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Brook-Khan brings back memories of Camacho-Leonard

IBHOF inductee Graham Houston draws parallels between Amir Khan’s deceiving look on the scales before his emphatic loss to Kell Brook and a seemingly evergreen Sugar Ray Leonard being swept away by a fresher Hector Camacho.

Amir Khan looked good on the scales for last weekend’s fight with Kell Brook but in the ring it was clear he had little left. Physical appearances can be deceiving. Brook, meanwhile, looked rejuvenated after reuniting with long-time trainer Dominic Ingle.

The Khan camp said all the right things. His trainer for the Brook affair, Brian “Bomac” McIntire, even went so far as to say we’d be seeing the best version of Khan in years. Of course, that was never very likely. But, nevertheless, it was surprising and even a little shocking to see how weak and ineffective Khan looked in face of the Brook onslaught.

It’s not unusual for an ageing fighter to appear to be in great shape at the weigh-in only to have nothing left when the bell rings. Even the normally sharp oddsmakers can be deceived. Brook was only a 4/7 (-175 favourite). In hindsight, those odds were a steal for Brook backers. 

Something similar to this happened back in 1997, when Sugar Ray Leonard came back from a six-year layoff to meet Hector “Macho” Camacho in a scheduled 12-round pay-per-view bout at the Convention Center in Atlantic City. A case could be made for Leonard winning — until the boxers were actually in the ring. Then, as with Khan against Brook, reality bit. And it bit hard.

Leonard was 40 years old, Camacho was 34. The fight was for a middleweight title. Boxing at 160lbs, it was felt, would be to Leonard’s advantage. Leonard had been outpointed and indeed outclassed by Terry Norris in his last fight. But Leonard, it could be argued, had weakened himself moving down to 154lbs after being a fully-fledged middleweight. And the Norris who defeated Leonard was a veritable fighting machine. 

It was felt that Camacho, while skilled, durable and seasoned, didn’t present the same combination of youth, speed, and power that Leonard faced when he went in with Norris.

So, despite age and inactivity, Leonard was given a good chance of beating Camacho.

The bout took place on March 1, 1997. The opening line at the Las Vegas casinos showed Camacho as only a slight favourite at 2/3 (-150). Leonard was offered at 11/10 (+110). 

Money showed for Leonard. By February 26, with the fight just days away, the Associated Press was reporting that Leonard had moved to a 5/7 (-140) favourite.

Looking back at what happened in the fight, the prices available on Camacho were a gift from the boxing gods. (Shades of the Kell Brook odds last weekend.)

Camacho had been active while Leonard had been on the shelf. The Macho Man had boxed six times in 1996, which included a 12-round decision over a faded Roberto Duran. He was unbeaten in his last 20 bouts, with 19 wins and a head-clash technical draw. All told, Camacho had boxed 27 times while Leonard was in retirement.

At the final pre-fight press conference in Atlantic City, Camacho threw water from a glass in Leonard’s direction. He said he was angry at Leonard adviser J.D. Brown, who had interrupted him while Camacho was addressing the media. Camacho said he hadn’t been throwing water at Sugar Ray. The two shook hands at the end of the press conference.

Leonard said he was coming back simply because it was something he wanted to do. “I think I’ve got a damned good chance,” he told the media. “I think I’ve got a chance to knock him out.” He said he hadn’t been this excited about a fight since his 1987 win over Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Camacho, meanwhile, was disparaging in his comments about Leonard. “He needs the money. He made some bad investments. His cash flow is gone. His divorce with Juanita really got to him,” Camacho said. 

Leonard admitted he picked Camacho for his comeback opponent in part due to Camacho’s lacklustre performance against Duran. “I watched the Camacho-Duran telecast and that kind of got things going,” Leonard said

Camacho, however, while acknowledging he had been “very lazy, soft” against Duran told writer Ed Schuyler he would be a much different fighter and in much better shape against Leonard. “I’ve bulked up real nice,” Camacho said. “It hasn’t hurt my speed. I’m punching harder.”

And while Camacho had a reputation for being a hit-and-move boxer, not overly inclined to take risks. he promised that he would not be running from Leonard. “I can’t run any more,” Camacho said. “I’m going right after him.”

Leonard was guaranteed $4 million, Camacho $2 million, according to AP. Camacho, known for his colourful outfits, came into the arena dressed as a kind of Roman centurion, standing in “conqueror” pose on a litter borne on the shoulders of four men. His slow entrance irked the spectators and he was given a mixed reception when introduced by Michael Buffer. The crowd was with Leonard.

And now it was on.

Camacho was true to his word: he was the fighter moving forward. A left hand from Camacho’s southpaw stance sent the supposedly bigger and stronger Leonard back across the ring in the first round. Later in the round Leonard stumbled to the canvas after a pushing jab from Camacho. It wasn’t ruled a knockdown — the boxers’ feet tangled —  but “a psychological edge for Camacho”, as Al Albert noted in the PPV commentary. 

The second round wasn’t a bad round for Leonard. He moved quite well, but he wasn’t boxing with confidence. It was Camacho who was forcing the fight, and although Leonard landed a flush right hand it had no effect on the younger man. 

Twice in the third round Camacho moved Leonard back with left-hand shots and in the fourth Sugar Ray suffered a cut over the left eye from a head clash. But it was in the fifth round when everything went badly wrong for Leonard —  and it went badly wrong fast. Camacho hurt Sugar Ray with a left hand and then dropped him with a left uppercut. Although Leonard got up, he was finished for the evening. Referee Joe Cortez waved the finish, after 68 seconds of the round, with Leonard taking shots while backed up on the ropes. 

As commentator Al Albert put it, Camacho was supposed to have been a safe opponent but Leonard “looked at 40 the way he had looked at 34” when Terry Norris had basically beaten up Sugar Ray for 12 rounds.

How could bettors and even media members have given Leonard a chance? Well, obviously, a great fighter like Sugar Ray Leonard carries a certain mystique even when past his best. People remember the fighter the way he used to be and feel that, just maybe, he can recapture some of the old magic. 

And it’s not simply a matter of heart ruling head.

Whereas Kell Brook was obviously the puncher in the fight against Amir Khan, Camacho wasn’t considered a very hard hitter. And Camacho was hardly a young tiger. Toronto writer Stephen Brunt described Camacho as “a shell of a fighter” in a column written ahead of the Camacho-Leonard fight. 

Hadn’t a 45-year-old Roberto Duran hung in there with Camacho for 12 rounds? Leonard looked in excellent trim physically. So, on the surface, at least, it was reasonable to assume that Leonard had a pretty good chance.

However, a pre-fight observation by Camacho proved to be all too accurate. Leonard looked washed up when he lost to Terry Norris, Camacho told reporters. So how could Leonard possibly be any better, at 40 years old, after six years out of the ring?

Leonard retired for good after what has to be considered a humiliating defeat. Camacho fought on, losing a unanimous decision to Oscar De La Hoya but outpointing a now-50-year-old Duran in a rematch, before retiring in 2010. He was shot and killed in Puerto Rico in 2012, aged 50. The murder remains unsolved.

Main image: Boxrec.