"I thought I was cocky," says former welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard. "Camacho surpasses me by three or four levels. But when Camacho brags, he's not trying to convince you of anything; he's just telling you what's going to happen."
What's going to happen in the next few years is that the 5'5" Camacho will have the chance to become the first athlete from Puerto Rico since Roberto Clemente to be accepted as a hero by mainstream America.
"You never feel anything surly or mean in him," says Mort Sharnik, the boxing consultant for CBS, which has telecast many of Camacho's fights. "He's a sprite. A Puck."
Camacho's first name is suited to his spirit. In The Iliad Hector was the noblest and most magnanimous of the Trojan chieftains; he defended his city with heroic perseverance. But the noun "hector" has come to mean a swaggering bully and the verb "to hector" means to browbeat. Camacho appears to be a modern Hector, a loud, bragging young upstart, but, in fact, he's refreshingly down to earth and unaffected, like his classical namesake.
After an East Harlem childhood spent getting kicked out of school, fighting, swinging from fire escapes—the scar on his forehead is from banging into a fire escape—wooing girls, upsetting his mother and dancing on rooftops, he has calmed down.
And though Camacho is earning six-figure sums with each fight now, his life hasn't changed that much. He still lives with his mother, Maria, three sisters and brothers, a niece, a nephew and his stepfather, Alejandro Oliveras, in a housing project on East 115th Street.
He talks about moving to a tonier neighborhood, but he hasn't made the move. Where else could he live and know that his new car, a Cadillac Eldorado that his promoter, Jeff Levine, gave him, won't be messed with? Everybody—the guys playing basketball, the parents taking their kids out for a walk, the old people staring out the windows of the crowded tall red-brick buildings, the couples hanging around the plaza, the drug pushers on the corner—knows whose car it is, and no one touches it.
"We want to get out of the ghetto," says Billy Giles, Camacho's trainer-manager, "but we want to come back. You've got to remember where you come from. That's your roots. That's your strength."
"The first time I saw Camacho fight," says Leonard, "I was so impressed I couldn't believe it. He's one of those rare fighters who has radar. Speed is his greatest asset, and his fist speed is so controlled, so accurate."
Because of his wiliness, speed, technique and propensity for spinning opponents around and hitting them from behind, Camacho is often compared with 1940s featherweight champion Willie Pep. "People say I fight like the old fighters," Camacho says. "I ain't nothin' like Pep. I'm just myself. I'm not the next Sugar Ray. I'm the next Macho Man.