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Oscar Worthy
Richard Hoffer
September 22, 1997
By dominating a game but over-the-hill Hector Camacho, Oscar De La Hoya retained his welterweight crown and enhanced his star quality
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September 22, 1997

Oscar Worthy

By dominating a game but over-the-hill Hector Camacho, Oscar De La Hoya retained his welterweight crown and enhanced his star quality

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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 Hash 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 Jesús 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 Ca-macho'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.

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