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Dr. Ferdie Pacheco
November 08, 1976
Never one to say "Take two uppercuts and call me in the morning," this physician cares for the denizens of a classic training gym
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November 08, 1976

The Doctor Who Makes Fight Calls

Never one to say "Take two uppercuts and call me in the morning," this physician cares for the denizens of a classic training gym

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"Oh, you're sumptin' else, Doc," he said. "I didn't feel a thing."

He knew I was going to the gym, and I gave him a ride in my new Cadillac. He was telling me all about cars and what he was going to do when he won the title. Some kid, I thought; he hasn't gotten started yet, and he's talking about what cars he is going to own and what he is going to do with all his money.

Clay had been sent to Angelo for training. For lack of better housing, he was put in the Mary Elizabeth Hotel in the ghetto on Second Avenue. The Mary Elizabeth was a hellhole of pimps, hookers, drug dealers, winos and general bad guys. Into this abscess came the innocent boy athlete, and a strange thing happened. Because of his gregarious nature, his size and accomplishments, Clay was adopted by the hustlers. They protected him. That hotel was totally committed to gratifying the carnal senses and desires. Yet Cassius Clay held on to his innocence and his sense of destiny. At this stage of his career he had adopted a Spartan attitude and held that his body was his future. His one ambition was to be the heavyweight champion, and he had not deviated from it since he had been a kid.

At night, Clay's new friends would entice him down the street to a lively cabaret called the Sir John and there, in the company of some of the sleaziest characters in the ghetto, the kid would groove on the night life. He would sit and watch, quietly sipping an orange juice. No one forced him to have any booze, and nobody suggested drugs to him; he was protected by the hustlers, and they took pride in him. Sissies passed him admiringly. If beautiful, long-legged, full-bottomed ladies, strutting by with their pimps, paused, someone would say, "Naw, not him. He's fighting next week in L.A. What you trying to do, hurt our man?" At a reasonable hour, Clay would get up and walk the two blocks to his hellhole room and pass the night by himself.

At dawn he would get up and do roadwork on Biscayne Boulevard, in front of my residential area, Bay Point. While he ran, I slept; and when I began my day in my office, he slept. Then we both would go to the gym at midday by different routes. I would get into my air-conditioned Cadillac and cruise over the MacArthur Causeway, sometimes passing the young Cassius Clay, running with a sort of racehorse beauty in his heavy work boots. He would wave and smile, and I would think, "That is going to be some tough nut for Sonny Liston to crack."

February 1964—Cassius Clay was now Muhammad Ali. We gathered for the weigh-in, and everyone was in a state of high excitement except Angelo, who was typically unaware of anything but the job at hand, his highly professional mind working on the practical details of the weigh-in and the psychological warfare that was about to begin.

Sugar Ray Robinson, a hero of Ali's youth, had been brought in at heavy expense and was attempting to talk some sense of decorum into the kid. Ali listened attentively, nodding his head vigorously in agreement. Yes, yes, this was the biggest event of his life and the biggest sports event of the year; yes sir, yes sir. He was aware that he had acted childishly in the past but this was for the whole ball of wax; and, no sir, he would not do anything to bring disgrace on his race or on Sugar Ray or on any of the other pros who were with him. Yes, yes, and get lost, Sugar Ray.

At the door of the Miami Beach Convention Hall—the same place where, as a raw beginner pro, he had stepped in to work with Ingo Johansson as a sparring partner and made a monkey out of him—Ali paused to take stock of the scene. More than 800 newsmen from all over the world were in attendance. Then, suddenly, he hit the door at full stride, with his assistant trainer, Bundini Brown, struggling to keep up, hanging on to his robe belt. Both were at full voice, shouting their old war slogans for the millionth time: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble, young man, rumble!

Sonny Liston's head snapped around, and there he was, reduced to a mere spectator at his own weigh-in. The war of nerves was over. Sonny was down for the count. His most-feared psychological ploy was taken from him, and he could no longer stand on a commanding perch, glaring menacingly down on a cowed adversary. Soon the place was in pandemonium. Most reporters had picked Sonny; in fact, only eight out of the 800 had picked Ali.

Now the fighters were literally nose to nose, and, surprise of surpises, Ali was taller and bigger than the Bear. As has happened to many a hapless victim, Sonny had underestimated Ali's size because of his baby features and his smooth, seemingly unmuscled body.

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