Ferdie Pacheco, the Famous Fight Doctor, Dead at Age 89

Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, a raconteur and Renaissance man who was Muhammad Ali’s personal physician from 1962 to 1977, died last night in his sleep at his home in Miami. Pacheco was 89 years old.

The son of a pharmacist, Pacheco was raised in the Ybor City section of Tampa, also known as Little Havana, a place where cigars are still made by hand. As a teenager he worked as a waiter in the district’s renowned Columbia House restaurant. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and his medical degree from the University of Miami.

Pacheco met Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, at Chris Dundee’s legendary 5th Street Gym in Miami. He was in Ali’s corner along with Angelo Dundee from that point until he jumped ship following Ali’s 1977 fight with Earnie Shavers when Ali refused to heed his plea to retire. Ali went on to have four more fights including his sad 1980 spectacle with Larry Holmes.

Pacheco went on to carve out an award-winning career as a TV boxing commentator. Working at times for NBC, Univision, and Showtime, he won two Emmys.

Pacheco authored 14 books, fiction and non-fiction. Among the most well-known are Muhammad Ali: A Life from the Corner (1992), Ybor City Chronicles (1994), and Tales From the 5th Street Gym (2010) co-authored by Dayton Daily News sportswriter Tom Archdeacon. In his later years, the Fight Doctor was also a prolific painter. He donated his personal papers to the University of South Florida where they are housed in the special collections department of the school library.

Several weeks before the Ali-Holmes fight, Pacheco wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on boxer safety. He made four recommendations:

  1. The presence, by law, of an ambulance at every boxing show.
  2. Selectivity in choosing ring physicians; every appointee should have a surgical or neurological background).
  3. Paramedical training and licensing for the cornermen.
  4. Accurate record-keeping in a centralized location by computer.

That was 37 years ago. By and large, these recommendations have been heeded and Pacheco, one could fairly say, warrants part of the credit.

When Pacheco split with Ali, he was ostracized by the Ali entourage. They had a reconciliation in 2002 where Ali, his voice now reduced to a whisper, purportedly leaned over toward Pacheco and said, “You was right.”

Pacecho is survived by his wife of 45 years, Luisita, a former flamenco dancer, three daughters, and a son. May he rest in peace.

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