An Unofficial History Of The 'University Of Boxing'
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Miami's 5th Street Gym was the cradle of boxing for 40 years. Mohammed Ali trained there, and the Beatles came by to meet him. Most of the best known prize fighters of the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s trained there at one time or another - Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard, Sonny Liston and Jake LaMotta. Sinatra and Gleason hung out there. So did club fighters, amateurs and punched-out cases.
It was a large, hot, steamy place above a drugstore two blocks west of the ocean with peeling paint, piddling showers and dingy mirrors, but vivid memories and dreams.
Ferdie Pacheco, the fight doctor, who was the physician in Mohammad Ali's corner for 15 years and later a boxing analyst, has written an informal history of the place he likes to called the University of Boxing - "Tales from the 5th Street Gym: Ali, the Dundees, and Miami's Golden Age of Boxing." Dr. Pacheco joins us from member station WLRN in Miami.
Thanks so much for being with us.
Dr. FERDIE PACHECO (Author, "Tales from the 5th Street Gym: Ali, the Dundees, and Miami's Golden Age of Boxing"): Thank you for having us.
SIMON: Dr. Pacheco, for those people who today just see Mohammed Ali making an occasional appearance in public, lighting the Olympic torch, trembling, what was it like - what was the Ali like that you first got to know who would entertain crowds between rounds at the 5th Street Gym?
Dr. PACHECO: Well, he was the most he was the most energetic, entertaining young man you ever saw, in spite of the fact that he kept repeating doggerels and songs and things - float like a butterfly, sting like - you know. All those things that he came up with sounded great from him. He just had a buoyant sort of happiness with him. To him boxing was fun. Entertaining the public was fun.
SIMON: So Dr. Pacheco, how much did you get paid?
Dr. PACHECO: Nothing. Not a dime. I didn't want my importance to Ali to get measured by how much they paid me. And so if I said he could fight, it's because I thought he could fight, not because somebody was paying me for it.
And as we traveled on to the end, when the end got sticky - because I did not want him to fight anymore, I thought he was getting killed, I knew he was getting killed, and I saw the disintegration and going to make the end of his life miserable.
SIMON: Why did he keep fighting?
Dr. PACHECO: Oh, that's a silly question. It's not a silly question, because you're not in boxing. Why do politicians keep running when they know they can't make it? Why do singers keep singing? Because that's your identity. That's who you are. And Ali, he had one identity, heavyweight champion of the world. That's who he was. But he wasn't anymore, and he couldn't accept that.
And he needed the money. I mean, the Muslims were milking him dry - every time he fought were taking all his money. And he needed the money. And he had nothing better to do at the time. And that's it. That's enough.
Against all that, you know, you've got one white doctor standing over in the corner saying yes but they're killing you. (Unintelligible) walking around talking like you are now. And he didn't want to hear me. He says, Doc, but I (unintelligible). I hear you. That's your reasons. I'm telling you what's going to happen to you. And that ain't pretty. But I lost and they won. So who won? He's in bed, where - barely able to tell you his name.
SIMON: I've got to ask you a question, Doctor. You know, I don't have to tell you the damage that boxing inflicts on boxers. Should something be done about that? Can...
Dr. PACHECO: Yeah, ban boxing.
Dr. PACHECO: That's what you can do about it. It's not - like everything else in life, it's not an easy solution. There's not an easy question. Boxing is a savage sport. It's predicated on hurting one another. As long as that's the case and people are going to the fights to see one person hurt another, then you don't have much chance to stop it when it gets tough. You just - you just understand that you're in a very tough fight and that (unintelligible) of it can be death.
SIMON: So what kept you involved in boxing and with boxers for so many years?
Dr. PACHECO: Well, at the beginning - first of all, it's a tremendous sport if you're just looking at the sport. Now, all of a sudden, I mean, I would say after about two or three years of being involved in championship boxing, then I saw Davey Moore die.
SIMON: Davey Moore, a fighter who died in the ring. Yeah.
Dr. PACHECO: In my arms.
SIMON: I didn't know that, Doctor. Yeah.
Dr. PACHECO: Oh yeah. In my arms and in the dressing room. He said I have a headache (unintelligible). That was the end of that. I said that's - there's more to this than meets the eye. And I said maybe if I got important enough in boxing so that I can have a say in - in this place, maybe I could do some good, maybe I can write articles, maybe I can be on television, maybe I can do things to make rules that are applicable and more stabilized. That's what I did. The public wanted to see these guys. They didn't want to hear Ferdie Pacheco's story. And so therefore that's your answer to can we fix it. No, we can't.
SIMON: Ferdie Pacheco, the fight doctor. His new book, "Tales from the 5th Street Gym: Ali, the Dundees and Miami's Golden Age of Boxing." Dr. Pacheco, thanks so much.
Dr. PACHECO: Thank you for having me on.
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