Ferdie Pacheco talks to Muhammad Ali between sparring sessions at the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach.
Ferdie Pacheco talks to Muhammad Ali between sparring sessions at the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach.
Courtesy Ferdie Pacheco

Long Live the Fight Doctor, Ferdie Pacheco

Shortly after earning a medical degree from the University of Miami in 1958, Ybor City native Fernando "Ferdie" Pacheco set up a family practice in Overtown, Miami's historic black neighborhood. Much like it is today, the area was mired in poverty.

The gregarious young physician with the large square-rimmed glasses charged patients $5 a visit. For those who couldn't afford it, he would tell them to pay him when they had the money.

To unwind, Pacheco would cross the bay to Miami Beach, where he watched boxing cards put on by iconic promoter Chris Dundee. One night, Pacheco struck up a conversation with Dundee's brother and fight trainer, Angelo, who was sitting in front of him. By the end of the match, the two made a pact.

"Tell you what, I'll give you free passes if you'll stitch up my fighters," Pacheco recalled Angelo telling him in a November 2013 Tampa Bay Times profile.

From then on, the partnership blossomed along with Miami's place in the golden era of boxing. Pacheco would earn the nom de guerre "the Fight Doctor." His most famous patient was Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all time, who died last year after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

When the champ passed, Pacheco eulogized him. "Of a wide spectrum of friendships that I’ve developed in sports, he ranks far and above the best of all my friends," Pacheco said of Ali. "He was so genuine that he sparked a confidence in everyone. If you were ever around him, you had the confidence, you had energy."

After leaving Ali’s corner, Pacheco went on to lead the life of a true Renaissance man. As a TV analyst, he won two Emmys for his unfiltered ringside commentary. He wrote books and took up painting. His last tome, Tales From the 5th Street Gym, chronicled the glory days of the famous boxing training center in South Beach.

His artworks are like time capsules transporting the viewer through the fight doctor's amazing life. "A good painting is like a good story is like a good fight," Pacheco expounded during a Coral Gables gallery opening in 2010.

Now Pacheco can finally take it easy. He passed away this morning in Tampa at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife Luisita and four children, Tina Louise, Dawn Marie, Evelyn Catherine, and Ferdie James.

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