“Boy oh Boy, What Could’ve Been”
As I sat down to write this, all kinds of metaphors jumped around in my head like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. I could use fancy words and slick cliches to describe Salvador Sanchez, as it sure would sound good but the truth is when discussing a true legend like Sanchez it’s best to let the facts speak for themselves. At the tender age of 23 and right in the middle of his prime as a fighter he was lost to us forever on August 12 1982.
Salvador Sánchez was born in the town of Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico. He was the WBC and lineal featherweight champion from 1980 to 1982. Many of his contemporaries as well as boxing writers believe that, had it not been for his premature death, Sanchez could have gone on to become the greatest Featherweight boxer of all time.
Sánchez started his professional career at the age of 16, as a teenager (after a brief amateur career consisting of reportedly 4 amateur bouts) he started piling up wins against tough Mexican opposition. His first fight of note came in his 19th professional fight against the Mexican bantamweight champion Antonio Becerra. Becerra proved too experienced as the bout ended in a split decision defeat for Sánchez.
He wouldn’t be deterred as he kept on fighting and moved to the Featherweight division. Soon he had beaten people like the Puerto Rican featherweight champion Felix Trinidad Sr., on his way to securing a title shot at world champion Danny “Little Red” Lopez, a popular TV fighter of the late 1970s who was an impressive fighter and had won some spectacular fights against the likes of former world champion David Kotei (twice), Juan Malvares and Mike Ayala. Confident and hard to beat, Lopez was beaten by the 21-year-old Sánchez, who knocked out the defending champion in 13 rounds in Phoenix, Arizona, United States on February 2, 1980. Sanchez defended his title for the first time with a 15-round unanimous decision against Ruben Castillo, 47–1. Thinking it was just a case of ‘beginner’s luck’ (as it was Sánchez’s first world title fight ever), Lopez looked for a rematch and this he got, in Las Vegas. This time Sánchez defeated Lopez by 14th-round TKO. In his next fight, he defeated Patrick Ford, 15–0.
On December 13, 1980, Sánchez defeated future champion Juan Laporte by unanimous decision. Sánchez then defended his title against Roberto Castanon, 43–1–0, and scored a win over Nicky Perez, 50–3–0. Then undefeated World Jr Featherweight champion Wilfredo Gómez, 32–0–1, went up in weight and challenged Sánchez. Sánchez retained the crown by a knockout in round eight on August 21, 1981 in Las Vegas, and Gómez had to return to the Jr. Featherweight division.
With that victory, Salvador was an unknown to the casual boxing fan no more. He became a household name all over the United States that night.
In his next fight, he defeated Olympic medalist Pat Cowdell by split decision. His defense vs unheralded Jorge “Rocky” Garcia was the first fight featuring two featherweights ever to be televised by HBO. He beat Garcia punch after punch, but the challenger gave honor to his nickname, an unknown fighter who lasts the distance with the world champion.
On July 21 1982, Sánchez faced future champion Azumah Nelson at Madison Square Garden. Nelson, a late substitute for mandatory challenger Mario Miranda, was unknown at the time however, and was expected to only go a few rounds with the champ. It was an intense battle, with Sánchez managing to drop his young charge in the 7th round. After that they engaged in violent exchange after violent exchange. In the 15th, Sánchez broke out finally, connecting with a serious combination that dropped the challenger almost outside the ring. Referee Tony Perez had to stop the fight seconds later. Azumah Nelson went on to have a glittering career and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.
Sanchez’s dominance as featherweight champion was such that he held title defense victories over the next three fighters (LaPorte, Gomez, and Nelson) who won the WBC title after his death. Also notably, he went 4-0, all four wins by knockouts, against fellow members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Danny Lopez twice-KO 13, KO 14-Wilfredo Gomez-KO 8-and Azumah Nelson-KO 15).
As he was training for a rematch with Laporte set for September, he crashed on the early morning of August 12, 1982, while driving his Porsche 928 sports car along the federal highway from Santiago de Querétaro to San Luis Potosí, dying instantly. At the time of his death, there were talks about a bout with Miranda, a rematch with Gómez or a challenge of world lightweight champion Alexis Argüello. The latter was already off the table. There had been negotiations between the Sanchez and Argüello camps but they broke off when Argüello chose to campaign as a junior welterweight. Salvador Sánchez finished his career 44-1-1. Sánchez was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
At the tender age of 23 Salvador Sanchez was able to accomplish so much that we can only be left to wonder boy, oh boy what could’ve been.
By: Chris Henderson