OLD TOWN — It's a safe bet Vaughn Camacho is the toughest English teacher in Chicago.
While the 26-year-old Lake View High School instructor teaches literature to budding minds during the day, he spends his off hours pummeling opponents in the ring as an amateur Mixed Martial Arts fighter.
Camacho, who sports a 6-2-1 record, will face Justin Hughes on Feb. 20 in the "Brawl on Bourbon Street" in Merrionette Park.
"The first thing you think is that English is a lame class, but it's really cool that your English teacher also fights," said sophomore Brayan Garcia, 16, a Belmont Cragin resident who's in Camacho's honors English class.
Camacho said he was offered a professional MMA deal last year on the same day he accepted the Lake View teaching position, but he never once considered forgoing the classroom for the cage.
"I wanted a career where people grow because of you, and with teaching, the better teacher you are, the more people grow around you," said the Lakeview resident, who is also an assistant wrestling coach at the school.
To understand why Camacho teaches and fights, it would be wise to look at his family history.
His father, Ernie, was a Major League Baseball pitcher mainly playing for the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians. Ernie Camacho couldn't hurl an off-speed pitch to save his life, but he played 10 years in the majors because he could throw fastballs in the triple digits.
"Being an athlete boils in Vaughn's blood," said Ernie Camacho, 56, who lives in Salinas, Calif., "Fighting is something he has to do."
Camacho's mother, Elaina, said Vaughn always has been interested in literature and reading, and becoming a teacher was a natural fit.
"And he's really good with kids," said Elaina Camacho, who lives in Mahomet, Ill. "He has enthusiasm for it."
Camacho's career path has led him to success in both teaching and fighting.
He wrestled in high school, took up kickboxing in college and learned Jiu Jitsu and MMA-style fighting from elite competitor Dan Hornbuckle before beginning his amateur career in 2009.
Camacho's nickname is "Honey Badger" because he likes to get close to opponents and throw endless punches. He also is an expert in forcing other fighters into submissions with choke holds, and five of his six victories have come in that fashion.
His trainer for the last three years, South Shore resident Malik Allah, said Camacho could be a dominant professional if he spent all his time training.
"He's got the heart to be a champ," said Allah, who works at Fitness Formula Club in Old Town. "The kid is f------ phenomenal at it."
Still, the MMA bouts have taken their toll.
Camacho said he's broken four ribs, a knuckle on his left hand and his nose, as well as chipped his teeth.
The worst injury of his career came in a June 2011 loss to Ron Harper, who knocked Camacho unconscious by slamming the back of his head onto the mat and then hit his face three times before the referee stopped the fight.
Camacho had his jaw wired shut for four months after the bout.
"I went running up to where he was laying on the mat, and it looked like he was dead," Elaina Camacho said. "I was leaning over him, and he opened his eyes and asked what I was doing there. I told him I was making sure he was alive."
Elaina Camacho hasn't been to her son's fights since and likely won't watch him again, she said.
But some of his students, including Garcia and fellow sophomore Cynthia Diana, do want to attend the Feb. 20 bout.
Diana, of North Center, said she was "shocked" that a "nice, straightforward, efficient" teacher like Camacho also could be a pulverizing puncher in the MMA ring.
"But then he described why he does it, and I understood," Diana, 15, said. "He said it's not out of aggressiveness, but out of love for what he does. He said he never brings anger into the ring."
Camacho said even in what's considered one of the bloodiest sports in the world, he's usually "happy" when fighting.
And that joy definitely carries over to his day job, he added.
"I've never hated once going to work," Camacho said. "I never wanted a career where I was just punching the clock and having a grim outlook every day. I'm so glad that didn't happen."