Three Friends Go to Heaven
Three Friends Go to Heaven
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (Dec 4, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Manny Steward
2012 has been an unusually hard year for boxing fans. This year, it seems the uppercuts and hooks from life have rained down from every angle. Not only have we lost Andy Ganigan, Eddie Perkins Johnny Tapia, Julio Gonzalez, Michael Dokes and Corrie Sanders this year, but within a matter of weeks, the grim reaper has also further taken away three other all time boxing greats in Emmanuel Steward, Carmen Basilio and Hector Camacho Sr.  In what has already been a bruising year, this latest one-two-three combination has been hard to take.
I feel I lost three friends. While I cannot say that I should think that they considered me a friend, I can say that they were there for me and for my family when we needed them to be. They say that sometimes the word champion over-dignifies some people. Well, these three guys over-dignified the meaning of that word. They redefined what it means to be a fighter, never quitting until the very end against all odds.
Basilio was the first one I established contact with, when in 1995, I found out he and Willie Pep worked together at the International Boxing Hall of Fame and decided to drop them a letter. Now, for some reason many fighters and people who are in the Hall of Fame do not return their mail when it is sent to them through the Hall of Fame's postal address. In my case, the latter included Angelo Dundee and Emile Griffith. I was somewhat discouraged to keep sending my mails to boxers through the IBHOF. Pep and Basilio, however, answered. I had explained to them that as a child I admired them for their ring achievements and for their fighting, and that I had diabetes and my brother Jose was going through a difficult time with a disease that is similar to Cancer, named Neutropenia., in which you have to watch for even a stray, flying rock not to hit you while walking on the streets, because you could bleed to death due to not enough white blood cells. Carmen sent back the Kayo Round One trading card I had sent him autographed, but he also added a nice letter encouraging us to fight forward, not to let life's letdowns to get in the way of our goals. Carmen was a member of the United States Marines, and he fought his heart out against the likes of Tony DeMarco, Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer, so he knew what he was talking about. In 1997, he went through a triple bypass heart surgery, and many thought that would be the last bell for him. But they did not count on his champion's heart. He made it through, and was only taken away 15 years later, by old age.
Emmanuel Steward was the second one of the three that I came into contact with. As a direct consequence of my brother's disease, and of his involvement with the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team as a ball boy during the 1995-96 NBA season, my dad, my brother, my sister Nilda, my brother in law Nick and I and I began to meet famous persons in person, so that we could ask for autographs and at the same time, have that in=person experience of hanging out with legends. Like that, we met Muhammad Ali, Richard Petty, Princess Anne of England, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, senator Kenneth McClintock of Puerto Rico, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Hilary Duff, Gladys Knight, Michael Dante, Danny Glover, Hanson, Symphony X, Green Day, The Beach Boys, Menudo, Black Sabbath, pastor Benny Hinn, etc, etc etc. We met many famous people from most different walks of life (excepting those who were famous for committing crimes). And we met Emmanuel Steward.
My dad and I wanted to get Lennox Lewis' autograph, as he was in town to train for his rematch with Oliver McCall. I knew that Steward was a future Hall of Famer. In fact, I had been indirectly following his career since about 1984, by which time I recognized him as one of the top three trainers in the world, along with Dundee and Lou Duva. I wanted to take a Kayo card of him with me in case we ran to him while getting Lewis' autograph, but I found out I had none, so I took an index card instead. Index cards, for those of you who do not know, are white cards that autograph hunters usually find handy when they run into someone unexpected, and famous. At the hotel where Lewis' group was staying at, we walked around, reading the newspapers, drinking coffee, doing everything possible so as to not be detected by security as autograph hunters and kicked out. Sure enough, who shall we spot leaving one of the villas in front of us but Emmanuel Steward!! Making sure no security was within sight, I walked to him and asked if he could sign my index card. He took pity on me, and took us inside his room. Now, let me tell you, that was a mess! But it was a mess filled with interesting stuff like fight credentials, boxing magazines and items boxing fans enjoy. And a few socks and shoes here and there. Steward grabbed a medium sized photo of him at Kronk Gym and signed it, personalized, to me. Then we talked about Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty and Milton McCrory. He told me I could reach Mc by writing him at the Ford cars office he has in Detroit. Problem is, I still don't know which one of the thousands of Ford offices in Detroit Milton works at!

I will never forget Emmanuel Steward for going that far for me and my family on that moment. Steward died of diverticulitis, mixed with Colon Cancer, at age 68.   
The third one I met among these three is the phenomenal Hector "Macho" Camacho. Much immature comments have been said about this man, because of his flamboyant style. And because he did not beat Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya or Felix Trinidad. What people forget is that those too, are fighters of the top level, and many times, other fighters of top level failed against level-like boxers. They never penalized Frazier for failing twice against George Foreman, or Carl Olson for being Sugar Ray Robinson's and Archie Moore's water boy. Not to disrespect Olson's memory, I was genuinely a fan of his, but nobody ever talked bad about him or said he would not get to the Hall of Fame for failing against those two. Camacho, however, was deducted points for not beating those 3 obvious hall of famers, De La Hoya and Trinidad when Camacho was already past his prime. Well, on January of 2004, his son, Macho Camacho Jr., was in town for his ill-fated fight with Omar Weiss. The night before the fight, we went to their hotel, figuring we'd run into Camacho Sr. I had already met Camacho Jr. at Ricky Ricardo's Madison Square Garden gym in 2000, before his fight with Phillip Holiday that was the main supporting event of the Chavez-Kostya Tszyu bout in Phoenix. I had his autograph, but I needed Camacho Sr's  I'll never forget Camacho Sr's look when I approached him coming out of the elevator and asked for his signature. I kid you not when I tell you he was wearing one of his extravagant-but cool-outfits that he wore into the ring, just to go out for a night in town! He looked at me like he was Terminator. But as soon as I told him I am Puerto Rican, he opened up and became that "loco" we all came to know and take as if part of our own family. Macho was insane!!! Me and him wound up hitting on the women at the lobby, shadow boxing, joking, laughing, screaming out loud, singing "what time is it" and the Puerto Rican national anthem and just having a good time with my dad, his entourage and everyone else joining in the party. Because that is what it was. We formed our own, private party in that hotel lobby. Camacho Jr had to retire early that night because of his fight the next day, but Ismael Leandry, Nick Acevedo-the Puerto Rican boxer who was considered a top contender also at the time-, Wilfredo Gomez, Camacho, my dad and I stood until about 2 AM, without a care in the world, checking the women out, talking to them and having fun. In a past article, in fact my first article for, I described this as the best ever autograph experience I ever had. Even as my favorite boxer of all time, Gomez, was there, the night definitely belonged to Camacho Sr.!
Macho Camacho beat Rafael Limon, an on his peak Jose Luis Ramirez, and Edwin Rosario. Then Rosario fight was close, but I invite you to watch it again. He did win by a hair or two.  Camacho also defeated Greg Haugen, as well as a Sugar Ray Leonard who was off-peak but only five years older than Macho Man, and an old version of Roberto Duran twice, and that great warrior, Vinnie Paz. I bet that around 1999-2000, Camacho would have beaten Chavez in a rematch, as we are talking about the version of Chavez that lost to Willy Wise, and Camacho was still in fairly good condition for his age and still beating fighters of Wise's level. Camacho was actively looking for a rematch with Chavez and in fact, actually spoke to him on the phone when we were parting at the hotel the night I met him. And should I again shout at the IBHOF that Ramirez should be in already?
Macho Camacho was shot by someone who either was ignorant enough to know who he was or disrespectful enough not to care. For a few days my heart ached as I joined millions in prayer for Macho to come back, but it wasn't to be and he died a few days later at the Centro Medico hospital in San Juan.
Three friends have gone on to the Heavenly walk. I hope they all ran into each other during their final trip, I imagine Camacho to be the one livening up the encounter, with Basilio sharing old stories of his famous fights, and Steward taking it all in with a wide smile on his lips.
Someday we shall be lucky if we can ask God, before we actually hit that road, to bless us by accepting us into that group and into His arms as I hope he did with my three beloved 'friends'.
RIP, amigos!

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