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"I got the God-gifted speed," says Camacho, whose reflexes are so quick he can play two video games, Pac Man and Star Gate, at once. When he works out on a speed bag, his fists rolling in smooth circles, there's no "ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta"; there's just one long note: "ta-a-a-a-a."
"I learned to fight in the street," Camacho says. "I could bite, hit behind the head, hit with a garbage can. In the ring you've got to play the rules."
Although Camacho has never heaved a garbage can in the ring, he has gotten the reputation of being a dirty fighter. In March of 1982, he pinned Raphael Lopez on the ropes and was told to break. Camacho took a step back, and when Lopez dropped his hands Camacho came at him with a right to the jaw that knocked Lopez out for 10 minutes. In July that year he spun Louie Loy around 180 degrees and then stunned him with a right hook from behind. Referee Tony Perez warned Camacho, but he also admonished Loy to "protect yourself at all times." Camacho has received several warnings from refs for grabbing opponents by the back of the neck, a gesture he does so instinctively and well that it doesn't look sneaky.
"Hey, what do you expect? I'm just a street kid," Camacho says. "I got to break bad habits. I just got natural moves."
There's a difference of opinion about where Camacho got his moves. They seem to be part oil slick, part fastest gun in the West, part Fred Astaire. In fact after he beat Johnny Sato in Atlantic City last August he did a dance exhibition on the boardwalk with Edwin and Tito that drew a bigger crowd than the fight had.
"You get moves from running down the street with a guy chasing you with a knife or a gun," Giles says. "You get moves when you go to school and someone tries to take your lunch money and you go hungry. Or when someone tries to take your coat off your back. If you don't move then, you never will."
"Rice and beans," says Camacho's 38-year-old mother. "That's where his moves come from. Rice and beans."
"He's been reincarnated from a boxer in another life," says Patrick Flannery, a language arts teacher at Manhattan High whom Hector calls Pop. "You can't have that skill, that talent, and be so young."
Camacho was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico and was brought to New York three years later by his mother, who left his father to move her two children to the Big Apple. By the time he was 15 his moves had earned him expulsion from six schools. "I was always beating up other students," he says apologetically. "I was in the principal's office every day. They be telling me, 'Take it easy, Hector.' My pants were always ripped. The day they took the class picture I had a new three-piece suit. Then I climbed a fence and ripped the jacket up the middle."
Before Camacho was big enough to steal cars he was recreating gang wars with heisted GI Joe dolls. "I used to go to Gimbels," he says. "I'd steal 'em, stick 'em in my pants, my socks. I had 30 GI Joes. My mother found out and she threw them in the incinerator. Next day I come back I got 34 GI Joes. Got the airplane, got the helicopter, got a starship."