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The three youthful passengers in the backseat of the chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce that's pulling out of a hotel parking lot in Phoenix are in a funk. Edwin, tall, lean and wearing loafers instead of his customary basketball shoes, rummages through a bag of tapes, looking for one to raise everyone's spirits. Tito, who has the mouth of a rock star, if not the voice of one, is wrestling with the cork in the champagne bottle clenched between his blue-jeaned knees. And Hector (Macho) Camacho, the pride of Spanish Harlem, the man who would be champ, is uncharacteristically slouching.
Camacho, who is dressed in leather pants and a leather jacket, sits with his legs stretched in front of him. His head, crowned with short black curls, rests on his right fist as he stares out glumly into the twilight. There are no bruises on his smooth, angelic face from that April afternoon's grueling fight with Cubanito Perez, but his battered pride keeps him still for a little while.
Camacho is accustomed to being embraced by women, parole officers, television folk and, especially, by the crowds of fans who stand outside the arena door after he has won another fight. Camacho, a 21-year-old junior lightweight (130 pounds), is undefeated in 21 professional bouts. And that's why he's going to fight former champion Rafael (Bazooka) Limón on Aug. 7 in what the WBC has called a "title elimination" fight even though the WBC's stripping of champion Bobby Chacon was rescinded on July 6 by a Butte (Calif.) County court.
That afternoon's fight crowd had cheered Camacho when he bounced into the Phoenix Civic Plaza Arena ring, dressed in shocking-pink boxing shorts, and danced around, stopping only to pummel the air with combinations. Camacho likes to show his opponent and the crowd just how fast he can be even while he's standing still. Knees bent, head down, his fists are a blur as his shoulder blades drive back and forth like the handles of two ripsaws.
Ten rounds later, after his undramatic and cautious victory over Perez, the crowd gave Camacho a hard time. Many thought Camacho had showboated a bit too much, and the unanimous decision in his favor was met with boos as well as cheers, and ice cubes landing in and around the ring. More than 3,000 people had come to be dazzled out of their seats by Camacho, a street-wise southpaw who has CBS and most of boxing pining for his honeyed grin.
"Hey, man, this is the place," Camacho says to the chauffeur as the car pulls up to a Phoenix hot spot that has probably never seen a Rolls before, much less one that's transporting a former inmate of Rikers Island prison.
With Tito and Edwin, both 19, who act as bodyguards, advisers, speech therapists ("Fe-BRU-a-ry! Fe-BRU-a-ry!" they tell Camacho), and friends until death ("We do everything with Camacho except go in the ring with him," Tito says), Camacho coolly saunters into the joint and is recognized immediately. The place breaks loose with cheers and applause: "Macho Man! Macho Man!" The guests of honor are seated at a table, and as Tito and Edwin fend off autograph seekers, Mexican songsters surround the table. Camacho is himself now, quick to smile, ready to have a good time; still, his face bears a hint of aloofness. Being loved is nothing new to him.
By the time the three return to their hotel, many hours and several hot spots later, at least one woman will have pulled splinters out of her feet, having been danced into the floor by Camacho.
"I'm a counter person," Camacho says in his husky voice. "You give me a jab and I'll counter it....
"I'm born to be doing what I'm doing. I'm going to fulfill my goal of being a three-time champion and leaving my mark on boxing history."