By Jose Lopez: For 40 years, Luis Camacho has run a community boxing gym behind a deserted grocery store in New York City’s South Bronx, where young men learn the skills they need to win in the ring and in life. In a neighborhood better known for quick deals and short lives, the Bronxchester Boxing Club is a proving ground and a sanctuary.
Some of the fighters the head trainer and founder of Bronxchester BC has worked with include some of the greats of the sports past, “Where to begin?” he told me. “Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Wilfred Gomez, Wilfred Benitez, Juan Laporte, Alex Ramos, Chris Eubank, and my cousin, Hector Camacho, Sr. That’s off the top of my head.”
With the finals of the New York Daily News Golden Gloves on the horizon (29-30/03), Luis is a keen eye each year at the MSG Theatre. As former president of USA Boxing Metro, Camacho knows of what he speaks. “I don’t know what it is about the Golden Gloves,” he said. “It just seems that when that Golden Gloves entry form appears in the paper, people wake up to the fact amateur boxing is alive in New York.”
The nation’s longest-running, biggest and most historic amateur boxing tournament is still alive and kicking with 1,500 entrants this year. “We would get more than 40% of our annual registrations from the Golden Gloves,” confirmed Camacho. “People came out of the woodwork.”
His theory on why less New York boxers win national glory is quite simple. “The (NY) Gloves is very different from any other tournament,” said Camacho. “The kids in the Gloves fight more like professionals than any other amateur competition.”
Camacho said the “slugging” style employed by many of the boxers in the Gloves hurts at the national and international level: “There are a lot of guys who have to learn to box using the international rules.
“Here in New York, the pro style is the way kids learn. So many professional fighters work in the gyms all over the city that there’s a natural influence on the kids.
“The greatest exception I can come up with for you is my fighter Alex Ramos, a determined yet limited slugger-type, defeating multiple national champion Mike McCallum in the semi-finals of the 1980 (NY) Gloves.”
A follow-up story is that Luis wouldn’t be speaking to us today had his man not beaten McCallum. “That victory we had actually saved our lives,” he explained. “Had Alex not beaten Mike he would have been on the flight carrying the USA Boxing Team to Warsaw, Poland. The plane crashed, killing so many great fighters, trainers, corner men, all of whom were our friends.
“But we stayed in New York to contest the Gloves Final.”
His praise for former USBA Champion Ramos’ physical strength takes some beating. “Alex was stronger than (Mike) Tyson, even as a middleweight; when he was 12 years old he was knocking 25 year olds cold on the canvas.”
The most talented fighter he saw wasn’t Duran or Benitez, but the UK’s eccentric then-future champion. “The most gifted fighter I ever worked with was Chris Eubank, who later became a world champion in England. When I first saw him at the gym, I just thought he was exceptionally light on his feet for a middleweight and exceptionally relaxed for a rookie that he was.
“He would just step in at the right times with quick, short jabs and quick, short shots, while remaining relaxed and without worry.
“We followed his career. If you stood in front of Chris he picked you apart because he was just too gifted, but if you rushed him or stayed away you did better because he was almost too relaxed for his own good, Chris. He always was.”
The cousin of three-time World Champion Hector “Macho” Camacho, Luis was already a well-known trainer of Olympic and professional fighters when he opened the Bronxchester Boxing Club. Here, Camacho and former trainee Angel Alejandro dedicate themselves, body and soul, to the lives of their young athletes. “The truth is, this is home away from home for these kids,” says Camacho. “This is their neighborhood gym, this is where they learn the boxing, this is where they learn what life is all about.”
Alejandro knows first hand how a love of boxing and a good trainer can keep a young man out of trouble and on the right path; he had his own run-ins with the law until he wandered into Camacho’s gym at the age of 16 and turned his life around. “You have to be their coach, their trainer, their father, their godfather, their big brother,” says Alejandro. “We learn a lot about discipline in boxing. You carry that on to your life. When you step into the ring, you have to dig deep. That’s where you find out what you’re really made of.”
We know Camacho is made of the good stuff.