It’s easy to stand outside the ring and determine when you think a boxer should ‘hang them up’. I’ve done it. 

What is exponentially harder is sitting backstage, watching a man in impeccable physical condition try to squeeze water bottles and towels into a bag that seems far too small for the job. Hands throbbing, eyes swollen and bloodied with family half-celebrating and half-saddened by the facial damage. It’s all they know. ‘Hang them up’ isn’t that easy anymore.

I’ve had the pleasure of sitting ringside at three of Wadi Camacho’s last four fights. In two of those fights, he suffered defeat. One of those defeats was a punishing stoppage for the English cruiserweight title against heavy-handed Derby fighter Arfan Iqbal. However, last night, Camacho displayed the heart and desire that stands hairs up on the end of the York Hall faithful’s necks. In facing Jose Lopes, he was facing danger. Lopes is younger, fresher and carries power at the weight but never really seemed to dominate the contest. Camacho, cut over both eyes, ploughed forward. 

There were times during the fight that Camacho looked hurt. He swallowed, probably blood, and moved forward. In certain stanzas, he seemed to be chasing shadows. He drew breath, every one deeper than the last, before using his exceptional fitness to hunt his prey. He entered the ring as the Southern Area champion and left it, as he normally does, the peoples champion. Camacho will never win a World title, we know that, but in displaying such raw and unquestionable heart he has carved out his legacy.

As the atmosphere bubbled, Camacho looked over at his fans and his family and smiled as the judges scorecard was read. This was a man who had been written off following the defeat to Iqbal. He told me during our post-fight interview that, “people think I’m finished.” I’d been stood outside his dressing room in June after interviewing another boxer on the card. Terry Coulter, his caring and dedicated coach, had seen enough. He was outside, emotional and telling people he wanted Wadi to ‘hang them up’. So did I.

Sometimes the cruelest thing about boxing is the infectious hold it has over anyone involved. Fighters, trainers, promoters and even lowly writers fortunate enough to be even a tiny bit involved. It grabs you by the throat, every time you free yourself it takes your breath away and that is something seldom felt in other sports. The Sweet Science had given Camacho so much, but had taken plenty. 

I’d never interviewed him before, but was astonished at his enthusiasm for the game as he sat looking battered. He was the winner of this battle, one that will live on in the Small Hall, and he was delighted. He seemed happy and fit. He seemed excited and proud. He seemed… himself. I found it comforting, talking to Wadi. His almost cult-like status had provided nights that, for most of us, will be unrivalled. 

A father and a champion, Wadi Camacho is the heart of the Small Hall. Putting everything on the line, every time, for people he doesn’t know. That’s boxing. It’s easy to tell a fighter to ‘hang them up’, but what is less straight-forward is what follows. What is life after boxing? ‘Macho’ Camacho isn’t ready to find out, just yet.

Written by Craig Scott