MEXICO’S CORNERSTONE PUGILIST: SALVADOR SANCHEZ

January 19, 2019

MEXICAN LEGEND SALVADOR “CHAVA” SANCHEZ

 

 

 

Sergio F. Borges

 

Cornerstone, the Webster Dictionary defines cornerstone as: “Something of great importance on which everything else depends.” I will convey (or at least try) what cornerstone means to me.

I was blessed as a young boy! I grew up with an old, wise Dad. For a time period (ages six through thirteen), my Dad and I were like peas and carrots (Forest Gump tone). My Dad was my father, best friend, and the cornerstone in my life. Like all Cubans, our genetic make-up code consists of boxing chromosomes. We are FANATICS! Our bond became ever lasting after Mexico’s Independence Day weekend of 1992. My Dad took me to see (in closed-circuit) my first boxing match, the Mexico versus Puerto Rico showdown between “El León De Culiacán” Julio César Chávez, Sr. and Héctor “Machó” Camacho! This marked the beginning of something so special. We were a boxing-watching duo! A bond that created the cornerstone of our relationship.

In 2007, my Dad and I were watching a bout on HBO Championship Boxing, and (my favorite fighter of all time , who would soon become my second favorite fighter) Roy Jones, Jr., was the expert-boxing commentator. Jim Lampley asks Jones, “Roy, who is your favorite fighter of all time?” Roy responds (without any hesitation), “Ha, ha…that would be the great Salvador Sánchez!” I turn to my Dad and ask him in Spanish, “Who is Salvador Sánchez?” My Dad’s eyes slowly begin to expand, owl like, and in a high-toned voice, “He is the best Mexican fighter and one of the best fighters I have ever seen!” I’m thinking to myself…”Why haven’t I seen him?” My father, all regal and smug, and drunk off the Glenlivet scotch, tells me, (translated) “You never listen to this old man, when you are going I have already returned!” The next day, I began viewing bouts (via YouTube), of the Legend: SALVADOR “CHAVA” SÁNCHEZ!

Where do I begin? Sánchez was a boxer’s boxer! His style, uncanny and ahead of its time! I had never seen a fighter with such toughness and stamina — regardless of the pace of the fight! Not once did I see Sánchez out of breath! It was like he trained for all of his bouts on top of Mount Everest over a four-month period! His poise and demeanor never fluttered, he maintained his notorious poker-face from the opening bell through the final round. His chin was a mixture of granite, marble, and kryptonite! Sánchez could absorb nuclear bombs without flinching and his face never showed severe damage. He had the ability to make adjustments and adapt, instantly, to make any match “his” fight. He could box from the outside, with his sharp, crisp, accurate jab. His footwork, movement and angles were remarkable. He was always hopping and weaving, always, and in position to attack! Sánchez possessed uranium in both hands and was always willing to slug it out with his Einstein-like ring I.Q. What amazed me the most about Sánchez was his superb accuracy. To this day, I’ve yet to see a fighter as accurate as Sánchez! He was the complete package. With today’s technology and Virtual Reality capabilities, I couldn’t build a better pugilist if I tried!

Sánchez was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. In 1981, he was given the honor (alongside “Sugar” Ray Leonard) of Fighter of the Year by The Ring boxing magazine (the Bible of boxing). His career record stands at 44-1-1 (32), during his seven-year professional career. His only loss occurred at the young age of eighteen, when Sánchez faced Antonio Becerra in Becerra’s hometown, Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, and the judges gave a (by all accounts) hometown split decision win to Becerra.

Sánchez started his professional career in 1975 (at the age of sixteen) as a flyweight. From September of 1977 through November of 1979, Sánchez went on a winning-streak tear. Fifteen wins, fourteen of those wins coming by way of knockout. Everyone in the boxing world began noticing Sánchez.

Now, here is where it gets really special! Sánchez defended his WBC title nine times against top-notch, elite, hall of fame legends during his onslaught performances that would last two and a half years. Sánchez went from being a good fighter to an all-time legend for the boxing world and Mexico. Sanchez was the first crossover Mexican star of which many have followed in the boxing world (i.e. Chavez, Barrera, Morales, Marquez, Alvarez).

There are four fights, in my opinion, that made him a legend between 1980 and 1982. February of 1980, Sanchez dethroned and ended the four and a half year title reign fellow boxing Hall of Famer Danny “Little Red” Lopez. It was a massacre as Sanchez, bloodied and beat down Lopez until the referee mercifully stopped in the 13th round and Sanchez becomes the new WBC Featherweight Champion after the upset victory. To prove it was no fluke, Sanchez 5 months later beat Lopez again in the same bloody manner as the first. The rematch mimicked the first, except Lopez gamely lasted one round longer as referee Mills Lane stepped in and stopped the match in the 14th round. Years later Lopez would attend Sanchez’s funeral and showed his respects for the legend that dethroned him.

Sánchez’s hallmark performance came in September of 1981, Mexico’s Independence Day weekend, Mexico vs. Puerto Rico! Sánchez vs. Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez 32-0-1 (32). Gomez, also a Hall of Famer and regarded by many as the greatest Puerto Rican fighter of all time. Gomez moved up from Bantamweight to challenge Sanchez in what Bert Sugar always regarded as the greatest Mexico vs Puerto Rico match in the history of the nations’ great boxing rivalries (Bert Sugar Interview) During the build-up of their heavily hyped fight, Gómez’s mouth did more talking than he was able to walk when fight night arrived. Gómez consistently disrespected Sánchez. In several public venues during the promotional tour, Gómez stated in Spanish, “I’m going to put a hurting on this guy…” Sánchez was never a man of many words with his introverted-like personality. He preferred for his fists to do the talking. The recount over the years of the electric atmosphere in Las Vegas has been told by many that where there that night. From before the ring walk, when the bands started fighting backstage using their instruments as weapons as the Puerto Rican Salsa/Merenge band and the Mexican Mariachi band tried to get position to the ringwalk entrance isle and words started exchanging. In the fight that fans had paid to see, it took less then a minute for Sanchez to establish his dominance. A Sanchez left hook with Gomez against the ropes floored Wilfredo and seemed to start the swelling of what turned out to be a broken cheek bone. Gomez looked out on his feet and Sanchez seemed to show mercy in letting Gomez survive the round as he let the foot off the pedal? In round 2, Sánchez continued the carnage (Gómez’s eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his skull), and in round eight, Sánchez had Gómez (again) knocked out on his feet. In trademark fashion, it became evident that Sánchez was carrying Gómez to extend the savage punishment and perhaps teach him a lesson about respect, As Sanchez seemed timid to finish Gomez off? The referee had to stop the massacre and waved the fight off at 2:09 of round 8.

It was a victory in July of 1982 over yet another legendary Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson, that cemented the boxing world’s clamor for more. “The Professor” was not established yet and came into the bout 13-0. The bout was a War! Both fighters gave and took as much punishment as could be imagined, but Sánchez looked like it was another day at the office. The war was astroid-like; I have no idea how these warriors absorbed and continued to battle, amazing! In Round 15, Sánchez implemented his trademark combos and finished Nelson! The referee called a halt to the bout at 1:49 of the 15th and final round. This would be the only knockout defeat that the great Nelson would experience in his legendary career. To honor Sanchez’s legacy, when Nelson won the vacant belt he reportedly visited Sanchez’s grave and put a fistful of dirt from the graveside and vowed to Sanchez that he was going to defend the belt with honor and with every ounce of his blood. To add some sugar to the pie of the night when Sanchez and Nelson went to war, in attendance, was the great Willie “Will o’ the Wisp” Pep. He was so impressed with Sánchez that he stated, “I’m glad he wasn’t around in my era.” Wow!

Perhaps there would have been more great fights with the likes of Eusebio Pedroza, Alexis Arguello or maybe even a passing of the torch type of bout versus Julio Cesar Chavez that may have taken place in the late 80’s or so? We will never exactly know the heights of greatness that Sanchez’s career would’ve gone. On August 12, 1982, (three weeks after the Azumah Nelson bout) at the age of 23, Sánchez’s life was tragically cut short when he was killed in an automobile accident, while heading home from a night out partying with close friends alone in his Porsche 928S. In recent years there has been a theory that he speeded up to escape paparazzi? In the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, famed boxing people like Don King brought up the theory of Sanchez trying to escape the excited celebrity chasers of there time as a rumored cause for Sanchez losing control of his vehicle? His funeral was held in his hometown and over 50,000 people showed up to pay their respects to their fallen warrior. Conversing with my friend, Ramiro Guzmán, about the great Salvador “Chava” Sánchez, after I mentioned he was my favorite fighter of all time, Guzman informed me that to this day, 36-years later, they pay tribute to Sanchez in his hometown of Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico. They celebrate the life of Salvador Sánchez with a four-day festival. Former foes and rivals: Wilfredo Gómez and Azumah Nelson are regular attendees. Mexico lost their cornerstone in boxing on that tragic day of August 12, 1982, I can relate, I lost my cornerstone on December 5, 2015.


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