May 8, 2021
Icon: Ferdie Pacheco

Photo: Brian Smith

Florida Icon

Icon: Ferdie Pacheco

Physician, "Fight Doctor" to Muhammad Ali, sports broadcaster, writer, artist, 79

Art Levy | 7/1/2007

I found a doctor who wanted to sell me his office in Overtown. They weren’t paying him, and I said I didn’t care about that. Whoever can’t pay can’t pay. They’ll pay me when they can. I found a stupendous nurse. She really knew how to collect money. I told her try to collect five bucks. If they haven’t got five bucks, I told her forget it. There were some who couldn’t pay at all.

They burned my office to the ground. That was a gentle hint that I was no longer needed in the ghetto. That was 1980, the (Arthur) McDuffie riots.

I told Ali he shouldn’t be in, that I’d leave him if he kept fighting because he was going to die. He was going to die horribly. And he is dying horribly. I quit when he went to fight Larry Holmes. It was just a joke. The guy couldn’t even walk, and they put him in with Holmes.

Read an excerpt from Pacheco's book and more candid comments here.

I talked to Malcolm X for a long time. I told him he was going to get killed. And he got killed. That was obvious. He knew he was going to get killed.

I was the doctor for all the fighters at the 5th Street Gym, which the Dundees had. Whenever they got a boxer,
I was the doctor, for everyone, hundreds. Ali happened to be one of them.

Ali had won the Olympics. He was looking for a trainer. He was very uncomfortable and confused when he came down. He won the Olympics, and they wouldn’t serve him hot dogs and hamburgers in a regular restaurant.

The whole time I was in boxing, I found it extremely exciting. Very rewarding. Plus the thrill of winning something. You don’t get that when you’re a doctor. You do your work. You save somebody’s life. Go home. That’s your job. That’s what you’re trained to do. But if you win the world championship, you’re on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Although I think I’m a very level-headed guy, I must admit the notoriety appealed to me a great deal. I wanted to be well-known.

I only went with beautiful women. I mean gorgeous women. All my life I had gorgeous women. When I got to my present wife, who is the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen in my life, I fell in love with her in one night. I was already engaged to somebody else for four years. But she was so great I said, that’s it, I’m not letting her go. I let the other go. We’ve been married 36 years, and that’s the greatest choice I’ve ever made. I say to people, ‘Why does it bother you because I like beautiful women? If you can drive a Ford or you can drive a Cadillac, you mean you would drive the Ford instead of the Cadillac?’ I feel that way about women.

To this moment, I’ve lived my life doing exactly what I wanted to do. I can’t think of anything I left out that I wanted to do. If I wanted to do it, I did it.

I went to the hospital with a stroke, but I only stayed there a couple of days. I talked my way out. My health is excellent. I can’t walk like I used to. At 79, you’re not supposed to walk like you used to.

My brother, who was older than me, was a superior painter. And I would sit right next to him and do what he did. The writing is a different thing. I read all the time. It just came naturally. The most important thing is a desire to tell a story. If you don’t have that, don’t even write. I got stories to tell. I dream them every night.

That’s the essence of living well, to let me do what I want to do. Do I want to paint a painting? Stand back. I’m going to paint it. Do I want to spend six months writing a book? Get out of my way. I’m going to do that for six months.

A lot of the things that I did peculiarly fit my arrogant view of what I knew. I pretty well knew what I knew. I wasn’t hardly ever wrong. Hardly ever wrong.

As a kid, I was smart as hell and nothing bothered me. My father told me, you’re going to hear this word ‘genius’ — don’t pay attention to it. No matter what they tell you, you have to study hard. Yes you’re smart, but you have to study. People used to say to me, you must be a genius. I just study hard. Then, later on, when I see all these paintings I’ve done, the books, who does all this? These paintings are internationally known. These books. There are 14 books. In medicine, I saved a lot of lives. A lot of people. So maybe I am a genius.

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