One of the most interesting characters in the character-packed world of boxing is Ferdie Pacheco, who is known in and out of the ring as Muhammad Ali's doctor but is really much more than that: a dedicated physician who operates a charity clinic in a tough Miami ghetto, a painter whose work has recently gone on exhibition, a bon vivant who delights in the company of celebrities, an urbane TV boxing color man and a raconteur who can talk for hours without stopping and without boring his audience.
All of which stands Pacheco in good stead as the author of Fight Doctor (Simon and Schuster, $8.95). The book, an excerpt from which ran in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Nov. 8. 1976), is a knowing and extremely funny inside look at boxing, with emphasis on Ali and his retinue, characterized by Pacheco as "the Ali circus." As such, it's the best book yet about Ali, informed and affectionate but devoid of the hagiography that marks most of the more "literary" paeans to Ali.
Pacheco has been in Ali's corner since the fighter's name was Cassius Clay and he came south to train under Angelo Dundee at Miami Beach's delightfully seedy Fifth Street Gym. "the last perfect example of a boxing gym." Pacheco began doctoring him, as he has dozens of other fighters, for love of the game rather than for money. Until Ali finally insisted on paying him. Pacheco had taken no pay from any fighter.
It's obvious, from the book as well as from his ring record, that Pacheco is a good fight doctor. He recognizes that the game is "an anachronism, a holdover from other, tougher days, a highly individualistic sport," and he doesn't mollycoddle his fighters. His cardinal rule: "...the less you do to a fighter the better." He believes that a fighter who is in good condition and working out regularly can do without most forms of medication; in the case of Ali, this has meant injecting his tender hands with only as much painkiller as the champ feels he needs.
It's when Pacheco is writing about Ali that he is most provocative and entertaining. His attitude is sympathetic—he obviously loves Ali—but unsentimental. He writes about Ali's Muslim religion and Muslim entourage, for example, with amusement and some vexation, but he also understands that for the confused young champion his religion provided discipline and direction.
Fight Doctor is Ali without tears: a must for all boxing buffs.