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The Legend of Salvador Sanchez
Juan Angel Zurita (May 19, 2004) 
Salvador Sanchez
While watching Marquez/Pacquiao a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of why I love the sport of boxing. Both fighters put on a tremendous show. Marquez survived a near first round disaster to mount one of the most courageous comebacks I’ve ever seen. He climbed back into the fight to earn a draw, and many respectable boxing scribes even had him winning the fight. Pacquiao deserves great credit as well for proving to the boxing world that he’s far from a one hit wonder. He overcame a few shaky moments but fought on like the true warrior that he is. Both fighters showed the stuff that champions are made of.

Both may one day be remembered as featherweight greats. I’m sure George Dixon, Sandy Saddler, Henry Armstrong, and Salvador Sanchez were proud and thoroughly enjoyed the clash from the heavens above.

To commemorate this superb battle, it’s only fitting that we remember one of the featherweight legends of yesteryear. This one’s for you champs.

The Legend of Salvador Sanchez

In the world of boxing, special fighters are a very rare breed indeed. When they do appear before us, they often leave an impression that’s everlasting, priceless. Such was the case with the great Mexican champion, Salvador Sanchez.

On January 26, 1959, in Tianguistenco, Mexico, Felipe Sanchez and Luisa Narvaez gave birth to one of the greatest boxers of all-time. Salvador Sanchez Narvaez was born into a proud family of hard-working farm workers but his destiny would not lead him in the footsteps of his family. His destiny was to become something much bigger.

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Sanchez was first discovered as a teenager by his first manager Augustin Palacios. After a few amateur fights, Palacios decided that Sanchez was ready to turn pro. Sanchez began his development with practically no amateur career, and like many Mexican fighters before and after him, the early part of his professional career would serve as his amateur career.

In 1975, in his first year as a professional, Sanchez fought a total of six times. In 1976, he stepped up his activity level and competed in nine bouts. By 1977, when he prepared to meet Antonio Becerra for a shot at Mexico’s vacant bantamweight title, he was 18-0 (17 KOs).

The 18 year-old Sanchez was eager to win his first title and he was willing to fight anyone, anywhere. He signed to challenge Becerra in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, Becerra’s hometown. Home turf proved to be a huge advantage for Becerra. Becerra won a twelve round split decision which many in attendance felt should’ve been awarded to Sanchez. It was a learning experience for Sanchez, but he would soon put the loss behind him and move forward with his career.

Two fights after the Becerra loss, Sanchez made his U.S. debut when he faced off against Juan Escobar in Los Angeles, California, at the Olympic Auditorium. Escobar, a southpaw, from Tijuana, Mexico, gave Sanchez a surprising test. Sanchez tasted canvas in the fifth round and was almost on the floor again in the final minute of the tenth round after Escobar connected with a wild left to the head. He hung on desperately as Escobar pummeled him but Escobar wasn’t able to put him away. Sanchez was very lucky to have escaped with a draw as many in attendance felt Escobar had done enough to deserve the victory.

Up to that point it was evident that the young 19 year-old still had much to learn if he was ever to become a great champion. Sanchez soon put his heart and soul into his training and his dedication and hard work began to finally pay off.

After his fight with Escobar he began to develop at a rapid pace. From July of 1978 thru July of 1979, he averaged close to a fight a month. By the end of 1979, Sanchez had notched thirteen victories in about a year and a half. One of those victories was a fifth round technical knockout of Felix Trinidad Sr., father of the great Felix “Tito” Trinidad.  But the most significant victory during that period was an impressive third round knockout over top 10 rated Richard Rozelle. With that victory, the Ring Magazine placed him at number 8 in their 1979 featherweight ratings.
On February 2, 1980, Sanchez finally got a crack at the world featherweight title against hard-punching Danny “Little Red” Lopez, the popular WBC featherweight champion. Lopez had a solid reputation as a very good fighter. He owned victories over world-class competition such as David Kotey, Roberto Castanon, Mike Ayala and former champions Chucho Castillo and Ruben Olivares. Lopez was favored to beat his young bushy haired opponent but Sanchez had other plans. Sanchez picked Lopez apart with solid combinations and precise counter-punching. Sanchez scored a thirteenth round TKO and became the WBC’s featherweight champion, but more importantly the world featherweight recognized champion.

Sanchez began his title reign with a tough defense against highly rated Ruben Castillo. Castillo had his moments, but the champion held off Castillo’s challenge to notch his first title defense.
Sanchez's second title defense was a rematch with Danny “Little Red” Lopez. Lopez felt that the first fight was a fluke and he was out for revenge, but the rematch proved to be no different as Sanchez used his boxing skills and counter-punching expertise to once again stop the former champion, this time via fourteenth round TKO.

After retiring Lopez for the second time, Sanchez made four defenses, three of those against Ring Magazine top 10 rated featherweights, Patrick Ford, Juan Laporte, and Roberto Castanon. Sanchez earned clear victories in all three of those bouts, but in his bouts with Ford and Laporte, he showed a tendency to fight down to the level of his opposition.

With six title defenses under his belt, Sanchez soon began to be recognized as one of the best fighters in the world. He was no longer the bushy haired unknown. He was on his way to stardom and he appeared to be in the prime of his career. Soon he began looking for greater challenges and it didn’t take long for him to find one.

While Sanchez was solidifying his reign as the top featherweight, Puerto-Rican bomber, WBC junior featherweight champion, Wilfredo Gomez, was victimizing every junior featherweight opponent that stood in his way. Leading up to their clash, Gomez’s most impressive victory had been a victory over Mexican WBC bantamweight champion, Carlos Zarate, who was 55-0 (54 KOs) at the time of their encounter and considered to be one of the top fighters in the world. Zarate had moved up in weight to challenge Gomez for his crown and it was thought that Zarate would have too much experience and firepower for Gomez. In their bout, Gomez proved to be too strong and powerful as he dropped Zarate three times en route to a brutal fifth round TKO. It was a great victory for Puerto Rico in the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry. After that victory, many began to call Gomez the Mexican killer. By the time he faced Sanchez, Gomez had knocked out about a dozen Mexican fighters. Many predicted that Sanchez would be the next victim.
On August 21, 1981, in one of the most highly anticipated featherweight matches of all-time, Sanchez, 41-1 (31 KOs), faced off against Gomez, 32-0-1 (32 KOs), in the Battle of the Little Giants. The fight had all the makings of a classic. Both fighters were considered top pound for pound fighters, they both disliked each other, Gomez had the reputation for destroying Mexican fighters, and there existed the rivalry between their respective cultures.  Despite the fact that Gomez was moving up in weight to challenge Sanchez, he came into the fight as a 2-1 favorite.

The pre-fight build up was an exciting event in itself. Gomez’s salsa band duked it out with the Mariachis of Sanchez’s native Mexico before and during the ring introductions. Gomez who constantly mocked Sanchez and vowed to crush and strip him of his title, stood brash and confident in the ring as he gazed over at Sanchez with a smirk of arrogance. Sanchez who was never one to trash talk, remained calm and collected and said that he’d let his fists do all the talking for him in the ring.

It didn’t take long for the fight to breakout. In the first round, Gomez landed a bomb that would’ve knocked out lesser men, but Sanchez shook it off and responded by landing a bomb of his own that dropped Gomez to the canvas. Gomez was seriously hurt and Sanchez proceeded to put him away by releasing his full arsenal. Though Gomez was on the verge of being stopped, he showed the heart of a champion and survived the onslaught. Gomez would take a beating for the next seven rounds while fighting valiantly. There was nothing he could do to wilt Sanchez. The nightmare ended in the eight round when a Sanchez combination almost sent Gomez through the ropes. Gomez rose on unsteady legs but referee Carlos Padilla had seen enough. Sanchez was awarded an eight round TKO and confirmed his status amongst boxing’s elites. Sanchez immediately became a national hero in Mexico. In the eyes of the Mexican people, Sanchez had avenged Zarate’s loss at the hands of Gomez. His popularity shot through the roof and many Mexicans began to tout him as the greatest Mexican fighter of all-time. Many boxing fans contended that he was now the best pound for pound fighter in the world. 

Following the Gomez victory, Sanchez defended his title against England’s Pat Cowdell and Jorge “Rocky” Garcia. Once again, Sanchez fought down to the level of his opposition. Sanchez had to rally late and drop Cowdell in the final stanza to win a fifteen round split decision. His bout with Garcia would prove to be much easier. He easily outboxed Garcia to take home a fifteen round decision.

In the ninth defense of his WBC featherweight title, Sanchez battled an unknown Ghanaian by the name of Azumah Nelson. Nelson proved to be a stern test. Nelson’s relentless aggression gave Sanchez fits. Sanchez managed to drop Nelson in the seventh round but Nelson kept on coming. At the start of the fifteenth round Sanchez knew the fight was close and he took the initiative to finish strong. Sanchez finally landed the combination he was looking for and he dropped Nelson for the second time in the fight. Nelson rose but was visibly hurt. Sanchez seized the moment and seconds later the fight was stopped. Sanchez was awarded a fifteenth round TKO.

Sadly, that would be Sanchez’s last fight. On August 12, 1982, three weeks after his bout with Nelson, Sanchez died in a fatal car accident at the age of twenty-three. Boxing fans throughout the world were shocked and saddened by the news of his passing. One person who was extremely saddened by his death was former opponent Wilfredo Gomez. Gomez was so distressed that he was self-compelled to visit Sanchez’s gravesite and present him with flowers. He also offered condolences to the Sanchez family and frequently kept in touch with them. Every year there is a festival in Sanchez's hometown to commemorate him. Gomez has been the guest of honor nineteen times.

Though Sanchez has been gone for over twenty years, he hasn’t been forgotten.  Today, Sanchez is remembered as the young bushy haired counter-punching stylist who dominated the featherweight division during his brief two and a half year reign. Many boxing historians consider him a top 3 all-time featherweight based on his impressive accomplishments.  In his short seven-year career, he won the world title, defended it a total of nine times against a high quality of opposition ( including victories over two future hall of famers in Gomez and Nelson), proved to be a clutch fighter against his top tests, and earned recognition as the best fighter in his weight class.

At the time of his death, he had many great matchups awaiting him. Great fighters like Eusebio Pedroza, Alexis Arguello, and Julio Cesar Chavez lurked in and around his weight class. There was also the potential for great rematches against Juan Laporte, Wilfredo Gomez and Azumah Nelson. How would he have fared against the likes of future hall of famers Pedroza, Chavez, and Arguello? How much greater could he have been? Those are questions that will forever be pondered. That is the legend of Salvador Sanchez.
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