By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
From King's $7.8 million pink mansion in Manalapan, he can see the Atlantic Ocean, its azure kissing the sand of his backyard. It's an incredible view. But from every other vantage point, the promoter can see an ocean of -- to use a phrase he likes -- "trials and tribulations."
Ferdie Pacheco, another boxing legend, lives roughly 60 miles south of Don King in a five-bedroom home off Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. In the rear of the house, he walks barefoot through his art studio. On the walls hang dozens of canvases that he has painted depicting the glamour and brutality of boxing. A medical doctor trained at the University of Miami, Pacheco has been a part of the fight game for more than a half-century. In fact, his role as the physician and corner man for Muhammad Ali in the '70s and '80s earned him the nickname "The Fight Doctor."
Wearing a white guayabera and black slacks, the 75-year-old Pacheco looks tired, his body worn from decades of use. But his mind still turns incessantly, hinting at the man who won two Emmy Awards as a ringside commentator on NBC. He has changed since suffering a stroke two years ago, says his wife, Luisita, a petite former flamenco dancer who married Pacheco 33 years ago. "It was like the stroke woke up different parts of his brain," she says.
Since then, Pacheco says, he has dreamed in fiction, waking up every morning with an idea for a new short story, sometimes an entire novel. He's been quickly putting those tales to the page, and several have been published in La Gaceta, a newspaper in Tampa. He pulls out a printout of a soon-to-to-be-published book's cover. The title reads: Who Killed General Patton? "Now, c'mon, tell me," Pacheco says gruffly. "You're walking in the bookstore. You see this book. Would you not fucking buy it?"
But 30 years ago, before he had thought about becoming a painter or author, Pacheco met Don King. Sitting on his living room couch, Pacheco runs his right hand, open-palmed, across the top of his balding pate and smirks. "The first time I saw Don King, it made quite an impression," he says. "I mean, he's six-foot-four with his hair standing on end, and he was wearing an iridescent-orange Hong Kong suit. It was awful."
That was February 19, 1973, during a heavyweight bout between Earnie Shavers and Jimmy Young. Pacheco, who was a spectator, had no way then of divining King's future. That February evening in Philadelphia, after Shavers beat Young to gain a shot at the title, King became boxing's first legitimate African-American promoter. That led to the famous Ali fights -- "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974 and "The Thrilla in Manila" the following year -- then to June 28, 1997, when Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear.
During those years, Pacheco became, in a way, the sport's conscience. He advocated strident medical examinations of boxers prior to matches. He went on television and talked about the fighters as if they were giants whose talent was as beautiful as it was violent.
Although King and Pacheco live not far from each other, they rarely see each other. Pacheco, who wrote letters to Tyson regularly after the boxer was imprisoned in 1992 for raping beauty queen Desiree Washington, remains ambivalent about King's role in boxing. "King's gotta be on top of every boxer that comes in," Pacheco says. "If you've got a guy that comes in, King's gonna be there. He's gotta steal him, take him over. But give him credit. He didn't do it with a gun. People come to him. People say, 'Oh, well, if I'm going to get screwed, I might as well get screwed by Don King, because he brings in a lot of money, and maybe I'll get some of it.'
"Don King shaves," Pacheco continues. "[Boxing promoter] Chris Dundee once told me that you have to shave a boxer from his very first fight, even if you take five bucks, ten bucks off him. You have to get him used to the idea that he's not going to get what he signed for. That way, if he becomes a big fighter, he's used to your taking his money. It was like that long before Don King. He didn't change anything. He just took advantage of what was there."
Luisita sneaks up behind Pacheco and hoists a canvas in the air. Like much of Pacheco's artwork, the painting she holds uses bright reds and yellows to accent the sharp lines that provide a three-dimensional appearance. It shows the portrait of a black man, his eyes dark and smile broad, with hair that rises up like a crown. He looks regal -- eager and young and powerful and altogether different from the overweight, graying man of today. "Don King," Luisita says.
Pacheco glances down, blushing.
"King isn't any devil," Pacheco says later. "He's just a smart businessman in a land of dolts, in a land of cream puffs and crazies. In boxing, you're not working with the most intelligent people in the world. That's why he can manipulate people. King is like a shark. He can't stop or he'll drown."