Salvador Sanchez: What Could Have Been?
By Cain Bradley
It will be 40 years this August that Salvador Sanchez was killed. He would have been 63. Instead as a 23-year-old he died driving his favourite car of a prized collection.
It was the Porsche that he was driving that morning as he careered into a pick-up truck.
How many boxers at 23 would have a résumé strong enough to leave them as one of the top fifty boxers of all time? Not many!
Sanchez easily gets inside that top 50 and really the only question is what could have been? Imagine if Floyd Mayweather Jr. retired before boxing Diego Corrales! Or if Sugar Ray Leonard never returned after beating Wilfred Benitez! That is the stage at which Salvador Sanchez saw his career ripped away from him.
Sanchez would fight anyone, something that cost his perfect record at a young age, having debuted at 16. His first mark came against Antonio Becerra for the Mexican Bantamweight Title. The decision was split and many suggest that home advantage got Becerra that decision. Just a few fights later he would have his first fight outside of Mexico. It was in the United Stated against Juan Escobar and he was floored twice, barely managing to survive to hear the final bell. The crowd booed the decision and it would be a life changing draw.
Sanchez changed his management after the Escobar fight and hired trainer Enrique Huerta. Huerta worked with him and converted his style. He would rebound from that defeat with 13 consecutive wins to earn a title shot against the big hitting Danny Lopez, he of nine successful title defenses.
Sanchez was too clever with his countering and combinations. He turned Lopez into a bloody state and it finally ended in round 13. He would dominate Ruben Castillo, Patrick Ford, Juan Laporte, Roberto Castanon and Nicky Perez. Sanchez was once again heavy underdog against Wilfredo Gomez. He was a highly ranked pound-for-pound boxer who had won 14 title bouts. He backed Sanchez up on the ropes in round one but it was Sanchez who landed a big left hook, right hand combination to drop Gomez.
Sanchez controlled the fight all the way through to the eighth where he finally finished Gomez with a barrage up against the ropes. Pat Cowdell and Rocky Garcia were defeated in the following bouts. His final defense was against Azumah Nelson, a Ghanaian in his 14th bout. In the 15th round after an epic he finally stopped Nelson.
It was three weeks later when Sanchez took that fateful drive. It did show some of the greatest characteristics of Sanchez. His toughness was always incredible and he had stamina for absolute days, no matter the pace of the bout. He had a chin which was able to take absolute bombs and he would just walk through them. He was also adaptable, able to change his style to suit a bout in a way that would lead you to describe him as a complete boxer. He could box with the best of them, displaying a sharp and accurate jab. His movement was also something to behold. The power in both hands was also there so he could slug it out when necessary. His speed and accuracy was superb while his tall frame meant he often had the length to hit opponents who were not expecting it.
The next fight for Sanchez had already been arranged. He was set for a rematch against Juan Laporte. He had developed over the previous two years, giving Eusebio Pedroza a tough bout. You have to imagine the bout would play out in a very similar way. The aggressive Laporte would struggle with Sanchez’s speed and movement taking a loss by decision.
Following this loss, Sanchez would surely look to move up in weight. He had already had struggles making the weight but there were some possible bouts. Mario Miranda was the man he was meant to box when he faced Azumah Nelson. Nelson was a potential rematch in the making along with Wilfredo Gomez. A unification bout with Eusebio Pedroza also lingered.
Despite this, Sanchez would move up. He had simply grown too big for the weight. Given he was WBC Champion for such a long period he would surely be given a chance fight for the title. Bobby Chacon was also the champion after defeating Rafael Limon in the fight of the year. Chacon was an aggressive boxer with a great amount of heart. What does he do to trouble Sanchez? Nothing. Sanchez may struggle early but he takes this fight over in the middle round and probably forces the early stoppage. Chacon wanted a defense against Cornelius Boza-Edwards but was stripped for not defending against Hector Camacho.
Sanchez has a bigger reputation and name than Chacon did so you imagine he would have more pull. With that I believe he has a mandatory defense before taking on Camacho. The name I can see Sanchez meeting is Rafael Limon.
Limon was a former world champion who was in exciting bouts and like Sanchez, a Mexican. Limon was wild, happy to go to war and had a granite chin. Sanchez would precisely pick Limon apart with accurate, powerful shots. There may be an off balance knockdown in there but Limon’s chin would hold up. Instead the doctor would step in to stop the punishment.
Then would come the fight that was becoming more hyped by the day. Hector Camacho. Another brash Puerto Rican expecting to dispatch of Sanchez. It was a build-up similar to that of the Gomez fight as Camacho promised to destroy Sanchez. The speed of Camacho would cause issues for Sanchez. The early speed and southpaw stance were big factors for Camacho but late on the accuracy and sharpness of Sanchez would tell.
Perhaps the inexperience of Camacho told but Sanchez would edge a split decision. Mario Martinez would be next up in what was seen as an easier bout. This would be a late stoppage win for Sanchez.
At this point, Sanchez was looking towards the biggest fights he could take. He had a supreme résumé and with all respect to Roger Mayweather—who in February ‘84 lost to Rocky Lockridge—he was not the superstar that Sanchez would want to box. Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini in the headline grabbing lightweight division.
Mancini was not the same guy after the Kim fight but at this point in his career was unbeaten and a whirlwind. It is really hard to predict Sanchez accurately as he had only fought at Featherweight. Mancini was a great deal bigger than Sanchez but he would have filled out given age and just the increased weight, starting as a tall Featherweight.
Mancini was ultra aggressive and you have to imagine unless his power was too much for Sanchez that Sanchez would shred him apart. It is hard to predict a stoppage just because of how tough Mancini was but Sanchez would win a wide decision. His first defense of the title would see him take on a foe from the Super Featherweight that he somehow avoided in Cornelius Boza-Edwards. The Ugandan is a former world champion and provides Sanchez with an expected easier match-up. It turns out that way as Sanchez dominates his way to an early stoppage.
Next up would be Livingstone Bramble. The highly rated Caribbean boxer would in real life beat Mancini for the title. Here he would be challenging Sanchez. Sanchez did not have the game changing power which Bramble really struggled with. The difference between Sanchez and Bramble was Sanchez had the ability to slug it out with accurate punches. He was also smart enough to figure out the deficiencies in Bramble’s game and would once again finish him late.
Mancini was still hanging around and after a couple of victories was already talking about a rematch. The Lightweight division has seemingly already run out of credible matchups for Sanchez so the rematch was arranged. Sanchez beats a brawler like Mancini 99 times out 100 as he is just too smart for him. The same happens here but Mancini seems to deflate a bit earlier but the 12-round distance probably saves him. Robin Blake would get the next shot at the title after an impressive set of victories following his loss to Harry Arroyo. Sanchez would box comfortably to a decision victory.
Jose Luis Ramirez was the obvious next step for Sanchez. He was, like so many of his great rivals, a Mexican. He also held the WBC lightweight title. The swarmer had beaten Edwin Rosario to win the title in a recent matchup of the Mexican – Puerto Rican rivalry. Sanchez would go out and look to take it to Jose Luis Ramirez. Ramirez would give it back to Sanchez just as hard.
It was Sanchez who would get the advantage with his more precise work. He would take a short break after a series of bruising encounters putting him out till the start of 1986. In his return bout he would again box past foe Chacon. Sanchez would go right on the offensive to start and finish Chacon off even earlier.
Camacho lingered in the distance as the marvelous Puerto Rican had moved up to lightweight following his title at super featherweight. Only being a 12-round fights favors Sanchez, giving he would have lost the first under such circumstances. It is a similar fight but the natural larger size of Camacho and his speed help him edge the return bout. He returned to crush Efrain Nieves who was way past his best. Another big win on the comeback would be from Freddie Pendleton. It was once again a quick stoppage victory.
With that Sanchez would look to complete his trilogy with Camacho. Rosario had really taken it to Camacho and damaged him badly. Wallace Matthews said he was never the same fighter, choosing to run when the going got tough after this. Sanchez was in prime position to take advantage as he chose to take it to Camacho early, having lost too many of the early rounds last time.
Camacho would react negatively this time, giving away rounds as he went into a shell and Sanchez would comfortably win back his world titles. Next up would be Howard Davis, a former Val Barker Trophy winner who some had suggested had not taken to the professional game. The slickster always gave Sanchez trouble and this was no different as Davis made this a lot closer than it perhaps should have been.
Following this he would take on the man who had become WBA Champion after Camacho had vacated—Edwin Rosario. The Puerto Rican had a great résumé and was determined to stop Sanchez. He would become the first man to drop Sanchez in the fourth round but Sanchez had enough about him to take the win over the brawler.
Up next was one of the toughest tests Sanchez had ever seen. Julio Cesar Chavez had dominated at super Featherweight and after stopping the old Sanchez rival, Hector Camacho, he was after the title. Sanchez loved an aggressive fighter and Chavez would come at him all night. The questions were whether he can handle the bigger man pounding away at his body. The answer to me is that he probably sees the canvas again with Chavez getting to him. His accurate punches and ability to pick apart brawlers mean I just give him the edge but can see it being a battle for the ages.
Juan Nazario was his next victim and again I think Sanchez gets a late stoppage. Following this it was Pernell Whitaker who Sanchez would match up with. The young American was seen as a great talent but not experienced enough to deal with the smart veteran in Sanchez. Instead Sanchez was given absolute fits. Whittaker was just as clever and too fast for Sanchez. He seemed to know what Sanchez was going to throw and how to stop it. By the later rounds he had turned Sanchez into a shell of himself. Whitaker had even become the aggressor, the larger man hurting Sanchez with his shots on the way to a unanimous decision.
Nicky Perez was the comeback foe this time and Sanchez would finish him off for an easy night’s work. For the next fight Sanchez would once again take on a vanquished foe. This time it would Azumah Nelson, relinquishing his world title to step up to lightweight. The first was a classic and the second would take place in a similar vein. Neither wanted to give in an inch but Sanchez looked better, not being weight drained and having adjusted to the weight better. Sanchez takes a wider decision, rectifying the closeness of the first bout.
With those wins, the great rematch was on. Pernell Whitaker vs. Salvador Sanchez 2. Heading into the second fight, Sanchez would look to swarm Whitaker. He had the stamina to keep it going all day and would experience success in the late rounds. He also did well in the early rounds, surprising Whittaker with the style.
However, the middle rounds were all Sweet Pea as he found gaps and used his speed to land all day. He boxed his way to another Decision victory this time, being announced a majority winner. It can be seen that Sanchez discussed retiring young so let’s give his 30th birthday as a date he will no longer box past and following the loss to Whitaker he retires for good.