Intended for healthcare professionals


Fernando “Ferdie” Pacheco: ringside physician for boxing legend Muhammad Ali

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 12 January 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k117
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg, Germany
  1. ns{at}

Ringside physician for boxing legend Muhammad Ali

Ferdie Pacheco and Muhammad Ali. Credit: Luisita Sevilla Pacheco

In 2002 Ferdie Pacheco met up with an old friend, the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. Pacheco spent 15 wonderful years basking in fame and glory as Ali’s ringside physician until their controversial—but amiable—split in 1977. Pacheco had once said that the young, 1.9 m tall, lightning quick Ali had “the most perfect body I’ve ever seen.”

“You was right”

But by 2002 those days were long gone. Ali, 60 years old at the time, was suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease. His once magnificent body was trembling. He could speak and walk only with great difficulty. As Ali and Pacheco embraced, the former boxer, in slurred speech, admitted to his former doctor: “You was right.”1

Ali was referring to Pacheco’s pleas late in the boxer’s career that he retire, pleas that Ali had ignored. Pacheco had become concerned that Ali—over the age of 30 and past his prime—was showing signs of kidney damage and early symptoms of brain damage. Pacheco later said that Ali possibly could have avoided some of the health problems that later plagued him had he retired after the “Thrilla in Manila” spectacle in the Philippines in 1975. The brutal battle of 15 rounds against Joe Frazier is believed by many to be the greatest boxing match ever.

It was Ali’s and Frazier’s third and final meeting. Frazier won the first fight in 1971 to take the heavyweight title from Ali, and Ali won the second match in 1974. In Manila, both men fought like Roman gladiators. Ali won the early rounds, but by the fifth round Frazier took control, punishing Ali with punch after punch. Sitting in the corner …

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