Before Julio César Chávez and now Canelo Álvarez, there was a great rising Mexican fighter who captured the hearts and minds of Mexicans and boxing fans around the world. Armed with a devastating right hand, elusive movement and a big heart, Salvador Sánchez was one of the greatest boxers from his country to ever enter a ring, and who in the opinion of many experts, had he not tragically lost his life at an early age, would have become the greatest featherweight of all time.
Born on January 26, 1959, in the town of Santiago Tianguistenco, he was brought up through the ranks by manager Agustín Palacios who convinced him to become a boxer and realize his great potential.
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From the beginning, Sanchez showed great boxing skills and ring generalship. He was a true fist-throwing machine, with excellent physical conditioning and a knack for dodging attacks and counter-punching with devastating power.
In 1980, Salvador Sánchez won the WBC world featherweight belt after beating Danny “Little Red” López in 13 rounds, when world championship bouts were 15 rounds (they now go only 12 rounds). His impressive 10 title defenses would follow, and entertain fans world-wide.
He beat the best in his weight division with great authority. He defeated fighters like Rubén Castillo, Pat Ford, Juan Laporte, Rocky García, Danny López (in a rematch), Roberto Castañón, Azumah Nelson and, his greatest victory against then unbeaten and top pound for pound fighter, Puerto Rican Wilfredo ‘Bazooka’ Gómez.
Salvador Sánchez vs Wilfredo Gómez
This fight deserves a separate chapter, because Gómez was the most difficult opponent for Sánchez and the odds on favorite. The San Juan, Puerto Rico native, considered by many to be the best super bantamweight in history, went up one weight class to face the Mexican.
Gómez and Sánchez met on August 21, 1981, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, an evening that fans will never forget, as they witnessed Sánchez at perhaps the peak of his short professional career.
Gómez, considered one of the best Puerto Rican boxers of all time, felt Sánchez’s power shortly after the opening bell and hit the canvas in the first round, with a quick right hand.
“Take a photo before and after the fight, they will not recognize you,” said Gómez to Sánchez before the fight. “I will speak in the ring” answered the Mexican and so it was, in a war within the ring, Sánchez beat Gómez with a technical knockout in the eighth round, ending his rival 32 win streak, which included victories over Mexican legends Carlos Zárate and Juan Antonio López.
The shock of Wilfredo’s fall in Puerto Rico was such that many people did not work the next day, Gómez himself did not leave his hotel room to be treated by the doctors after the beating, as he couldn’t believe he was on his knees after the fight ended.
Only death could take away the title
After the fight against Wilfredo Gómez, Sánchez became the top Mexican idol. His last three fights became must-see spectacles as everyone gathered to watch Sánchez. Four months after the battle against Gomez he faced and defeated Pat Cowdell at the Houston Astrodome.
In Dallas, on May 8, 1982 he defeated Rocky García via unanimous decision. He had nine consecutive title defenses and each time he improved even more. At 23 years of age, Salvador was a great figure in all of boxing.
What no one knew was that July 21, 1982 would be his last boxing match. It took place at Madison Square Garden, against future hall of famer Azumah Nelson, via knockout in the 15th round, after dropping Nelson to the canvas with a combination of left-handed hooks and then overwhelming him with a string of right hands.
On August 12, 1982, while Sánchez was preparing for his second fight against Puerto Rican Juan Laporte, tragedy struck… at the 12 kilometer marker of the Querétaro / San Luis highway, while attempting to pass two automobiles, he crashed his Porsche 982. Salvador Sanchez died on impact and Mexico along with the boxing world lost one of their greatest champions.
According to his trainers, the day before, Sánchez looked disconcerted, and no one knew the reason why he was going to San Luis. He grabbed his keys, said he was going to install new audio equipment in his car, and then hit the road in what would be his final trip.
“Champion and star of the world, friend and good person, famous for his punches, for those he put on the canvas, but death suddenly snatched the crown”, was the tune that Reynosa Broncos composed in honor of the legend of Salvador Sánchez, the great Mexican champion.
(Photo: Twitter @boxinghistory)