SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Family, fans and fellow boxers said goodbye Tuesday to Hector “Macho” Camacho at a memorial and wake for the slain former world champion fighter known for his flamboyance in and out of the ring.
Hundreds of people took pictures and filed past Camacho’s open casket, displayed inside a gymnasium decked out for the occasion with black carpet and curtains. The boxer wore white, along with a large gold crucifix and a necklace spelling out his nickname, “Macho,” in capital letters.
First up were members of his immediate family, including his mother, Maria Matias, who wept and caressed her son’s face in the coffin, which was draped in a Puerto Rican flag. “They killed him,” she wailed at one point.
Camacho was shot Nov. 20 while sitting in a parked car with a friend outside a bar in Bayamon, his hometown. The friend died at the scene and the boxer three days later after doctors removed him from life support. Police have said they have suspects but have not yet arrested anyone for the shooting.
After the family came a cross-section of Puerto Rican society that included parents with children in strollers, the elderly, road crew workers in neon safety vests, U.S. soldiers in uniform and a who’s who of Puerto Rican boxers.
As the service began, hundreds of people stood and clapped for nearly a minute. “What time is it?” someone in the crowd yelled. “It’s Macho time!” the crowd responded.
“Everybody loved him here in Puerto Rico,” said Henry Neumann, the secretary of the U.S. island territory’s sports and recreation department. “He is one of those athletes who transcended the barriers of his country not only for his skill inside the ring but for his personality.”
Hundreds of people waited patiently outside as officials closed the doors temporarily for the service. Loud salsa music pounded from speakers nearby, and a couple of vendors handed out Puerto Rican flags. Inside, people took advantage of the more than 30 former and current world boxing champions from Puerto Rico, yelling at them to come over for a picture or an autograph.
Above Camacho’s casket was a large screen that showed some of his most famous bouts, along with clips of TV shows in which he appeared.
Camacho, who was 50 when he died, left Puerto Rico as a child and moved to New York. He went on to win super lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight world titles in the 1980s and fought high-profile bouts against Felix Trinidad, Julio Cesar Chavez and Sugar Ray Leonard. He had a career record of 79-6-3 and was a showman in the ring, chanting “It’s Macho time” before fights and wearing garish jewelry.
He battled drug and alcohol problems throughout his life and had frequent run-ins with police. When he was shot, police found an open package of cocaine in the car and nine unopened packages on his friend.
“No one deserves to die in such a manner, especially someone that has brought so much glory to Puerto Rico,” said Jose Penagaricano, the former president of the island’s boxing commission.
A police officer in Bayamon, Raul Nazario, recalled at the wake how he saw Camacho one day and drove over in his squad car to greet him, but the boxer fled. Later, out of uniform, the officer said he ran into him again and they exchanged a laugh and Camacho posed with him for a photo.
“For Puerto Rican people he was something great,” Nazario said.
Many of those in attendance had similar personal encounters. Doris Correa, a 71-year-old from the town of Vega Baja, showed a photo she took of Camacho in the 1980s, when her family and his happened to be camping in the same campground in the island’s southwest. At one point, he grabbed a microphone, declared “it’s Macho time,” and began singing for everyone. “Back then, we didn’t know what karaoke was,” she said. “He invented it.”
Boxer Juan Manuel “Juanma” Lopez, one of several dozen fighters on hand to say goodbye, recalled Camacho’s dazzling speed in the ring. “He was definitely a showman,” he said. “It was something grandiose.”
The president of the World Boxing Organization, Francisco Valcarcel, said Camacho opened the door for many other Puerto Rican boxers.
“No one in this world is perfect, and Macho was not perfect,” he said. “But Macho paved the road.”
The memorial and wake was scheduled to last two days.
Camacho’s godson, Widniel Adorno, said the boxer’s body will be flown to New York on Thursday, and that a funeral is scheduled for the weekend.