The circle grows smaller, as is inevitable, and we who revere the legend of the one, the only, the Greatest, must cling tighter to memories, as another of the crew has left us.
Ferdie Pacheco aka “The Fight Doctor,” a fierce Muhammad Ali loyalist whose loyalty manifested in strange fashion as Ali soldiered on past his prime, has died.
With Angelo Dundee, his legend spread to considerable heights, as to this point, no personal physician to a fighter had parlayed that slot into commentary gigs, and well compensated speech-giving and status as an MD who for a time was right there with Benjamin Spock as a known public figure.
Pacheco, who grew up in Florida, son of a pharmacist, was 89 years old.
Pacheco made waves when he publicly separated himself from the Ali posse, noting that the Louisville Lip was showing bodily deterioration, and a worsening of speech, which made Pacheco believe he should hang up the gloves. Ali was proud and stubborn and listened best to his own counsel, which was informed by a healthy dose of narcissism. I won’t quit, Ali said, and Pacheco, on the Ali train since 1963, was seen as a distraction, so he was encouraged to move along, out of the inner circle. Pacheco told people that it was he who jumped ship, not willing to be party to the inevitable damage to come against a diminished body.
”Ali is now at the dangerous mental point where his heart and his mind are no longer in it,” Pacheco said even before Ali fought Alfredo Evangelista in 1977. ”In his last fight with Norton, that's the night I thought Ali stepped onto the last downhill phase of his career. Physically, he does not look that much different than three or four years ago. His reflexes you can't really measure except in a laboratory. But at his age, repetitive punishment usually has taken its toll on a boxer. His speech is slurred. He walks with a shuffle. But not him.”
Let us be clear. Yes, Pacheco himself had a healthy ego. But he should be applauded for speaking truth to power and first doing no harm, as he shared his worries that Ali was committing a slow suicide by taking punches from snipers and bomb throwers.
Pacheco transitioned nicely into the booth, and called fights for decades. He also took credit, rightly so, for making the push to have ambulances be mandatory at pro boxing events, after being ringside to see Guyana's Cleveland Denny die from punches launched by Gaetan Hart on a Montreal fight night.
He was a fixture on Showtime and then, after that stint ended, he continued to follow his passion, which was painting. ”I have been a painter all my life,” he said to the NY Times in 1984. ”I financed college and medical school studies by drawing cartoons and caricatures for national magazines. For years I have been fascinated by human faces and their reactions. In my show, the pen and ink drawings are all studies of faces. The main element of my painting is a strength achieved through primary colors and design. I like realism with color and vivacity.”