By Jamie Bourne – Salvador Sanchez is undoubtedly one of the greatest fighters of all-time, but is often overlooked by the boxing fraternity because of the brevity of his career. However, his accomplishments speak for themselves, and he certainly deserves the recognition as one of the best in boxing history.
In his early years, Sanchez was a big fan of wrestling, which was extremely popular in Mexico. His love for boxing began at age thirteen, after his closest childhood friend, José Sosa, brought him to a local gym.
After winning all of his nine amateur bouts, Sanchez made the bold decision to turn professional at the age of sixteen. Initially, his parents were against the profession that their son had chosen, but they eventually agreed to Salvador competing in the paid ranks.
“Chava” had discovered his vocation, as he claimed eighteen straight wins in his first two years, seventeen of those wins coming inside the scheduled distance. The teenager was also able to start supporting his family financially, with the modest amounts of money he was earning for fighting on small shows in Mexico City.
The first blemish on the perfect record of Sanchez came in his first title challenge against Antonio Becerra. The eighteen-year-old had established himself as a top Mexican prospect in the bantamweight division, and many expected him to beat Becerra when the pair met in 1977 for the vacant Mexican title. However, the undefeated challenger came up against an experienced opponent, who frustrated and outfought Sanchez. At the end of the fight, Becerra was awarded a split decision victory, in what was a learning experience for the much younger man.
Sanchez went on to claim two more victories, both via points decision, before suffering the second and final flaw on his record, as he climbed off the canvas to draw with Juan Escobar.
This prompted Sanchez to make a change, which he did by switching trainers, hiring a new manager and moving up to featherweight. His new trainer, Enrique Herta, transformed the nineteen-year-old from a brawler into a boxer, which was instrumental in his fighters later success.
After another thirteen wins against below-par opposition, including frequent trips to America, Sanchez was rewarded with a world title opportunity, taking on the long-time champion, Danny Lopez, in Arizona, USA, for the WBC featherweight belt.
Lopez had earned his crown by beating David Kotey in six, back in 1976 and had successfully defended the title eight times. He was recognised as an exciting fighter, especially after his war with Mike Ayala, which was labelled fight of the year by Ring Magazine in 1979.
To the shock of the viewing the fans, Lopez, known as “Little Red”, was being out-boxed, outfought and outpunched by Sanchez for the majority of the fight. The fight was competitive, but the challenger was in-charge. Lopez seemingly had no answer for Sanchez’s accurate punching and blistering hand-speed.
It was incredible to see a relatively untested contender (Sanchez) systemically break-down an established champion like Lopez. Nearing the end of the thirteenth round, referee Waldemar Schmidt of Germany brought a close to the action. Lopez was spared any further punishment and another Mexican star was born.
The win launched Sanchez to a wider audience and he was no longer only recognised in his native Mexico. His improved profile attracted the attention of big-name promoter, Don King, who recognised the marketability of the young champion.
Two months after claiming the green and gold strap, he made his first defence against the seasoned Mexican, Ruben Castillo. He defeated the former world title challenger over fifteen rounds, which set up the rematch with Lopez.
People questioned whether Lopez had underestimated Sanchez in their first meeting and whether he had failed to apply himself properly in training. The rematch was announced, and the American was given the opportunity to avenge his fourth career defeat.
Despite the challenger performing to a higher standard and being mentally prepared for the fight, Sanchez still proved to have an advantage in every department, and he finished his man off in the penultimate round.
The second victory over Lopez really cemented Sanchez as a force in the featherweight division, and as a hero amongst his fellow countrymen.
Sanchez made his third defence just seven months after winning the crown. He took on Patrick Ford at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas.
Ford proved to be a difficult customer, as his height and rangy jab gave Sanchez problems early in the fight. However, Sanchez adapted and walked away with a majority decision victory.
After this fight, people were hoping for a mouth-watering unification match-up between Sanchez and the WBA King, Eusebio Pedroza, who had battered Sanchez’s previous opponent, Ford, around the ring for thirteen rounds. Unfortunately, the match-up was never made, and both men followed their own career paths.
Sanchez continued to display his brilliance, though, by defeating Juan LaPorte over fifteen rounds, and Roberto Castanon, who was crushed inside ten rounds, to retain his title. He then defeated Nicky Perez by unanimous decision over ten rounds, in a non-title bout.
These three victories led to a super-fight being made between Sanchez and super bantamweight title-holder, Wilfredo Gomez.
Gomez was considered to be a phenomenon in the 122-pound division, as he possessed a stunning record of thirty-two wins, all coming inside the distance, with no defeats and just one draw.
The Puerto Rican entered the fight extremely confident and certain of victory. However, Sanchez had other ideas and famously said, “I am the champion. I know I am the better boxer than Gomez, a sharper puncher with better speed and reflexes.”
On the night of August 21st in 1980, at the world-renowned Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Gomez was on a mission to hurt Sanchez, with the intention of stopping him early.
He came out for the first bell and instantly went searching for Sanchez, which proved a flawed strategy when he was dropped inside the first three minutes. The champion landed with a flurry of punches that sent the challenger sprawling to the canvas.
To his credit, Gomez rose from the floor to beat the count but suffered a broken cheek-bone beneath his right eye. At this point, the challenger knew that he was up against an extremely talented fighter in Sanchez.
For the next few rounds, Gomez fought bravely and looked to work his way back into the bout. However, Sanchez continued to land crisp punches, as he targeted the swelling below the right-eye.
With Gomez struggling with impaired vision, due to increased swelling around both eyes, Sanchez piled on the pressure and dropped his man for a second time in the eighth round. The challenger looked to continue, but the fight was waved off, and Sanchez took another giant step in becoming one of Mexico’s greatest boxers.
Sanchez’s eighth defence of his WBC title was a largely uneventful fifteen-round victory over Rocky Garcia.
His final bout was against an inexperienced Azumah Nelson, who was gifted the opportunity when Mario Miranda pulled out two weeks before the fight with an injury. Nelson, with a record of thirteen wins and no losses, stepped up to the plate to challenge the celebrated champion at Madison Square Garden, New York, in front of a large crowd.
Unexpectedly, the fight evolved into the toughest test of Sanchez’s career. The young challenger caused the champion problems throughout the fight and Sanchez had to call on every ounce of grit and resilience to pull him through. He eventually secured a stoppage in the fifteenth and final round, whilst being behind on one of the judges’ scorecards.
Sanchez had retained his title, but the fight also transitioned Nelson towards a path of fame and glory, who later went on to become a ‘Hall of Famer’ in his own right.
Less than a month later, on the 12th of August 1982, Sanchez was driving on the San Luis de Potosi Highway in his new Porsche sports-car, when he collided with a passing pick-up truck, and the featherweight king died instantly.
“Chava” had been scheduled to fight Juan LaPorte in a rematch, intended as a stepping-stone to a huge encounter with lightweight Alexis Arguello, which would have been a classic matchup. The contracts were reportedly close to being signed prior to Sanchez’s accident.
Speculation remains that Sanchez had planned to retire from boxing after the Arguello fight to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor.
It was a tragic ending for a tremendous fighter, who was only 23 at the time of his death. Having secured an impressive legacy at such a tender age, who knows what heights he may have reached, had his life not been so cruelly cut short.
There is little doubt that Sanchez could have mixed with any featherweight in history, which is why he will always be one of my favourite fighters of all-time.