Auburn fighter Greg Haugen, a former lightweight world champion, fought Hector Camacho twice in 1991, each boxer winning a split decision.
Every punch Greg Haugen threw at Hector Camacho came with a taunt. And every punch that Camacho threw and missed was greeted with a smirking smile.
“You’re looking tired. You’re slowing down,” Haugen would growl after he buried a right hand into Hector Camacho’s stomach.
“You missed again. You missed again,” Haugen teased Camacho after dodging a wild right.
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In 1991 Haugen had two memorable junior-welterweight championship fights with Camacho. Both ended in split decisions. Haugen won the first. Camacho won the rematch.
“I tried to get inside his head, and I did,” Haugen said, speaking by phone this week from his Auburn home. “I jawed with him the whole time. Called him all kinds of derogatory names. Told him he couldn’t hit me.
“I’d hit him in the belly and I could hear him making noises like ‘Uuuuhh,’ when the air came out of him, and I would smile at him. I just tried to stay inside his mind. I was looking for little things that would give me an advantage. It was like psychological warfare.”
In the first fight, Haugen, a former lightweight world champion, said he refused to touch gloves with then-undefeated Camacho before the start of the 12th-and-final round. Camacho got so angry he threw a sucker punch at Haugen, and a point was deducted from Camacho’s score.
In the rematch, Haugen said he fought even better.
“I beat him twice. I beat him more the second fight than I did the first fight,” he said. “I clearly beat him in that fight, and he knew it. He was halfway to his dressing room and they had to bring him back into the ring.”
Last week Hector Camacho, 50, died, four days after he was shot while sitting in a parked car in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Adrian Mojica Moreno, a friend, also was killed and police said nine bags of cocaine were found in Moreno’s pockets.
It was an inglorious ending to Camacho’s flamboyant life.
Inside the ring, fighters learn secrets about each other. They discover each other’s limits and plumb the depths of their courage. Rivalries develop. Symbiotic relationships are forged. Lives become inextricably linked.
Haugen and Camacho were two very different people from very different circumstances who were thrown together by boxing. And long after their careers were over, they still were connected by the mutual respect they earned in the ring.
“I’ve known Hector for a long time. He came up and sparred with me in Alaska before we ever had those (championship) fights,” Haugen said. “He was an OK guy. I never had a problem with him. I’d see him every once in a while after we fought, and he never said anything bad about me.
“But there’s no question he partied too much. Hector had a known reputation for partying, but that doesn’t make him a bad guy. But the place that he got shot was just a bad place for him to be. He shouldn’t have been there.”
Camacho was a one-of-a-kind showman in maybe the last golden era of the sport. He was part clown and part salesman. At prefight news conferences he wore more bling than an actress at the Academy Awards.
His trademark spit curl fell perfectly down the middle of his forehead. Championship fights were fashion statements for Camacho. He would come into the ring wearing an Indian headdress or a gladiator’s costume. He wore trunks that looked more like loincloths or hula skirts. And his robes, some of them mink, had his nickname, “Macho,” stitched on the back.
“He was a showman, no doubt about it,” Haugen said. “He knew how to milk it. But he was a great fighter, a great champion at three different weights (super featherweight, lightweight, junior welterweight). He was fast. I tried to hit him with one big punch because I knew I couldn’t hit him with a combination of punches. He was just too good.”
There were so many good fighters and good boxing rivalries in their era, from Sugar Ray Leonard, whom Camacho beat, to “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Haugen had memorable fights with Vinny Pazienza, Pernell Whitaker, Chavez and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. It was a great time to be a fighter.
“There just aren’t many good fighters any more,” Haugen said. “When I was fighting there were four or five good fighters in every division. You don’t have that anymore. We’ve lost a lot of good teachers. We’ve got trainers out there now who couldn’t train a monkey. That’s the problem. It’s just not the same.”
After Camacho’s death last week, ESPN replayed some of his greatest bouts, including the fights with Haugen. I asked Haugen if he watched.
“No, I don’t need to watch them,” he said. “I’ve got those fights in my head. You don’t ever forget those fights.”
Or those fighters.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists