Is There a Fight Doctor in the House?

By Norman Marcus on July 26, 2017
Is There a Fight Doctor in the House?
“I came to love Ali,” said Patterson. “I came to see that I was a fighter and he was history.”

Chris and Angelo Dundee approached Ferdie with an offer. He would get free passes to all their bouts, if he would “help stitch up their fighters…”

Fernando Pacheco is of Spanish-Cuban decent. He grew up in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, Florida. His father was a pharmacist and Ferdie picked up an interest in medicine while helping out in his father’s drug store.

Sports were very popular where they lived. It was a Cuban immigrant community. The Cubans produced three great things in those days, boxers, ballplayers and cigars. Pacheco never fought in the ring himself but attended as many fights as he could afford. He became a passionate fight fan. Already the sweet science and the science of medicine were coming together in his young mind. After graduating from Tampa High School he earned a B.S. degree from the University of Florida and his medical degree from the University of Miami.

He later opened a medical practice in the Overtown section of Miami.

The new doctor continued to attend boxing cards arranged by local promoter Chris Dundee. This was how that he got to meet Chris’s brother, trainer Angelo Dundee. Angelo ran the famous 5th Street Gym in Miami. One day the two brothers approached Ferdie with an offer. He would get free passes to all their bouts, if he would “help stitch up their fighters.”

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Ferdie met the young Cassius Clay in 1960 at the 5th Street Gym, where the future Muhammad Ali trained. Ferdie first became one of his corner men and later his personal doctor for the next fifteen years. Pacheco was in Ali’s corner the three times he won the heavyweight title. When Clay became a Muslim in 1964, he changed his name to Cassius X. Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad urged him to get rid of his white corner men, Dundee and Pacheco and the champion refused. He wasn’t a hater. A lot of his tirades about race were to build the gate. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali and eventually left the Nation. He became a Sunni Muslim and moderated his racial remarks.

Muhammad is the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion. He won the title in 1964 against Sonny Liston by a TKO6, defeated George Foreman in 1974 by a KO8, and won a D15 over Leon Spinks in 1978. But that’s not all. Let’s not forget all the champions and top contenders he defeated over the years: Archie Moore, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell, Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Young and Ernie Shavers, among others.

Floyd Patterson later said of Ali, “I came to love Ali…I came to see that I was a fighter and he was history.”

As the years and the shots to his head mounted, Ali began slowing down. His was slurring his words and his hair was turning grey. It was for Pacheco to watch such a “physically perfect human being” decline.

Ferdie later told his friends, “The New York State Athletic Commission gave me a report that showed Ali’s kidneys were falling apart. I wrote to Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, his wife and Ali himself. I got nothing back in response. That’s when I decided that enough was enough.”

Pacheco saw what was happening and left Ali’s corner in disgust. Without Ferdie at his side, the damage accelerated. Ali lost three of his next four bouts and finally retired in 1981. But the damage was done.

Pacheco’s experience with Ali led him to later push for an ambulance at every professional bout. He championed twelve-ounce gloves in heavyweight bouts and the use of thumbless gloves to prevent eye gouging.

Pacheco and Ali still kept in touch. They met for a final time in 2002. Muhammad was now suffering from a full-blown form of Parkinson’s called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). It was a new PC term for an old malady. Like Mickey Walker, Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong before him, Ali was just “punchy.”

Pacheco became a boxing analyst for NBC Sports and Showtime. He worked as a Spanish translator for Univision bouts. He is a self-taught painter and author of several books on his experiences around boxing and Ali. His book, “Blood in My Coffee: The Life of the Fight Doctor” should be read by every true fan of the sport.

Ferdie still lives in Miami with his photographer wife, Luisita, who contributed many of her fight photos for his books. He has an active website where his art and photos with Ali can still be bought and personally autographed by him. The fight doctor is now eighty-nine years old.

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  1. David 03:04pm, 07/28/2017

    A very interesting article about Ferdie Pacheco.

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