A documentary, by definition, is a program providing “a factual record or report.”
Which means stringing together grainy footage with narration gleaned from Boxrec.com would be sufficient to cross the word’s dictionary threshold.
But Eric Drath isn’t content with merely jumping bars.
So when it came to the remarkable life, storied career and unsolved murder of one of boxing’s greatest showmen – Hector Camacho – the journalist-turned-agent-turned-filmmaker aimed higher.
“HBO and ESPN don’t need Eric Drath to tell a story,” he said. “But what they don’t have, and what the executives don’t go out and get, is the contemporary angle.”
That was the mission for “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” which Drath directed with the same unique approach to storytelling he’d brought to previous boxing projects on the controversial Leonard-Duran rematch (“No Mas” – ESPN, 30 for 30) and the criminal bout between Luis Resto and Billy Collins (“Assault in the Ring” – HBO Documentary Films).
And if you’re scoring at home, go ahead and call it a mission accomplished.
Drath goes far beyond the record books with an unapologetically thorough examination of an unlikely sports hero. The film celebrates Camacho’s sublime boxing skills and his unbridled charisma that brought Spanish Harlem and Puerto Rican culture to the center of the sports world.
He uses interviews with Camacho’s mother, Maria Matias, his sisters, his wife, Amy, and his son, Hector Jr., to delve into the fighter’s troubled mind and spirit, his battle with addiction and the inner turmoil that ultimately lead to his demise – in a mysterious double homicide on a roadside in 2012.
The film premieres on Showtime on Friday at 9 p.m., two weeks after the eighth anniversary of Camacho’s fatal shooting in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
“The way this whole thing came about was I was shooting ‘No Mas,’” Drath said. “I was down with Roberto Duran and it was just about a month or two after (Camacho) was murdered and I asked Duran about Camacho and Duran started to cry. And I couldn’t believe what was going on.
“‘Duran? The toughest Latino fighter ever is crying?’ He was more emotional about this than he was about getting beaten by Leonard. I knew at that point the impact Camacho has. It’s so profound. Not only in the Latino community. Not only in the boxing world, the sports world, but also with his family.”
Drath sat down with BoxingScene.com this week to discuss his career path, his creative process and how he’ll be feeling as he waits for the first wave of feedback on Friday night.
BoxingScene.com: So, Columbia University, journalism, Fox News, things like that, then a boxing agent. Now you’re a filmmaker. Is that where you thought you’d always wind up, or is it kind of an unexpected turn from 10 or 20 years ago?
Eric Drath: A completely unexpected turn, just like everything that works out in life. My life has been driven by a lot of interests. I go for it and then opportunities present themselves. I didn’t even know I’d want to be in journalism. I was at Columbia. I walked into the radio station and it was like “Wow, this is cool.” A couple weeks later I had a news show. Then I got a job at ABC and was working in the news business. Going from ABC to CNN, then Fox. Them one night, somebody said “Hey, do you want to go to a boxing show?” and I was like “I don’t know if I want to go to a boxing show.” It was a local show up in the Bronx. I went to this fight. It was in a fieldhouse at Yonkers Raceway and it was gladiatorial. I met (promoter Joe DeGuardia) and said, “Do you need anybody to do PR?”
I didn’t know that PR was basically driving the fighters to get their tests. From there I started working with some female fighters and then got some male fighters including Gairy St. Clair, Agapito Sanchez. I got the chance to work with “Prince” Naseem Hamed and some years after that I was in the gym and met Luis Resto and everybody was “That’s the guy that was banned from the sport of boxing and went to jail,” and my journalistic instincts kicked in.
Me and a buddy made the documentary on a shoestring and somehow got the DVD to Rick Bernstein of HBO on the sideline of a women’s lacrosse match. They bought it and voila, got lucky, won an Emmy.
BoxingScene.com: Boxing has attracted big-time writers. Great journalists tend to write some of their best stuff about boxing. What do you think it is that sucked you in, that sucks others in, especially creative types like yourself? What is it about boxing that’s not the same as golf, or something else, and makes you want to be a part of it?
Eric Drath: Well, it’s really the stories. I loved working in the boxing business, which I did for seven years as an agent, mostly representing the B-side, except for a couple guys. I loved the stories. Each one of the docs that I’ve done on boxing has been a human-interest story. Luis Resto searching for redemption. These stories pull me to the sport and make me care. I wasn’t a big boxing fan, Camacho and Tyson were the fighters that I did watch when I was younger. I just wasn’t deep into the sport.
I knew about Camacho and I got the chance to meet him a couple of times, once covering the Leonard fight when I was at Fox News. And then Mike Acri, who is one of the executive producers, he was the promoter. And then when I was working in the boxing business with his son, Hector Jr. So I got to know the family and I got to meet Camacho a couple of times.
BoxingScene.com: It’s one thig to do a documentary with archival footage. This guy fought 50 years ago and they show a bunch of black-and-white clips and you’re done. But with Resto you’re trying to get redemption, and with Leonard you’re going to Panama to confront Duran, and with Camacho you’re connecting with his family and getting their reactions. You can’t help but cry when you talk to his mother. Why is it you approach it that way as opposed to just saying: “Hector Camacho fought in the ’80s and here’s 20 guys he fought and he was interesting to watch, The End.”
Eric Drath: People say Camacho’s story ended in 2012 when he was murdered. Or Luis Resto’s story ended June 16, 1983, but I like to think of it like there’s a story and there’s a film, and how does the film tell the story? And so, what I’m interested in is how people are living with the story from the past. What are the ripple effects from that moment in time? It was the humanness of the story and how people are living with it all these years later
BoxingScene.com: You said you were talking to Duran and he mentions Camacho and reacts a certain way, you get that spark and think “Wow, There’s something here.” From that point to Friday night when it’s going on Showtime, do you have this long map laid out in your head or does it kind of develop as it goes? Do you have a thought process, or is the process dictated by whatever you’ve got?
Eric Drath: Even though it piqued the interest to do the story, it was really after all these years of being unsolved and also untold, and I really didn’t think Camacho deserved to be lost in history. And if I’m not going to do the job, then who would? It was a story that needed to be told. And that just kind of happens.
It’s interesting making these films. In “Assault in the Ring,” when I go down with Resto to meet Panama for the first time – it had been 35 years since the fight – and in the car before we go in I said “All right, Luis, you ready? What are you going to say to him? He f--ked up your life.” He’s like “Oh, I’m going to put it to him, tell him he’s a jerk and I’m going to do this.”
And I’m all ready to film. It’s a beautiful scene, we’re filming from behind as he walks up. You could hear Panama say, “My son, my son.” And Resto falls apart like butter, mushy butter, and starts crying. And we leave, and we’re on the plane, and I’m pissed. I’m like. “Man, we just came all the way down here for this guy to cry in front of Panama.” It wasn’t working out the way I thought it should work out. And then we got into the edit room and we were like “This is gold.”
You never know with these documentaries. You kind of have an idea. And honestly, working with Showtime has been great. I’m not just saying that. They really allow you to make your film and give you the leeway to find the story. Because I first set out to make this an investigatory story and I shot so much and there’s great footage there, there’s another hour or two. Maybe they’ll even let me air it if this thing does well.
But I got to the point where it was all about his death and how do I go to Mancini after being in the FBI or being in Bayamon or interviewing the assassin’s family, who are the other victims. How do I get back to Leonard and all that, and I couldn’t. I owed it to Camacho and his family to tell his story, too. So I stripped most of that out and kind of got back to his basics.
Another example how you make a plan to tell a story one way and sometimes you have to change.
BoxingScene.com: Can you tell during the process that “Wow, this is going to be something really special” or do you not know right when you’re done?
Eric Drath: I do care what other people say. I seek other opinions but you have the instincts for a good story when you’re doing these and it is a good story. There wasn’t one seminal fight that you could look back at and say, “This was so big of a fight the whole world was watching,” except for Rosario, which was the moment his style changed, probably, and a lot of fans didn’t like his style.
I don’t know how people are going to receive it until enough people see it and hopefully they like it.
BoxingScene.com: Come Friday night when this thing airs, are you sitting watching it? Are you sitting and waiting for the phone to ring for everybody to say, “It hit”? What’s the process like when this thing finally gets unveiled to the general public?
Eric Drath: You’re vulnerable. You’ve been sitting with something with a small team, and you don’t know how people are going to respond. And there’s a lot of hype for the film, too, because it’s a story that people care about. It’s a fighter that really people cared about. But I don’t know how people will receive it. I hope they see it for what it is. It’s a story about a flawed superhero who ultimately loses the battle where he can’t give up the streets.
Lou DiBella actually put it well. I said, “He really wasn’t the best Puerto Rican fighter. You got Cotto, you got Vazquez, you got Trinidad.” And Lou said, “Yeah, but he was the hero of the streets.” And I think that’s what people respond to. They respond to the fact that he was flawed. But he still has superhero power. He still has world-class powers. And it’s that relatable type of humanity, those traits, that really make him loved. And his authenticity.
I don’t know how people will like it and hopefully we’ll get a good reaction. And I hope people that are in the sport find it a worthwhile watch.
BoxingScene.com: After Friday comes and goes, what’s next? How many things do you have going at one time – just a few or do you have a lot of plates spinning?
Eric Drath: You kind of have to throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall.
I’ve got a civil rights story that I’ve been filming since 2011 about Dick Barnett, the basketball player, and his effort to get his small black college inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. So that one, we’re just wrapping that up, and then I’ve got a four-part series on boxing. I think if we can get it done, (fight people will) love it.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO super middleweight title – London, United Kingdom
Billy Joe Saunders (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Martin Murray (No. 12 WBO/No. 18 IWBR)
Saunders (29-0, 14 KO): Second title defense; Six title-fight victories at 160 and 168 pounds (6-0, 1 KO)
Murray (39-5-1, 17 KO): Fifth title fight (0-3-1); Second title fight at 168 (0-1) after three at 160 (0-2-1)
Fitzbitz says: Saunders isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and he hasn’t exactly faced a Murderers Row so far at 168. But if he’s prepared, Murray is the type of foe he’ll shine against. Saunders by decision (90/10)
IBF/WBC welterweight titles – Arlington, Texas
Errol Spence Jr. (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Danny Garcia (No. 2 WBC/No. 6 IWBR)
Spence (26-0, 21 KO): First WBC title defense (fifth IBF); Two KOs, two decisions in four IBF defenses
Garcia (36-2, 21 KO): Tenth title fight (7-2); Held WBA/WBC belts at 140 pounds and WBC belt at 147
Fitzbitz says: Spence is a huge talent and showed grit to spare against Shawn Porter. But how will he fare after his car wreck and layoff? Garcia is a tough ask in that spot. Too tough. Garcia in 10 (51/49)
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Magnesi; LOSS: Menayothin)
2020 picks record: 33-7 (82.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,150-372 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.