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Q&A with Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali's longtime doctor and corner man

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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali: 1942-2016 | 1:24Muhammad Ali, widely hailed as the greatest heavyweight boxer in the sport's history, passed away at the age of 74. USA TODAY Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'5 things to know about Muhammad Ali | 1:30Muhammad Ali is famous for his boxing career, but what else do you know about this heavyweight legend?




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali's most memorable moments in the ring | 1:10By the end of Muhammad Ali's legendary boxing career, he had become the first three-time heavyweight champion. See his most iconic moments from inside the ring.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali: The greatest legacy | 1:37Muhammad Ali passed away at 74 on Friday. Martin Rogers takes a look at Ali's legacy. USA TODAY Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'NBA Finals participants were inspired by Ali | 1:45NBA players discuss what boxing great has meant to them. USA TODAY Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'NBA commish on Muhammad Ali | 1:05Adam Silver talks about Muhammad Ali and how he used to see the boxing great's bouts. USA TODAY Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali: The Persona | 4:12Muhammad Ali captured the world with big talk and a punch to back it up. USA TODAY celebrates 50 years of Ali on the world stage.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali captured the world with big talk & a punch to back it up | 4:21Muhammad Ali captured the world with big talk and a punch to back it up. USA TODAY celebrates 50 years of Ali on the world stage.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Will Smith on his connection with Muhammad Ali | 5:39Will Smith joined Sports Illustrated at the Sportsperson of the Year ceremony in New York to explain his special connection to Muhammad Ali. Time_Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali: The Social Icon | 4:45Muhammad Ali captured the world with big talk and a punch to back it up. USA TODAY celebrates 50 years of Ali on the world stage.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee talks about Ali | 3:00On Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday, his long-time boxing trainer Angelo Dundee speaks about the Louisville Lip.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali: The Fighter | 4:09Muhammad Ali captured the world with big talk and a punch to back it up. USA TODAY celebrates 50 years of Ali on the world stage.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Boxers imitate famous Muhammad Ali quotes | 0:46Oscar de la Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and other boxers repeat quotes from Muhammad Ali. USA TODAY Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali Fight Night | 1:57Muhammad Ali Fight Night




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali attends HBO movie premiere in Louisville | 2:26Laila Ali, musician Michael Bolton talk about the importance of Ali's struggle which HBO Films based a new movie on after the Louisville boxer was stripped of his titles and faced prison after he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Renovations Near Complete on Ali’s Boyhood Home | 1:19The Louisville, Kentucky home where boxing champion Muhammad Ali grew up will soon open to fans, giving a glimpse of the boxing legend's early years. Growing up, Ali was known as Cassius Clay. Renovations on the home are almost finished. (March 19) AP




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday celebrated in Louisville | 4:11A star-studded guest list that included musicians, politicians, coaches, journalists and a heavyweight boxing champion convened at Louisville's Muhammad Ali Center Saturday night to wish a The Greatest a happy birthday.




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'George Foreman: Ali is the greatest man I've met in my life | 4:01Former heavyweight champion George Foreman speaks at the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Ceremony. Time_Sports




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MUHAMMAD ALI: 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME'Muhammad Ali hospitalized with respiratory issue | 0:45Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been hospitalized with respiratory issues but is listed in fair condition, according to his spokesperson. Time





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Ferdie Pacheco at his Miami home in 2009.(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)


Ferdie Pacheco served as Muhammad Ali’s personal physician and corner man for more than 15 years. Known as “The Fight Doctor,” Pacheco is an accomplished painter, author and former boxing TV commentator.<span style="color: Red;">*</span>The retired physician sat down in his Miami home with Jon Saraceno in 2010 for a conversation about “The Greatest,” and several times became highly emotional while discussing the former heavyweight champion.
Muhammad Ali’s life turned out to be more than just about boxing, didn’t it?
He didn’t start out to be a racial symbol or a political animal. The best thing to understand about Ali is to understand that he wants to be liked. He wants to do the right thing. I don’t think he was a political symbol. Everything he did was because the (Black) Muslims ordered him to do it.<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Did he have any kind of political influence? No, he didn’t. Did he get snookered into it by (Black Muslims) who were looking for a platform? They got gold. They decided it would be wonderful publicity if he decided not to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t going to go to Vietnam. He was going to be a celebrity, like Joe Louis (in World War<span style="color: Red;">*</span>II). He told me he knew the Army wasn’t going to force him to go to Vietnam with a rifle in his hand; he said (that’s what) the generals told him.
USA TODAY
The life and times of Muhammad Ali, 'The Greatest'




How did his relationship with the Muslims blossom?
The (Nation of Islam) didn’t know boxing from Adam. The only thing they knew is that they had this toy worth a million dollars. They were absolute zephyrs in the national press. Who were the Muslims? Who knew? They were a bunch of cons and thugs out of Chicago. They recruited him. Ali was a young (man), and he was totally lost. He didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. He knew something was wrong if he couldn’t go into a place and get a hamburger. He knew that was wrong. That was the South, where he lived, where black people were used to living as second-class citizens. Ali didn’t like it.
What happened after he went into exile?
(The Nation of Islam) didn’t give a (bleep) about the pain and harm to Ali. He had three years of starvation and deep humiliation. What really hurt — and it’s a tribute to the kindness of Ali and the sucker part of Ali — is that he didn’t take umbrage with the way (some) Muslims ignored him. They ran to the hills.
Did Ali ever bemoan his bleak plight?
Never, never, never. He would say, “Doc, I’m a little short — can you give me $200?” He was broke. I said, “These guys made money off you every time you fought, and you can’t get money from them now?” He said, “No, no, no.” I would give him whatever he wanted.
USA TODAY
Appreciation: Muhammad Ali was a champion in and out of the boxing ring




No one thought a young Cassius Clay had a chance to defeat Sonny Liston, did they?
It was 9-1 (odds). Angelo (Dundee) thought Ali had a chance to win. I did, too — if he could get past the first few rounds. He was so sharp in the gym. The other guy was skipping rope slowly and saying, “I don’t know why I’m training so hard, I’m gonna knock this kid out.” But Ali was 2 inches taller and blizzard-fast.
What happened at the infamous weigh-in when Ali began screaming and yelling?
Ali went crazy. His blood pressure was astronomical. As soon as it was over, he got into the limo, and I started taking his blood pressure. It was normal. I said, “Why did you do all that crazy (stuff)?” He said, “Doc, all bullies from prison think guys like me that are not scared of them are crazy — that I’m so nuts I will do anything.”
USA TODAY
Fight by fight: Muhammad Ali's legendary career




Isn’t it true that if Dundee had not sent Ali back out for the fifth round with blurry vision, we might not be sitting here having this conversation?
If I had been (working) the corner, and he couldn’t see, I would have stopped the fight. What he did was half a product of ignorance and half old-fashioned boxing guts. Corner men are fierce. What he did was truly gigantic. Without Angelo, there never would have been an Ali. Had he lost — had he quit — it would have taken him five years to work himself back to a title (chance). He was considered a joke going in, (and) this would have been an affirmation: “I told you this kid had nothing.”
Do you remember what happened in the rematch when Ali was standing over Liston in that classic pose of intimidation?
It happened right in front of me. I kept saying to (photographer Neil) Leifer, “Take this (picture).” Ali was saying, “Get up, you big, ugly bear. Nobody will believe this!” Those were his exact words. He should have gotten up. There was no reason not to (because the punch didn’t appear that hard). If you look at that fight dispassionately, Liston couldn’t get up because Ali was standing over him. You could say it could have been a disqualification (for Ali not going to a neutral corner), but that would have been a crime.
After the Earnie Shavers fight in 1977, you left Ali’s camp. Why then?
They had told me they never were going to put him in a hard fight again, then they put Shavers in there. He was about the strongest guy in boxing. That was easy?
After that fight, what did you do with Ali’s medical exam results?
I sent them to Angelo, (manager) Herbert Muhammad, Ali and his wife (Veronica). I wrote, “This is what’s happening to you. If you want to continue, you have no<span style="color: Red;">*</span>shot at a normal life.” I never heard a word —<span style="color: Red;">*</span>a word. Because they knew I was right.
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In this Feb. 18, 1964, file photo, The Beatles -- from left, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison -- take a fake blow from Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, while visiting the heavyweight contender at his training camp in Miami Beach, Fla.<span style="color: Red;">*</span> AP




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What’s the biggest myth about Ali?
That’s a very good question, but I can’t (voice cracking) something inside of me refuses to answer that for a reason because I see this whirling dervish, this myriad of<span style="color: Red;">*</span>lights going on that is Ali. One place, he’s terrific . . . the other not so terrific. One place he’s kind and gentle . . . the other he could be mean-spirited, but not really mean. He was, basically, a very good guy — a humanitarian. He loved children. He loved to make people laugh. He didn’t have the power to sustain being mean. If he had it, he would’ve kicked out his whole entourage because (most of them) deserved it. He had the ability to forgive sins.
His ridiculing of Joe Frazier — over the line?
Ali is a master put-on. He can make anyone feel stupid. He took on (Howard) Cosell and made him look ridiculous. He’s like a school-yard kid who makes fun of everyone. Frazier didn’t know how to make fun of anybody. One guy knows how to get under your skin; the other guy doesn’t know what to do about it. The only<span style="color: Red;">*</span>meanness was in the Philippines, where Frazier really took a tongue-lashing.
What are your fondest memories of the George Foreman fight in Zaire?
(Ali) was like a cheap politician dropped (into a fundraiser). I mean, he was in heaven. He went to all of the bad neighborhoods and poor places. He understood what that meant to those people. He went kissing and hugging, picking up little kids and boxing with them. He did it every day after training —<span style="color: Red;">*</span>every day. God, was it hot. It bothered the (hell) out of me. His was the only villa with air conditioning. He asked me, “Do you want to sleep over here, and I will sleep in your place?” I said, “No, you’re the king.” (But) he worried about us. (During the fight), when he came back to the corner after the first round, Ali said, “This guy can’t hit at all.” (Before the eighth round), he said, “Ferdie, this is it. I’m going to knock him out this round.” I said, “Well, hurry up. The rain’s coming.” (Foreman) fell more from exhaustion than<span style="color: Red;">*</span>the knockout. He was so tired, he was like a little baby saying, “Please put me to sleep.” (Afterward), it was raining so hard, you could barely see. The whole jungle was moving. Then we realized it wasn’t the jungle; it was people (swaying). They were covered in palm fronds or plastic sheets, (shielding) their babies, just so they could see Ali go by (in a bus). It was 40 miles, mile after mile, just to see him. I told a friend, “Well, we’ve lost him now. He’s no longer just Ali; he’s<span style="color: Red;">*</span>the<span style="color: Red;">*</span>greatest in the world.”
How do you feel about Ali’s life today?
Ali’s life is a perfect novel. He didn’t deserve this. I was hoping he would live a nice long life and have all the necessary accolades and plaudits he could hold while he was old, (voice cracking) let him enjoy what the nation thinks of him. He has that, but he shouldn’t have had to pay such a price. He paid for it. He chose to pay for it, that’s true. Am I sorry for him? No. He had the greatest life any human being can have. There’s no way —<span style="color: Red;">*</span>no way<span style="color: Red;">*</span>— he could have lived better.
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