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Three Punch Combo: Under The Radar Fights and Prospects to Watch

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — In case anyone hasn’t noticed, this upcoming week is a very busy one in the sport. ESPN+, Showtime, Fox Sports 1 and DAZN all have cards on the docket. Of course, when this occurs, some very good fights can fall under the radar.

On Saturday, Fox Sports 1 will televise a show from Minneapolis, MN that will be headlined by a crucial crossroads fight in the 168-pound division between Caleb Truax (30-4-2, 19 KO’s) and Peter Quillin (34-1-1, 23 KO’s). In my opinion, this sets up to be the most competitive fight of the week.

Ironically, if this fight had been put together just two years ago it would have been viewed as a total mismatch. Quillin, a former middleweight champion blessed with natural athletic abilities, would have been a sizable favorite and many would not have been happy to see such a fight headlining a nationally televised card.

But a lot has changed in two years. Most notably, Truax pulled a major upset in December of 2017 against James DeGale to win a world title. On that night, Truax lifted his game to a different level. Though he lost the rematch to DeGale, Truax was still competitive and fighting with a new sense of confidence in his career.

Quillin, on the other hand, has seen his once-promising career head into an entirely different direction. Though he has won two in a row since his only loss to Daniel Jacobs in December of 2015, Quillin has looked less than impressive in those outings.

While Truax seems to be fighting with confidence, Quillin seems tentative and unsure of himself inside the ring. In those two recent performances, he seemed hesitant to let his hands go despite the openings that were present, fighting very cautiously and doing just enough to win.

When breaking this fight down, almost all the boxes are checked in Quillin’s favor. He is certainly more athletic and quicker than Truax. Quillin will also have a major hand speed advantage and is the harder puncher. Defensively, Quillin is slicker with better head movement.

But Quillin’s recent lack of confidence compared with Truax’s new found belief in himself offsets all the tangible advantages for Quillin.

This version of Truax will keep coming and pressing the attack. With the level of confidence he has in his game, there will be little that Quillin can do to dissuade Truax from applying nonstop pressure.

Can Quillin’s natural abilities overcome his apparent lack of confidence that he has shown in his most recent outings? It is a big question and what makes this fight so intriguing. If Quillin does stand his ground and lets his hands go as he is capable, this could turn into a shootout. With so many directions this fight could turn, it is easily the one I am most looking forward to witnessing this upcoming weekend.

Another Under The Radar Fight

 Also on the Fox Sports 1 card in Minneapolis on Saturday, Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10 KO’s) takes on Jack Culcay (25-3, 13 KO’s) in a middleweight crossroads fight. Due to the numerous other fights taking place this week, this bout is receiving almost no attention but it is definitely worth a look.

Derevyanchenko is coming off a tight split decision loss to Daniel Jacobs in October for a middleweight title belt. Known as “The Technician”, Derevyanchenko is a well-schooled technically sound pro and a very sharp accurate puncher. His best trait is the ability to set up precise angles to land clean hard punches with maximum effectiveness.

Two years ago, Culcay gave then 154-pound champion Demetrius Andrade a very tough fight in losing a split decision. Now on a three fight winning streak since moving up to middleweight, Culcay is looking to get into the title picture with a win against Derevyanchenko.

Culcay is a pressure fighter by trade. He may not be a big puncher but at his best he is high volume puncher who looks to outwork his opposition. Against Andrade, Culcay showed an ability to navigate range against a more athletic fighter and get work done on the inside.

One thing that neither fighter does well is move his head. Thus, they both can be easy to hit. As such, I think at the very least we are going to get a fan friendly fight.

I love this matchup of styles. Culcay will press forward aggressively throwing punches. This should give the sharp punching Derevyanchenko plenty of opportunities to counter. But Culcay for his part should be able to land quite a bit due to Derevyanchenko’s severe lack of head movement.

How will Culcay take Derevyanchenko’s power? And how will Derevyanchenko handle Culcay’s relentless pressure? This is a very intriguing fight and another that I am very much looking forward to watching this coming weekend.

More Prospects

 This past Friday, ESPN+ broadcast a show from Dubai headlined by a match between 115-pound contender Aliu Bamidele Lasisi (13-0, 8 KO’s) and Ricardo Blandon (10-2, 6 KO’s). While this was a solid main event (Lasisi won a 12-round unanimous decision), it was two blue chip prospects that stole the show.

Lightweight prospect Sultan Zaurbek (6-0, 4 KO’s) scored a scintillating one punch knockout of Chenghong Tao (7-6-1, 5 KO’s) in the fifth round of their scheduled six round fight. In this performance, the 22-year-old Zaurbek showed why many boxing insiders consider him to be an elite prospect.

Zaurbek, who hails from Kazakhstan, had an extensive amateur career that included a win in the unpaid ranks against 2016 Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao. This deep amateur experience has put him on the fast track in the pro game.

Zaurbek, a southpaw, possesses very fast hands and excellent footwork. He is a sharp accurate puncher and very adept at this early stage in his career at using footwork to set up just the right angles to land clean punches. And he possesses big time power in both hands. Against Tao, Zaurbek showed all these skillsets before closing the show with a vicious right hook that landed with precision and maximum power.

Also on the card, highly touted 122-pound prospect Shakhobidin Zoirov (1-0, 1 KO) made a quick and successful professional debut, knocking out Anthony Holt (5-5-1, 3 KO’s) in under a minute of the first round.

Zoirov, a gold medalist at flyweight in the 2016 Olympics, also has a deep amateur pedigree. Hailing from Uzbekistan, the 26-year-old Zoirov seems to have all the makings of a future star.

Zoirov can best be described as an aggressive southpaw. Like Zaurbek, he possesses very fast hands and excellent footwork. And as evidenced by his quick destruction of Holt, Zoirov also has legitimate one punch power.

Another element of Zoirov’s game that jumps out is his defense. For an aggressive fighter, he is pretty slick due to his excellent footwork and he moves his head very well when on the attack. And his defense is only going to get better as he continues to refine his technique.

It is easy to why so many in boxing are so high on Sultan Zaurbek and Shakhobidin Zoirov. Both young fighters appear to have all the tools required to one day reach the pinnacle.

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Book Review

Book Review: Bernard Fernandez’s “Championship Rounds”

Arne K. Lang

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When a man retires after a lengthy career in an interesting occupation, he feels a tug to write his memoir. If he happened to be a journalist, the memoir can take the form of an anthology. Bernard Fernandez’s “Championship Rounds,” released this month, is an anthology – a compendium of previously published material – but it also veers off at times into a memoir, which is a very good thing. It could not be otherwise as Fernandez had a front row seat at the circus and the permit to poke around behind the scenes.

For the uninitiated, Bernard Fernandez spent 43 years as a sportswriter, the last 28 with the Philadelphia Daily News before retiring in 2012. Although he was occasionally assigned to other beats, he was foremost the paper’s boxing guy. When he started with the Daily News, many established papers had a full-time boxing writer. Today they are as scarce as professional typewriter repairmen.

Various honors came Fernandez’s way during his newspaper career, the most recent of which, for a boxing writer, is the ultimate, enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Fernandez was voted into the Hall in the Observer category last year.

There are 35 stories in “Championship Rounds” sorted into six sections. Eighteen of these stories appeared at The Sweet Science. Among the boxers profiled are Ali and Frazier, Jake LaMotta (who Fernandez interviewed for the second time when Jake was 94 years old), Archie Moore, Tex Cobb, Arturo Gatti (“the boxing franchise in Atlantic City”), and the Spinks brothers – Michael, who “wrung every ounce from his considerable boxing gifts,” and Leon, his mirror opposite, “perpetually distracted.”

Many of the giants of the modern era turn up in “Championship Rounds,” but also some cult figures and even Jack Obermayer, somewhat less than a cult figure save among his peers who were awed by his stamina and cherished his friendship. A familiar face at diners up and down the east coast, Obermayer likely attended more boxing shows than any man ever born, 3,514 in total scattered across 400-plus cities in 49 states, all but Alaska. He devoted himself, says Fernandez, “to the proposition that every fight card, no matter how unimportant or seemingly insignificant, required his presence at ringside to be fully validated.”

The best boxing writers understand that boxing is an ecosystem and that some of the best stories are found outside the ropes.

Fernandez was writing about women’s boxing before it was fashionable to write about women’s boxing. It’s doubtful the name Jackie Tonawanda rings a bell, but she was a trailblazer in women’s boxing and Fernandez brings her to life in a story that appeared in these pages back in 2009. I had no clue that the fight between Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde created such a stir until I read “Ali-Frazier IV.” Held at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, a little town in upstate New York, the event attracted a media throng of 300-plus from around the world.

Bernard Fernandez is a big movie buff. “I’ve frequently imagined that, were I not covering boxing matches and football and basketball games for my weekly recompense, I’d be a movie reviewer,” he writes.

The big screen and the lowbrow amusement of celebrity boxing intersect in “I Tanya…,” a 2019 story inspired by the Tonya Harding biopic starring Margot Robbie and Alison Janney. The movie transported Fernandez back to Portland, Oregon, and the maddeningly unfruitful scrums that bespattered “the worst week of my newspaper career.”

Being a newspaper reporter who racks up frequent flyer miles isn’t all that glamorous as Fernandez showed in that story, but even the most unpleasant episodes can be fun in the re-telling. And sometimes the hassle of getting somewhere is redeemed by a surprising turn of events at the destination. Fernandez’s trip to Tokyo in 1990 was grueling at both ends of the continuum — from the Eastern seaboard, one crosses 14 time zones – but he would be one of the few American scribes to witness live and in color, as they say, the most famous upset in the annals of boxing.

rounds

Mike Tyson’s 2002 match with Lennox Lewis wasn’t nearly as momentous – at least not after the bell rang – but Fernandez’s excursion to Memphis, the host city, yielded a story too good to be left on the cutting room floor. The highlight for me was his interview with a tourist from Switzerland as they watched the city’s oddest must-see attraction, the march of the ducks in the ornate lobby of the Peabody Hotel.

Of the 35 entries in the book, my personal favorites are the two that are the most poignant. Bernard Hopkins’ truth-is-stranger-than-fiction life story has been well-documented, but one acquires a greater appreciation of B-Hop while reading about the special bond that he forged with a terminally ill teenage fan. In the book’s final entry, Fernandez pays homage to his late father who instilled within him his love of boxing. Bernard Fernandez Sr., who had a brief pro career under the name Jack Fernandez, was a much-decorated New Orleans police captain who passed away in 1994 at age 75. “It is said that an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind,” writes Fernandez, “and my father never spent a conflicted night.”

Bernard Fernandez is a friend of mine, something I probably should have acknowledged earlier. Moreover, for the past several years, I have been his editor here at The Sweet Science.

Editors, many of whom exemplify the Peter Principle, are faultfinders by temperament and tutelage, and I would be remiss if I didn’t find something to quibble about.

When writing a feature story about a boxer or boxing personality, Fernandez will sometimes open with a parallelism. For example, a certain boxer may summon up the name of a historical figure with whom he shares characteristics in common. The parallel in a piece about Wladimir Klitschko is Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders whose mantra, “Just win, baby,” became the enduring catchphrase of Raider Nation.

I thought the comparison was labored and that Fernandez exhausted too many words about Davis and his team before getting to the gist of his story.

With that nitpicking yammer, I likely just got on the wrong side of George Foreman which is never a smart thing to do. “Writers come and go,” says Foreman in the foreword to the book, “but the special ones (like Bernard Fernandez) stand the test of time.”

On this matter, Big George and me are in perfect accord.

Bravo, Bernard, it was a most enjoyable read and if there is a sequel in the hopper, please don’t let it languish.

For more information about “Championship Rounds” including where to purchase the book CLICK HERE.

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Five Fights That Produced Controversial Decisions to be Replayed on ESPN2

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Five Fights That Produced Controversial Decisions to be Replayed on ESPN2

PRESS RELEASE – Wednesday, May 20, will be a night of boxing on ESPN2 when the network airs four consecutive hours of the sweet science featuring some of the sport’s most debated decisions. The action will begin at 7 p.m. ET with Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad.

 

In addition to the linear telecast, all these fights are also available on ESPN+. Exclusively available to subscribers, ESPN+ features a library of hundreds of the most Important fights in boxing history.

 

THE LINEUP

 

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad (7 P.M. ET)

 

The long-reigning welterweight champions and pound-for-pound greats met in the “Fight of the Millennium” on Sept. 18, 1999, with De La Hoya defending his WBC title and Trinidad defending his IBF title. De La Hoya landed 97 more punches (263 to 166) but after 12 tensely fought rounds, Trinidad was controversially scored the winner by majority decision. The bout set a pay-per-view record for a non-heavyweight fight with 1.4 million buys, a mark that stood until it was broken by De La Hoya-Mayweather on May 5, 2007.

 

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Shane Mosley II (8 P.M. ET)

 

In a rematch of their first bout in June 2000 — won by Mosley via split decision – De La Hoya put his WBA and WBC super welterweight world titles on the line against the former welterweight and lightweight world champion. According to CompuBox, De La Hoya landed more punches (221-127) and was the more accurate puncher (36%-26%). Despite De La Hoya winning in the eyes of most boxing experts, Mosley was declared the winner in a controversial unanimous decision.

 

Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III (9 P.M. ET)

 

The only fight of the four between them not to feature a knockdown, Pacquiao and Marquez once again went to a decision in this WBO welterweight title fight. Pacquiao was making the third defense of the title and landed more punches (176-138), but Marquez was the more accurate of the two fighters, according to CompuBox (32%-30%). The bout generated 1.4 million pay-per-view buys in the United States which was Pacquiao’s best pay-per-view total until his 2015 mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather.

 

Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard (10 P.M. ET)

 

Longtime middleweight champion Hagler had made 12 successful defenses of his world title before facing the returning Sugar Ray Leonard who had not fought in almost three years. Leonard, who was attempting to win a world title in a third weight class, built an early lead but Hagler came on strong late. Ring Magazine named Hagler-Leonard the 1987 Fight of the Year, and the split decision victory for Leonard cemented a comeback for the ages.

 

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Jose Luis Castillo I (11 P.M. ET)

 

After eight successful defenses of his super featherweight title, Mayweather moved up in weight for his lightweight debut against Castillo, who was making the fourth defense of his WBC title. According to CompuBox, Castillo outlanded Mayweather 203-157. HBO’s ringside judge, the late Harold Lederman, scored the fight for Castillo by four points. The official judges, however, scored it unanimously in Mayweather’s favor.

 

ESPN+ features a library of hundreds of the most important fights in boxing history, as well as recent Top Rank on ESPN cards for replay, all streaming on demand. The historic fights on ESPN+ include legendary heavyweight showdowns like Ali vs. Frazier III, Ali vs. George Foreman, Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn, Tyson vs. Holmes, Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney, Max Baer vs. James J. Braddock, Ali vs. Sonny Liston I & II, Wilder vs. Fury II and many more.

 

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Remembering Dr. Ferdie Pacheco as he Remembered Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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A TSS CLASSIC FROM THE THOMAS HAUSER ARCHIVE (2017) — Ferdie Pacheco, who died on November 16, was a doctor, author, artist, and television commentator. He’s best known for having been Muhammad Ali’s personal physician and cornerman from 1960 through 1977.

My own relationship with Pacheco began in 1989. I was researching the book that would eventually become Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times and had compiled a list of two hundred people I wanted to interview. Ferdie was among them.

During the course of my research, I encountered many people who had written or were contemplating writing about Ali. Some of them refused to talk with me about Ali, saying that we were competitors and they didn’t want me to steal their thunder. Others were extraordinarily generous with their time and knowledge. Ferdie fit into the latter category. Even though he’d written one Ali book and was planning another, he sat with me for hours.

In the years that followed, Ferdie remained one of my “go-to” guys when I wrote about Ali. Rather than interpret what he told me, I’ll let him speak for himself.

ON CASSIUS CLAY’S FORMATIVE YEARS IN MIAMI:

“Cassius was something in those days. He began training in Miami with Angelo Dundee. And Angelo put him in a den of iniquity called the Mary Elizabeth Hotel because Angelo is one of the most innocent men in the world and it was a cheap hotel. This place was full of pimps, thieves, and drug dealers. And here’s Cassius, who comes from a good home, and all of a sudden he’s involved with this circus of street people. At first, the hustlers thought he was just another guy to take to the cleaners, another guy to steal from, another guy to sell dope to, another guy to fix up with a girl. He had this incredible innocence about him, and usually that kind of person gets eaten alive in the ghetto. But then the hustlers all fell in love with him, like everybody does, and they started to feel protective of him. If someone tried to sell him a girl, the others would say, ‘Leave him alone; he’s not into that.’ If a guy came around, saying, ‘Have a drink,’ it was, ‘Shut up; he’s in training.’ But that’s the story of Ali’s life. He’s always been like a little kid, climbing out onto tree limbs, sawing them off behind him, and coming out okay.”

“When Ali was young, he was the best physical specimen I’ve ever seen. If God sat down to create the perfect body for a fighter, anatomically and physiologically, he’d have created Ali. Every test I did on him was a fine line of perfect. His blood pressure and pulse were like a snake. His speed and reflexes were unbelievable. His face was rounded, with no sharp edges to cut. And on top of that, his skin was tough. He could summon up enormous spurts of energy and recover quickly without the exhaustion that most fighters feel afterward. His peripheral vision was incredible. Up until the layoff, it was like a fraudulent representation to say I was Ali’s doctor. I was his doctor in case something happened, but it never did. Being Ali’s doctor meant I showed up at the gym once in a while and came to the fights.”

ON CLAY-LISTON I:

“Things in the dressing room got pretty bizarre. The only people who were supposed to be there were Cassius, Angelo, Rahaman (Clay’s brother), Bundini, myself, and Luis Sarria (Clay’s masseur). A few more came and went, but basically we were alone. Then Cassius assigned Rahaman to watch his water bottle. The bottle was taped shut. No one went near it. But every time Rahaman took his eyes off it, Cassius would take the tape off, empty it out, refill it, and tape it closed again. He did that three or four times because he was worried that someone would try to drug him. And he was particularly suspicious of Angelo, because Angelo was Italian. In his mind, he’d begun to associate Angelo with the gangsters around Liston. Remember, the Muslims—and it was clear by then that Cassius was a Muslim—had never been in boxing before. All they had to go by were Hollywood movies where the mob fixed everything, and Liston was with the mob. It was crazy, but that’s what Cassius thought.”

“All those bullshit boxing stories people write; pretty soon, everyone starts believing them. Angelo cut the gloves in the first Cooper fight. Bullshit. Sit him down, and he’ll tell you that the gloves were already split. He just helped them along a little. Angelo loosened the ropes for the Foreman fight in Zaire. Bullshit again. Angelo and Bobby Goodman tried to tighten the ropes right until the opening bell. Most of it’s nonsense. But one thing that truly belongs in the legend category was what went on between the fourth and fifth rounds of the Liston fight. Cassius couldn’t see. He was ready to quit. And it had nothing to do with lack of courage, because this was a kid who’d been fighting since he was twelve years old. He’d been poked and banged and busted and clobbered many times. He’d made his accommodation by then with the normal pains and blows of boxing. But this was something beyond what he’d experienced. I could see it. His eyes were aflame. And Angelo was spectacular. What he did between rounds was the best example I can give you of a cornerman seizing a situation and making it right. That moment belonged to Angelo. If Cassius had been with a corner of amateurs, there would never have been any Muhammad Ali.”

“Just going out for the fifth round was an incredibly brave thing to do. Liston was considered as destructive as Mike Tyson before Tyson got beat. And Cassius was absolutely brilliant then. The things he did, staying out of range, reaching out with his left hand, touching Liston when he got close to break Sonny’s concentration. It was an amazing, astonishing, breathtaking performance. Here’s a fighter who’s supposed to be Godzilla, who will reign for maybe a thousand years. Nobody can stand up to him in the ring. Cassius can’t see, and still Liston couldn’t do anything with him. What can I say? Beethoven wrote some of his greatest symphonies when he was deaf. Why couldn’t Cassius Clay fight when he was blind?”

ON ALI’S RETURN FROM EXILE:

“In the early days, he fought as though he had a glass jaw and was afraid to get hit. He had the hyper reflexes of a frightened man. He was so fast that you had the feeling, ‘This guy is scared to death; he can’t be that fast normally.’ Well, he wasn’t scared. He was fast beyond belief and smart. Then he went into exile. And when he came back, he couldn’t move like lightning anymore. Everyone wondered, ‘What happens now when he gets hit?’ That’s when we learned something else about him. That sissy-looking, soft-looking, beautiful-looking child-man was one of the toughest guys who ever lived.”

“The legs are the first thing to go in a fighter. And when Ali went into exile, he lost his legs. Before that, he’d been so fast, you couldn’t catch him so he’d never taken punches. He’d been knocked down by Henry Cooper and Sonny Banks. But the truth is, he rarely got hit and he’d never taken a beating. Then, after the layoff, his legs weren’t like they’d been before. And when he lost his legs, he lost his first line of defense. That was when he discovered something which was both very good and very bad. Very bad in that it led to the physical damage he suffered later in his career; very good in that it eventually got him back the championship. He discovered he could take a punch. Before the layoff, he wouldn’t let anyone touch him in the gym. Workouts consisted of Ali running and saying, ‘This guy can’t hit me.’ But afterward, when he couldn’t run that way anymore, he found he could dog it. He could run for a round and rest for a round, and let himself get punched against the ropes while he thought he was toughening his body. I can’t tell you how many times I told him and anyone else who’d listen, ‘Hey, when you let guys pound on your kidneys, it’s not doing the kidneys any good.’ The kidneys aren’t the best fighter in the world. They’re just kidneys. After a while, they’ll fall apart.’ And of course, taking shots to the head didn’t do much good either.”

ON ALI-FRAZIER I:

“In round fifteen, Ali was tired. He was hurt, just trying to get through the last round. And Frazier hit him flush on the jaw with the hardest left hook he’d ever thrown. Ali went down, and it looked like he was out cold. I didn’t think he could possibly get up. And not only did he get up; he was up almost as fast as he went down. It was incredible. Not only could he take a punch; that night, he was the most courageous fighter I’ve ever seen. He was going to get up if he was dead. If Frazier had killed him, he’d have gotten up.”

“Some fighters can’t handle defeat. They fly so high when they’re on top that a loss brings them irrevocably crashing down. What was interesting to me after the loss to Frazier was we’d seen this undefeatable guy. Now how was he going to handle defeat? Was he going to be a cry-baby? Was he going to be crushed? Well, what we found out was, this guy takes defeat like he takes victory. All he said was, ‘I’ll beat him next time.’”

ON ALI-NORTON I:

“The jaw was broken in the second round. Ali could move the bone with his tongue and I felt the separation with my fingertips at the end of the second round. That’s when winning took priority over proper medical care. It’s sick. All of us – and I have to include myself in this – were consumed by the idea of winning that fight. When the bell rang, I was no longer a doctor; I was a second. My whole thing was to keep Ali fighting. As a doctor, I should have said, ‘Stop the fight.’ There’s no disgrace in having a broken jaw. It goes down as a TKO; in six months you have a rematch and life goes on. But at that point in Ali’s career, he couldn’t afford a loss. And with Ali, there was always politics involved. We didn’t fight in a sterile atmosphere. We didn’t fight in a room closed off from the rest of the world. Everything had to do with Muslims and Vietnam and civil rights. If Ali lost, it was more than a fight. So you didn’t just have a white guy say, ‘Stop the fight.’ Especially if Ali didn’t want it stopped. And when we told Ali his jaw was probably broken, he said, ‘I don’t want it stopped.’ He’s an incredibly gritty son-of-a-bitch. The pain must have been awful. He couldn’t fight his fight because he had to protect his jaw. And still, he fought the whole twelve rounds. God Almighty, was that guy tough. Sometimes people didn’t realize it because of his soft generous ways. But underneath all that beauty, there was an ugly Teamsters Union trucker at work.”

ON ZAIRE:

“What Ali did in the ring that night was truly inspired. The layoff had taken away his first set of gifts, so in Zaire he developed another. The man had the greatest chin in the history of the heavyweight division. He could think creatively and clearly with bombs flying around him. And he showed it all when it mattered most that night with the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen. Somehow, early in the fight, Ali figured out that the way to beat George Foreman was to let Foreman hit him. Now that’s some game plan. Watching that fight, seeing Ali take punch after punch and knowing that, with his strength and courage, he wouldn’t go down, a person could have been forgiven for thinking that sooner or later the referee would be forced to step in to save his life. But Ali took everything Foreman could offer. And at that most crucial moment in his career, instead of losing, which was what most people thought would happen, he knocked George out and embarked on another long wondrous championship ride.”

ON ALI-FRAZIER III:

“You have to understand the premise behind that fight. The first fight was life and death, and Frazier won. Second fight; Ali figures him out, no problem, relatively easy victory for Ali. Then Ali beats Foreman and Frazier’s sun sets. And I don’t care what anyone says now; all of us thought that Joe Frazier was shot. We all thought that this was going to be an easy fight. Ali comes out, dances around, and knocks him out in eight or nine rounds. That’s what we figured. And you know what happened in that fight. Ali took a beating like you’d never believe anyone could take. When he said afterward that it was the closest thing he’d ever known to death – let me tell you something; if dying is that hard, I’d hate to see it coming. But Frazier took the same beating. And in the fourteenth round, Ali just about took his head off. I was cringing. The heat was awesome. Both men were dehydrated. The place was like a time-bomb. I thought we were close to a fatality. It was a terrible moment. And then Joe Frazier’s corner stopped it.”

“It all progresses in a fighter’s life. The legs go; his reflexes aren’t what they used to be; he cuts more easily; the injuries accelerate. Ali at age twenty-three could have absorbed Frazier in Manila and shaken it off. But age thirty-three was another story. If I had to pick a spot to tell him, ‘You’ve got all your marbles but don’t go on anymore,’ no question, it would have been after Manila. That’s when it really started to fall apart. He began to take beatings, not just in fights but in the gym. Even sparring, he’d do the rope-a-dope because he couldn’t avoid punches the way he did when he was young. And I don’t care how good you are at rope-a-doping. If you block ninety-five punches out of a hundred, the other five are getting in.”

ON ALI-SHAVERS:

The Shavers fight was the final straw for me. After that fight, Dr. Nardiello, who was with the New York State Athletic Commission, gave me a laboratory report that showed Ali’s kidneys were falling apart. Instead of filtering out blood and turning it to urine, pure blood was going through. That was bad news for the kidneys. And since everything in the body is interconnected, we were talking about the disintegration of Ali’s health. So I went back to my office in Miami, sat down, and wrote Ali a letter saying his kidneys were falling apart. I attached a copy of Nardiello’s report and mailed three extra copies, return receipt requested. One to Herbert, one to Angelo, and one to Veronica, who at the time was Ali’s wife. I didn’t get an answer from any of them; not one response. That’s when I decided enough was enough. Whether or not they wanted me, I didn’t want to be part of what was going on anymore. By then, they were talking about ‘only easy fights.’ But there was no such thing as an easy fight anymore.”

ON ALI-HOLMES

“Just because a man can pass a physical examination doesn’t mean he should be fighting in a prize ring. That shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp. Most trainers can tell you better than any neurologist in the world when a fighter is shot. You watch your fighter’s career from the time he’s a young man. You watch him develop into a champion. You watch him get great. Then all of a sudden, he doesn’t have it anymore. Give him a neurological examination at that point and you’ll find nothing wrong. Sugar Ray Robinson could pass every exam in the world at age forty-four, but he wasn’t Sugar Ray Robinson anymore. It doesn’t change, whether it’s Ali, Joe Louis. Anybody in the gym can see it before the doctors can because the doctors, good doctors, are judging these fighters by the standards of ordinary people and the demands of ordinary jobs. And you can’t do that because these are professional fighters.

AND IN SUMMARY:

“I look back at it all and consider myself a very lucky guy.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on these pages on Nov. 16, 2017, under the title “Dr. Ferdie Pacheco: December 8, 1927 – November 16, 2017.” Reprinted with permission.

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