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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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"Well, Sam, the first round was dynamite. What a jab that kid of yours has got. Nifty footwork, too. The first round, he wins it big."

"Never mind the blow-by-blow. What happened?"

Eddie sighs. "I hate to tell you, Sam, but your kid gets knocked out in the second round. Jeez, I'm sorry about it, but...."

"Fifteen straight knockouts," says Sam and hangs up.

October 1974—A day or so after I had arrived in Zaire for the George Foreman fight, I saw Herbert Muhammad. He was sitting in a large wicker chair in the hotel lobby, dressed in a spotless white suit, holding an ornate ivory cane and listening respectfully to anyone who was allowed to approach him. He is a very quiet man, listening attentively before making a decision which is silently obeyed. He has divorced himself from the day-to-day hassles of the fight camp, but he is still responsible for the big decisions. His is the only voice that Ali listens to. And now, Herbert Muhammad introduces me to one of his personal physicians.

The man was a doctor from Chicago, gracious and pleasant, with a sort of apologetic, preoccupied air. But there was clearly something on his mind. Herbert Muhammad explained that the doctor had been treating his ailing father, Elijah Muhammad, and that he was in Africa strictly as a guest for the fight. He specified that this would in no way interfere with my duties and authority over the boxing part of Ali's life. But I knew that it wouldn't be that simple.

For one thing, the atmosphere was too heady for a visitor not used to a fight buildup. Before I arrived, the doctor had gradually taken over the medical duties of the camp. And now, caught up in the excitement, he gave me his startling news: Ali was suffering from a new affliction. Ali had hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. But never fear, the doctor said, he had a remedy.

Frankly, hypoglycemia is a catchall diagnosis, just like hypertension is used to describe various reasons for weakness. Ali had been getting tired in the last rounds of his past few fights, and now, in Africa, he was getting dizzy following his workouts and he complained of feeling tired. The fact that he was in a tropical climate, training hard at midday and was well past 30 did not seem to occur to anybody. But I knew—and Angelo knew—that left alone Ali would adjust slowly to the condition and be fully recharged by the time the bell rang.

I knew that the less a doctor does to a fighter, the better. Overtreatment serves to psych the fighter into thinking he is carrying an extra burden into the ring. Angelo never permits the word tired to be used in a corner; I feel the word sick should be banned from the camp.

And now for the remedy. The Chicago doctor told me that he had ordered the camp cook to bake a huge apple cobbler and pour pure honey all over the top of it. This deep-dish delicacy would be fed to Ali one hour before fight time. The prevailing thought was that it would "put gas in Ali's tank."

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