Cornermen’s last bell, a tribute to Ferdie Pacheco and Rafael Garcia

Once again, ex-NFL kicker, sportscaster, writer, stand-up comic, ring announcer, et cetera, etc. Benny Ricardo has written a great article. This one is in tribute to two of the wonderful people he had the good fortune of knowing. One, Rafael Garcia, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico and the other, Fernand Pacheco who was born in Ybor City, a historic neighborhood located just northeast of downtown Tampa, Florida.

The boxing world has lost two of the greatest cornermen of all time. Two guys who could stop Hoover Dam from flowing by using just Adrenaline and Aventine and covering it with Vaseline. One year apart in age at 88 and 89 respectively, Rafael Garcia and Ferdie “The Fight Doctor” Pacheco came from an era when fighters loved their cornermen like family and vice versa.

For 16 long years, Floyd Mayweather Jr. remained loyal to his cutman, close friend, confidant/advisor Rafael Garcia. He was adamant, “No one can replace Rafael Garcia in my corner.”

Since 2001, when he destroyed Diego “Chico” Corrales until his last fight versus Andre Berto on Septemeber 12, 2015 (the McGregor bout was not a real boxing challenge for Floyd Mayweather), Rafael Garcia worked his magic by wrapping the magnificent but bony and brittle hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of the most amazing talents in the history of boxing.

During Mayweather’s amazing run of 49-0, Garcia took care of Mayweather’s hands for 25 World Championship fights. He was also Mayweather’s cut man and I will never forget the way he stopped Mayweather’s cut when he fought Marcos “El Chino” Maidana when in the 4th round Mayweather could barely see out of his right eye after a head-butt. Floyd came to the corner and told Garcia, “I can’t see out of my eye.” Garcia in his calming and assuring voice told him, “Don’t worry champ, I’ll take care of it.” And of course, he did. The cut never dropped another ounce of blood the rest of the fight.

From 2001 to 2015, Mayweather would never, ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves for any occasion without Rafael Garcia taping his precious hands. Garcia was on call 24-hours a day and he would receive upwards of $50k a fight plus a monthly salary. Mayweather called him his “Grand Dad.”

Nobody knew hands like Garcia. He would go to Mexico and the Indians would tell him what to massage on the hands. Bob Arum would send him to Los Angeles to visit with doctors to learn about hands. Garcia came up with his own methods of soaking Mayweather’s hands and how to massage and preserve them. Garcia would tape Mayweather’s hands and then count the number of times he hit the heavy bag. He would keep a constant running account. He was always precise with that number and would tell Mayweather where he was in the punch count.

Garcia had his own way of folding the tape and would emphasize to Mayweather to lead with the index and middle finger as that would allow his hand to absorb the punch. The off-center punches are what break a hand and eventually damage the hand. Garcia was always aware of the angle of Mayweather’s punches as if he was seeing the bones in Mayweather’s punches as he punched.

Mayweather so loved the man, that whenever he made changes in his camp, the one constant and unchangeable person was Garcia. Mayweather changed from his father to his uncle Roger as his trainer but Garcia and only Garcia would be in charge of his hands and face. Over his more than 60 years in Boxing, Garcia worked in the corner for 35 world champions. 

In 1962, at their 5th Street gym in Miami Beach, Florida, the Dundee brothers introduced a good Samaritan doctor who never ever charged the boxers for his services. At that time, there was this brash, slick and quick as lightning heavyweight by the name of Cassius Clay who technically did everything wrong, like drop his hands and clown around in the ring. Yet, nobody could touch him. His reflexes and anticipation were something nobody had ever seen before. My dear friend and boxing mentor Brother Job Israel was actually Ali’s trusted trainer. Angelo Dundee got the time on fight night but Brother Job was the man who Ali trusted and listened to. Brother Job is still alive today and makes all kinds of natural products to take away pain, make your hair shine, and on and on. Brother Job knew Ferdie Pacheco and told Ali about how Ferdie treated the needy and if they couldn’t pay…he would treat them anyway. Ali would often say “He is the only white man down there helping poor people and the fighters. He would never charge any fighters any money. That’s why I like him. We both like to help people who are in need.”

As Ali went through his transformation outside the ring and converted to Islam, the leaders of Islam demanded that Ali fire Pacheco. Ali would have none of it and stated that under no circumstances would he fire his beloved fight doctor. Ali entrusted his health and well being to the medical knowledge of Dr. Ferdie Pacheco.

Pacheco grew up as the son of a pharmacist who owned his own pharmacy and like most pharmacist of Latin decent, if a person couldn’t afford to pay for a medication, he would often give it to them for free. That business practice remained in the mind of the young aspiring doctor who went on to join the Air Force and then after the Air Force he continued his education.

Ali loved women and knew the best time to be away from his wives was during training camp, especially the night before a fight. He would tell his wives that sex before a fight would zap his strength and thus he had to be alone. It was the night before a fight that Ali would bring in the women and test his physical strength and stamina. Ferdie knew all about these pre-fight escapades and would always have the B-12 shots ready. Ferdie was also aware of the boundless energy that Ali had and his ability to withstand pain. No greater proof of this was demonstrated when despite suffering a broken jaw in the second round, Ali continued to fight the tough Marine from Camp Pendleton, namely Ken Norton. Ali still went the distance, but lost by a split decision.

Ferdie also witnessed what everyone thought was suicide. Ali’s plan to stay in one place on the ropes and let a fearsome puncher like George Foreman punch himself out by blasting Ali’s body. Pacheco had talked to brother Job and had an inkling this might be their plan. Angelo Dundee wanted him to stick and move and get out of harm’s way. Like Mayweather, the fight night speed of Ali’s hands was beyond anything anybody could prepare for and so were the angles of his punches. While the fights for his opponents were taking place at a blurring pace, to guys like Mayweather and Ali, the opportunities and flaws in an opponent were opened up like an electric door you step on. Ferdie was the first to notice the motor skills of Ali had begun to become slower. Those electric doors were no longer opening up. The gap between Ali and an opponent were now being reached by leather launched at Ali’s temple and the sound of Ali’s body taking the shot was not a welcome sound for Pacheco. It was in a sparring session with a sparring partner from Easton, Pennsylvania that Ali’s motor skills started to concern Ferdie. Either this sparring partner, Larry Holmes, had the greatest jab in the world or Ali was really slowing down. 

Pacheco began to plead with Ali to retire. His final ultimatum came in 1977 and Ali decided to take on one of the hardest punchers in the history of boxing. That was it for Ferdie. He left Ali rather than see him get hit by Earnie Shavers. Ali won that fight by a unanimous decision, but after that came the losses to Leon Spinks and then the beating of a lifetime from his former sparring partner. The same sparring partner who had alarmed Pacheco with his blazing fast and jarring jab. Larry Holmes faced his idol and mentor and Pacheco’s suspicions became a reality. Ali had slowed to a snail’s pace and Holmes had the greatest jab in the history of the heavyweight division.

Ali, who was taking the medication Prednisone before the fight and felt the effects of the drug. A drug used to treat a number of ailments including subacute thyroiditis. Ali began the fight looking fit and trim and jumping around, but he had nothing behind his punches. The drug gave him this false sense of fitness and strength but he had no power behind any of the punches. Pacheco was convinced that the beating Ali suffered in that fight would harm him for the rest of his life. The fight doctor was so right.

About that time, Pacheco met the love of his life and they began to travel the world and were totally in love for 47-years. As a scientist, Pacheco loved to serve people and heal them but money was never his motivator. He started painting and later suffered a stroke. He swore he could dream better than ever and when he’d awaken, he’d start to write story after story. After leaving Ali, he became a two time Emmy Award-winning boxing commentator on network television. He could hear the damage a boxer was suffering and had the ability to communicate this to the audience.

Pacheco would tell me, “Benny, listen to the thud of the punches when you’re at ringside…escuchalo y recordate del sonido, forget what it looks like. The sound will tell you the damage left behind.” He was so right as I later discovered while calling the Timothy Bradley fight. Despite possessing an unbelievable physique, Bradley had a feathery touch with his punches and no force behind them. I would later announce the Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez versus Paul Williams fight. Martinez was 5’10” tall and Paul Williams was 6-3.  Martinez timed out this left hook that landed with a thud that had me saying on the air “Don’t bother to count, this one is over in two rounds.” In Montreal at the Bell Center, Adonis Stevenson was facing Jesus Gonzales who was 27-1 and a pretty slick boxer. Emmanuel Steward was training Stevenson and I asked Steward about Gonzales’ speed?  Manny said Stevenson was as hard a puncher as he had seen and could really get off. Sure enough, in the very first round and before the second minute, Stevenson had hit Gonzales with a straight left that had that same thud that Ferdie told me to listen for. Gonzales, never braced the fall, hit his head on the canvas and his arms were totally erect above him, the surest sign of trauma. Gonzales never fought again. The fight doctor would have told him. It’s such a shame that Ali didn’t listen to Pacheco.

We’re all just passing through and it was in the corner where these two men did their best work for the greatest boxers of our time. And, they did it with love.

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