IF only Muhammad Ali had taken Ferdie Pacheco’s advice he could be alive today, enjoying life into a ripe old age.
Pacheco, Ali’s doctor and cornerman for 15 years, begged him to quit boxing after he had beaten Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila in 1975 — six years and ten fights before he eventually retired.
Ferdie, who died eight days ago, three weeks before his 90th birthday, was always full of remorse that he had failed to save Ali from himself.
The man who was known as the Fight Doctor went to work for Cassius Clay in 1962 and remarked he was the most physically perfect human being he had ever seen.
But, according to Pacheco, by the time of his third fight with Frazier 15 years later, Ali was a well that had run dry.
His body was deteriorating rapidly, vital organs were failing and, as a result of increasing neurological damage, his speech was beginning to slur and his movements had slowed.
Pacheco told me many times his one overriding regret was that he could not make Ali understand he was heading for a premature death by refusing to hang up his gloves.
Ferdie remained with him until 1977.
But after watching him take more terrible punishment as he struggled to win another brutal 15-round battle, this time against Earnie Shavers in Madison Square Garden, his conscience would not allow him to continue any further.
Reluctantly, he turned his back on Ali after his fears about the legend’s health were confirmed by Dr Frank Guardino, of the New York State Athletic Commission, shortly after his victory over Shavers.
Ali died aged 74 on June 3, 2016.
Pacheco, in one of his books, revealed: “Dr Guardino gave me a report that showed Ali’s kidneys were falling apart.
“And he said to me, ‘Ferdie, you had better advise him to quit. I won’t make these findings of impending kidney damage public but I won’t let him fight in New York again’.”
Pacheco sent letters to Ali, his third wife Veronica, trainer Angelo Dundee and manager Herbert Muhammad, spelling out the grave danger he was in if he carried on fighting.
Pacheco added: “It was no surprise when I didn’t get a response to any of those letters.
“That’s when I decided enough was enough. If a national treasure like Ali could not be saved, at least I didn’t have to be part of his undoing.”
After he had made that decision, Ferdie always expressed horror that Ali was still being encouraged to continue by those closest to him.
He loved Ali like a brother and, reflecting on his friend’s brave battle with Parkinson’s disease and the years they spent together, he said: “I was hoping he would live a nice long life.
“He shouldn’t have to pay such a price. He chose to pay for it, that’s true.”