Under normal circumstances, should such phenomena exist in boxing, no one would care about Hector Camacho and Yori Boy Campas waltzing to a monotonous draw last Saturday night at the Double Tree Hotel in Orlando, Florida. And rightly so: no one should care. However, a dangerous precedent was set when Camacho, who was deemed unfit to compete only a few days before the scheduled bout by Aaron Davis, Commissioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, found sanctuary in Florida. The bout, absurdly set for pay-per-view, went on as planned.
Davis dropped in on Camacho during a training session at a local PAL and watched as “The Macho Man,” now in his twenty-ninth year as a professional, struggled against his sparring partners. “I saw guys who were taking it light on him,” Davis told Keith Idec of the New Jersey Record & Herald News, “still hitting him every chance they had.” Davis decided that Camacho was unfit to box and cancelled the fight. If only more matches and mismatches were dealt with that way.
Promoter Diane Lee Fischer, faced with a financial calamity, shopped the bout around and, incredibly, found a taker in Florida. Although Camacho did not have his license officially revoked, the idea that a ‘renegade” state would allow a boxer judged physically ineligible in another jurisdiction to compete in their own backyard is troubling. Official suspensions handed down by athletic commissions–due to infractions or medical irregularities–are routinely honored across the country. Should “unofficial” rulings be thought of any differently? Apparently, the “Sunshine State” thinks so. In allowing a shot fighter to cross the border, so to speak, Florida showed that the shadow world of boxing does not stop at unscrupulous managers and rapacious promoters. This mess had the official imprimatur of a state agency meant to oversee safety and to enforce regulations. It remains to be seen what, exactly, induced the Florida State Athletic Commission to so eagerly snap up an event about as anticipated as a skinhead rally in Chicago. Was it extra tax revenues from a sparsely attended show held in a ballroom? Innumerable fees for everything from permits to concessionaire rights? Free publicity for the Double Tree Hotel?
Certainly the timing could not have been worse for Florida to pull such a stunt. In the last few weeks three boxing-related deaths have shown, once again, just how dangerous this bloodsport really is. Junior featherweight Benjie Flores died on May 5 after sustaining injuries in a bout against Al Seeger in Dallas; and Hungarian light heavyweight Andreas Nagy died on May 7 following injuries incurred during a sparring session. Flores was 25 and Nagy 23. Their tragic deaths are reminders that even the youngest and fittest face mortality every time they lace up gloves. These catastrophes were preceded by the heartbreaking death of Greg Page in April. Page, who won the WBA heavyweight title in 1986, suffered a subdural hematoma at the hands of former Toughman contestant Dale Crowe in 2001 and slipped into a coma. He was left partially paralyzed and unable to care for himself for the last eight years of his life. On April 29 the former champion fell out of his bed and, apparently unable to right himself, smothered to death. Page was forty-two-years old and woefully out of shape when he stepped into the ring against Crowe in Kentucky. If the athletic commission denied him the right to box that fateful night, Page would have avoided the disastrous beating he took for a purse of only $1,000.
Sadly, the story of Greg Page–a washed up fighter on the road to autodestruction in the ring, aided and abetted by hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing commissions and promoters drawn to blood money–is not unique. Today, boxers like Camacho, Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield, and Carl Daniels continue to play Russian Roulette between the ropes. These are not fighters slightly past their peaks or just on the way down; these are fighters who have been washed up for the better part of a decade and who can no longer string together compound sentences without sounding like they just returned from a visit to an anesthesiologist.
Camacho, fighting two weeks before his 47th birthday, has been blank-eyed and mumbling for years, and has had only two fights since 2005. Bowe, 41, actually used brain damage–sustained in his career–as a legal defense during his trial for kidnapping his wife in 2000. Daniels, a former paper champion over a decade ago, takes beatings in exchange for purses that amount to a fraction of what he earned against Julio Cesar Vazquez and Laurent Boudouani in the late 1990s. His knockout loss to Andy Lee in 2007 was closer to a snuff film than to a boxing match. Daniels has now lost 12 out of his last 13 fights and is scheduled to fight again tomorrow night, ironically, in New Jersey. Holyfield, at 46, has already suffered one medical suspension, but, incredibly, his last two fights have been for “portions” of the heavyweight title. None of these fighters, with the exception of Holyfield perhaps, earns a “livelihood” from boxing any longer, and the idea that washed up boxers are deprived of the chance to make a living is specious. The truth is these fighters should all have their licenses revoked. Boxing is dangerous enough without having its regulators shrugging away their responsibilities.
Camacho may have clutched his way to a ghastly draw in Florida against Campas, who is 7-8 in his last fifteen bouts, but commissions charged, in theory, with protecting his health should pay more attention in the future. Next time he might not be so lucky.