If Neil Armstrong had once landed on Muhammad Ali’s toe, chances are he’d be best known for that. So it goes without saying that accomplished author, painter, and screenwriter Ferdie Pacheco is himself best known as the “Fight Doctor” after serving 15 years as The Champ’s physician.
In his latest book, Tales from the 5th St. Gym, which he will discuss on Saturday at the Miami Book Fair, Pacheco recounts his 40 years ringside in the temple of boxing’s golden age. Originally at 501 Washington Avenue, in South Beach, the 5th Street Gym bred some of boxing’s greatest champions, including Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, and Muhammad Ali. In the book, Pacheco and several guest writers share their memories of the Oz-esque world that was the 5th Street Gym and of its “Wizard,” Chris Dundee, the older brother of Angelo Dundee, Ali’s cornerman.
On Wednesday, I spoke with the Fight Doctor by phone about his new book, the 5th Street Gym’s mystique, and the difference between a gym and a gymnasium.
You start your book by recounting how the commemorative plaque for the original 5th Street Gym, which was torn down in 1993 to make room for a parking lot, makes no mention of Chris Dundee. That, you say, is the reason you wrote the book.
Ferdie Pacheco: I think he was being disparaged, is what it was. It was the 5th Street Gym, and it was Chris Dundee’s 5th Street Gym. I wanted to set the record straight.
What made the 5th Street Gym such a special place?
Ferdie Pacheco: If you were going to be a good boxer, if you were going to fight in major fights, you had to go through the 5th Street Gym, and that made it incredibly important. You had to go through 5th Street Gym to get to the championship.