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Hector Camacho makes a good entrance, give him that. His black
leather rig--the visored helmet was a surprise accessory--was
truly eye-catching, even for a Las Vegas fight, where the
fashion envelope (like the velour pants seen in the crowd) tends
to get stretched a bit. Then there was the dance. A lot of
boxers would be preoccupied with the task at hand, but not the
Macho Man. Nobody cuts the canvas like him.

But that's about all he's good for anymore. He's still got the
name, still got the moves, still got the spit curl (more about
that dread lock later). For all his bizarro behavior (is it
necessary to flash the crowd at the weigh-in?), he's still
solidly professional in the ring. Yet he's no match for real
firepower. At 35 he has become the opponent, somebody who can
sell a few tickets but whose purpose in the sport is to define
someone else's greatness.

That greatness would belong to Oscar De La Hoya, the 24-year-old
Golden Boy, whose popularity is supposed to save boxing. De La
Hoya, who's as comfortable on Jay Leno's couch as he is in the
ring, is the one guy everybody figures for all-purpose stardom.
He could become the Sugar Ray Leonard of the '90s, maybe even
the Michael Jordan. He's the fighter who crosses over.

But De La Hoya needs to be tested before his public can be
certain that he can deliver the goods over time. That was the
point of facing Julio Cesar Chavez, the Mexican legend he sliced
and diced last summer. And that was the point of lining up
Camacho, whom De La Hoya overpowered last Saturday at Las
Vegas's Thomas & Mack Center to retain, by unanimous decision,
his WBC welterweight crown. Camacho is as squirrelly as they
come, but having won five world titles, he has a ring pedigree,
and a victory over a boxer of his caliber is always good for a
man's bona fides.

De La Hoya doesn't have Camacho's sense of theater (or is it
burlesque?), but he does have a meat tenderizer of a left hook.
That he so thoroughly stymied such a stylist as Camacho was
encouraging to his followers. One more big name down.

It's obvious that De La Hoya is about to become an even bigger
name. Saturday's performance was disappointing only in his
failure to knock out Camacho as promised. To restore his aura of
deadliness, De La Hoya had changed trainers, jettisoning the
defense-minded Jesus Rivero for concussion-crazy Emanuel Steward
(SI, Sept. 15). But nobody knocks out a cutie pie like Camacho,
whose Macho nickname was always considered his greatest whimsy.
That De La Hoya knocked Camacho down in the ninth round--only
the second time in 69 bouts that Camacho had been seated--is
probably all anybody could have asked for.

De La Hoya cut through Camacho's southpaw defense and, no matter
how much Camacho clinched, off-loaded some of the most powerful
body shots seen this far south of the heavyweight division. He
was so overwhelming that he won every round on two of the
judges' scorecards. "He's the better man," Camacho said after
the fight, still wearing the rivet-studded leather sarong he had
fought in. "He's the better fighter, too. He fought a damn great
fight, but he did not knock me out."

For that reason Camacho insisted he was within his rights to
renege on a bet he'd made with De La Hoya. He was not giving up
his spit curl, the devilish hank of hair that dangles on his
brow. Supposedly, if Camacho won, De La Hoya would have paid him
$200,000; if De La Hoya won, he'd get to play barber. "But he
didn't knock me out, so he don't get spit," Camacho declared.

Maybe De La Hoya will allow him to skate on the bet, but in the
ring he didn't give the Macho Man any breaks. De La Hoya's
pounding was so fierce that he was asked later if he had been
toying with his opponent or just punishing him. De La Hoya said
he wasn't quite that vicious; he saw that Camacho wasn't going
to yield to a clean shot and realized he would have to content
himself with repeated blows to the man's ribs. "He took some
shots," De La Hoya said. "I don't know how he stood up to them."

It was a promising performance for De La Hoya, who is still
trying to overcome his comparatively inept showing in winning a
decision over Pernell Whitaker last April. That dozer of a
fight, with another lefthander, slowed De La Hoya on the way to
superstardom. But, inasmuch as Camacho is the same kind of
defense-first fighter that Whitaker is, De La Hoya's critics
would have to acknowledge improvement. He has learned to be a
little more reckless and perhaps entertaining. He'll never have
Camacho's fashion flair, but he'll be a lot more fun to watch
once the bell rings.

De La Hoya, who earned $9 million to Camacho's $3 million, is
still learning on the job, so it's no knock on him that he
hasn't been plunged into battles with really dangerous opponents
like Felix Trinidad or WBC super welterweight champion Terry
Norris, who could come down to 147 pounds to fight him.
Furthermore, it's a small complaint that in his next fights--on
Dec. 6 against Wilfredo Rivera and in early 1998 against
France's Patrick Charpentier--he will face opponents who are not
exactly marquee names. "Next year," De La Hoya promises, "will
be the year I fight everybody: Trinidad, Norris, they're in the

Out of the ring De La Hoya is coming to grips with his rather
devil-may-care lifestyle. Recently he discovered that he was
about to become a father, though not by the woman he intends to
marry. This caused him some anxiety, especially in the
explanation to his fiancee, an 18-year-old from Southern
California whose name De La Hoya has kept private. De La Hoya
says he told his fiancee that on the one hand, he very much
wants to take care of the baby--he would build an addition onto
his house, add a nanny to the entourage--and on the other hand,
he'd still like to follow through on their plans to get married,
but maybe not this year, perhaps not even next. It's possible,
he told her, that he will fight Norris before any bells except
Terry's will ring.

So De La Hoya is settling down, if not quite settled down.
Moreover, he seems to have come to grips with the idea that he's
in boxing for a longer run than he used to think. Whereas last
spring he was dropping hints of his imminent retirement, now
he's talking of fighting for five more years. He has a keener
eye to his legacy, whether it's babies or boxing titles, than he
did before.

If De La Hoya is determined to establish a reputation in the
sport, and maybe become a family man, too, he's gotten a head
start on Camacho, whose nocturnal lifestyle might have kept him
from the stardom now within De La Hoya's reach. It's no longer
Macho Time, and the great entrance he made on Saturday night
might have been his exit. The people are coming to see De La
Hoya now. The women in the crowd keen loudly and unfurl banners
proposing marriage. The men gasp at the ripping uppercuts he
throws. Maybe that was De La Hoya making the great entrance,
even without a visored helmet. We'll miss the helmet.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Thumping away relentlessly, De La Hoya (left) delivered everything but the knockout he'd promised. [Oscar De La Hoya and Hector Camacho in ring]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Star-studded Vegas got an eyeful of the Macho Man. [Hector Camacho wearing black leather gear in ring]