand so I could counter," Camacho said. "But my timing was off and he got cute. I'd block one and he'd come again. Pow! I thought, Oh, Lord. Pow! Pow! How do I stop this? So I say, Take him to the ropes and let him calm down."
Barely surviving the fifth, Camacho showed that there's more to this macho business than just talk. He came back to win the next five rounds with quick feet and a jab. Then, just as the champion was winning the 11th round easily, another Rosario hook caught him. Again Camacho weathered it. ("He didn't have no killer instinct," said Camacho.) But the champion didn't have much of anything left himself for the 12th and final round, which Rosario took handily.
So it went to the judges. Two of them, Stuart Kirshenbaum and Tony Castellano, had the champion winning 115-113. Luis Rivera, who gave Rosario the 5th and 11th rounds by two points, had the challenger winning 114-113.
"If I fight him again," growled Camacho the next morning, "I want a million dollars. If I'm going to come out looking like a Cabbage Patch doll, I want to get paid for it."
Camacho sparkled sartorially and at times fistically, but Rosario just kept coming on.
Camacho held off Rosario in the 5th and 11th rounds but emerged a much-battered man.