Longtime boxing promoter Michael Acri, who helped guide the late-career comebacks of Hall of Famers Hector Camacho Sr. and Roberto Duran, and guided Paul Spadafora to a lightweight world title, died on Sunday at his home in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was 63. (photo by Erie Times-News)
Acri had battled pancreatic cancer for the past 2½ years but continued to work until shortly before his death. His last major project was as a co-producer on the critically acclaimed documentary “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” which debuted on Showtime in December.
“Mike had a great run and he should be on the Hall of Fame ballot. He was highly successful in boxing and he was very smart,” said promoter Lou DiBella, a friend of Acri’s for some 30 years and business associate, who learned of his death in a Tuesday morning phone call with his sister, Marci Acri.
“Acri was probably one of the first people I became friendly with in boxing. He had an incredible boxing mind. People who helped my boxing knowledge were guys like Eddie Futch, Emanuel Steward, Bruce Trampler and Russell Peltz. Acri is also on that list. His mind for boxing was unbelievable.”
Acri spent close to 40 years in the boxing business but was best known for his work with Camacho, Duran and Spadafora.
Acri worked with Camacho from 1994 to 2000 and kept him busy as he went 29-1-1 during their time together and was a staple of the old “Tuesday Night Fights” series on USA Network. Acri also secured some of Camacho’s biggest fights, including a fifth-round knockout win that sent Sugar Ray Leonard into permanent retirement in 1997 followed by a decision loss to Oscar De La Hoya in a welterweight world title fight later that year.
Acri also promoted Duran for about a decade, in the late 1980s and 1990s, including Duran’s upset win over Iran Barkley to capture the WBC middleweight title in 1989, a decision loss to Leonard in their rubber match later in 1989 and his pair of fights against Vinny Pazienza in 1994 and 1995.
“Mike and Camacho together was hilarious. It was the same with Duran,” DiBella said. “I don’t know how many dinners I had with them and they were a riot. It was always fun being with them. Mike was a very underrated promoter. He was a really good promoter. He was a guy I learned a lot from.”
During the mid-1990s, Acri began promoting Spadafora, a young prospect from Pittsburgh, who he built into an attraction. He eventually guided Spadafora to the IBF lightweight world title in 1999 with a decision win over Israel “Pito” Cardona. Eight successful defenses followed between 1999 and 2003 and several appearances on ESPN2 and HBO.
Acri continued to work with Spadafora following his title run although the number of events he was involved in dwindled. The last card Acri promoted was in 2012 but he never lost his passion for boxing and was sought out by many in the business for his counsel in more recent years.
“Whether he knew you or not, his door was always open to anyone who was seeking advice,” said Fred Sternburg, who knew Acri for decades and worked as a publicist for him for many years. “He treated everyone the same, with respect and honesty. There was never any pretense with Mike. He fell in love with boxing as a boy and considered himself lucky to work in a business he loved. His fighters considered him family, and that was a feeling he always reciprocated.”
Acri grew up a boxing fan in Erie and started out in the business doing public relations work for Hall of Fame matchmaker and promoter Don Elbaum, a fellow Erie, native, in the early 1980s. He later worked with matchmaker Al Braverman before branching out into promoting.
“Mike never treated boxing like a job. It was a love,” Sternburg said. “He never had a large stable and that was by design. He wanted to be able give his undivided attention to every fighter he signed. He felt a responsibility to them.
“The best word to describe Mike is ‘loyal.’ If he was your friend, he was your friend for life. He always kept a confidence, and in boxing, where gossip is king, that is hard currency.”
Among other fighters Acri promoted were former heavyweight contender Donovan “Razor” Ruddock and Robert Daniels during his 1989 to 1991 cruiserweight world title reign.
In 2018, Acri was inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com’s senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.