The Great Contender

True fame and hard truth don't mix in the TV-sportscasting biz

He refused to call women's boxing matches when that great humanitarian Don King began to introduce them to his TV cards on the Roman arena principle: "Give the crowd what it wants." He claimed that female mammary tissue is prone to turn cancerous if repeatedly punched, and that the "safety bras" trumpeted by network sports execs -- who just wanted to see their schedules running smoothly and their ratings increasing -- were useless. Doc campaigned for and got thumbless gloves (to prevent eye gouging), double-stranded ropes (to keep fighters from being knocked out of the ring), and quicker stoppages of fights (he'd seen Benny "Kid" Paret killed by welterweight champ Emile Griffith, and Duk Koo Kim, a brave Korean lightweight with a dim or heartless corner, die at the hands of Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini).

Curiously, the moral/medical knowledge that Pacheco drew on -- one of his assets to earlier TV execs like Arthur Watson and Dick Weisman at NBC -- became a liability to their replacements over the course of his 24 years in broadcasting: "Some of these [newer] TV guys, the most mild-mannered nebbishes you'll ever meet, became General Pattons when it got down to 'Are we gonna put on a big [pay-per-view] fight or not?'"

The worst examples were Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier for the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975, in which Frazier went into the fight legally blind in his right eye (but "undetected" by sports commission doctors or his own corner), and in which both men took such fearful beatings that they began showing symptoms of dementia pugilisma; and Ali vs. Larry Holmes in 1980, which put the finishing touches to Ali's deterioration (after which King talked the incoherent champ into accepting $50,000 cash in lieu of an extra million he was contracted to receive).

The famous and the almost famous: Rudy Giuliani (right) and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco at Books & Books
Steve Satterwhite
The famous and the almost famous: Rudy Giuliani (right) and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco at Books & Books

Pacheco was in Il Fico restaurant at 4770 Biscayne Blvd., being served by the beauteous Sladja Stantic, co-owner with her husband Simon, while recalling the Ali tales. The food was excellent, the atmosphere chic but comfortable, and yet Ferdie's voice broke and his eyes welled up, recalling Ali's last fighting days:

"I'd told him after Manila that he couldn't sustain beatings like that anymore, that brain injuries develop slowly, and that by the time he was 50, he'd be paying for the glory he was living at the moment. He nodded his head. He understood. He chose his fate."

Fame, however temporary, is fame. And, increasingly, it's business. So Ferdie and Luisita had moved their big Giuliani portrait over to Books & Books in Coral Gables for a live visit by its subject, who was in town pushing Leadership, his latest writing effort, and stumping for Jeb Bush. When Ferdie arrived, about 200 people were waiting in line, but he just led the way to the front, past Mitch Kaplan, who owns the joint, and was ushered to a table. He'd been here before, selling his own books; he ate a slice of cake, and told photographer Steve Satterwhite how the Herald refused to review his art shows: a personal matter, and also because his work was too "populist and commercial," like LeRoy Neiman, or Norman Rockwell.

He recalled Lynne Pyne, the art critic of the Phoenix Gazette, commenting on a Pacheco show that included a portrait of Einstein: "That little block of magenta on the temple locks in the design," the woman authoritatively told the Fight Doctor. "It's the key to the painting."

"Actually," he'd replied, "I'm a miser about wasting paint, and I had a little left in the tube, so I just smeared it on there."

By then, Giuliani had arrived, and Ferdie sidled over to be photographed with him. They beamed at each other, two men who understood the value of publicity. The famous, and the almost famous.

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