After his thrilling rematch with Pernell Whitaker in November 1990, Salvador Sanchez was in something of at a loss for what to do next. With a record of 0-1-1 at lightweight against Whitaker, he could not claim to be top dog in that division. His speed and stamina had not yet started to desert him, but he was 32 years old and convinced he would carry little real punching power up to 140 lbs., and so had little interest in moving up to that division.
He also faced the fact that as he was unable to defeat Whitaker in two outings, his only mega-fight was to make the undesired move up to 140 lbs. and fight Julio Cesar Chavez for a third time. The only other option, equally unattractive, was to remain at 135 lbs. and fight some good guys for middling paydays until the time came to retire.
Salvador Sanchez made up his mind just after his birthday in January 1991: he was going to go after Chavez and then retire. The first step was to move up to 140 and prove he was the real deal at the higher weight. With his star power and standing as the WBA 135 lbs. champ, it was easy to lure WBA Light Welterweight Champion Loreto Garza into a fight in May 1991. Garza is little-noted today, but he was a good boxer and sound counter-puncher who had won the title from Juan Martin Coggi and defended it against Vinny Pazienza. The result was a tactical match up, where Garza backed up his skills with his greater size and Sanchez employed his speed, steady pressure and vastly superior experience. Sanchez won a convincing Unanimous Decision.
Now all that had to be done was to make the fight with the WBC and IBF champion, Chavez, who did not make that easy. Sanchez was the only man to beat Chavez, and had done so twice. Chavez covered his bruised ego by ridiculing the “maricon” at every opportunity. The year before had seen him beat Meldrick Taylor, and Chavez insisted on getting 2/3s of the purse. Sanchez would have none of it, called Chavez a coward and so the insults and posturing flew back and forth for months.
Finally, Sanchez announced that he did not need Chavez, that he had already beaten him twice and that if Chavez did not sign on the dotted line for a 49-51 split (Sanchez getting the symbolic larger share) within 30 days, Sanchez would simply retire. That finally brought Chavez around. Furious, he grudgingly signed the contract and Sanchez vs. Chavez III was scheduled for early December 1991.
Most experts picked Chavez, who had clearly become more powerful as he went up in weight, to crush Sanchez this time around. No one yet understood that the 29 year old Chavez lost something in his war with Meldrick Taylor – not as much as Taylor, but something nonetheless. He doggedly plowed forward and applied his relentless body attack to Sanchez, banking on slowing Chavo down in the latter rounds. Sanchez used a formula similar to the one that marked their second fight: head movement and using a sharp counter-punch to set up a three or four punch combo. Sanchez swept the first half of the fight, and Chavez’s face was battered from all the leather.
Chavez started Round 7 by feinting and then landing a monster left hook that shook Sanchez badly. Although Chavez had landed only a few good body punches per round, it was enough. Sanchez later described his trunk as being so sore that moving his head hurt him in the chest. Chavez stepped forward and landed a left uppercut before Sanchez could grab onto him, and that put Chavo on the canvas. Sanchez got up, grabbed onto Chavez, was out-muscled and nailed by the left hook and sent down again. Once again, Sanchez got up by the count of eight. Chavez threw everything but the kitchen sink at Chavo, but failed to finish him off. Sanchez’s concrete chin was cracked, but not broken. Nonetheless, Sanchez looked blasted and Chavez banked a 10-7 round.
At the start of Round 8, Chavez charged across the corner looking for vengeance by knockout, and everyone expected Sanchez to avoid a fight and try to recover. That isn’t what happened. Recovery rate was always a Sanchez strong suit, and even though his legs were still weak, Salvador Sanchez came straight at Chavez, made him miss, and fired a furious eight punch combo. That meant he stayed put long enough for Chavez to pivot and fire back. Chavez then moved forward and Sanchez did it to him again.
The crowd roared and Chavez snapped. Seeing his treasured knockout victory slip away, he bulled forward for one big effort, plowing straight through three lancing shots from Sanchez to land the left hook again. Sanchez was driven onto the ropes and covered up, wobbled severely, and Chavez followed and smothered him with punches. Sanchez grabbed on as soon as he could, and the referee intervened. It was only then when it was seen that Chavez’s nose was smashed and a truly hideous gash had opened on his eyelid. His face was a mask of blood. Sanchez kept his distance for the remainder of the round.
Between rounds, the referee called in the doctor. The crowd hushed, as everyone wondered if the fight would be stopped. Sanchez was clearly ahead on points, despite the decisive loss of Round 7. The ref told Chavez that unless the bleeding was stopped, he would have to stop the fight in the next round – in effect, win it in Round 9 or not at all.
Once again, Sanchez defied expectations and did not get on his bicycle. Instead, he got a little more head movement out of that stiff, battered trunk and boxed Chavez. The target for his counters was that terrible cut, and Sanchez caused great explosions of blood with each blow that landed. Soon both fighters were smeared with red. At the end of the round, the referee stopped the fight. Sanchez carried the rubber match with Julio Cesar Chavez and became the Undisputed Light Welterweight Champion by TKO9.
That was it for Salvador Sanchez. Although he had probably one or two more good years left, he wanted out of boxing. He announced his retirement shortly thereafter. He had beaten such future Hall of Famers as Danny Lopez and Azumah Nelson twice, Julio Cesar Chavez three times (although the third time only just barely), Wilfredo Gomez and Hector Camacho once, and was stymied only in his 0-1-1 record with Pernell Whitaker. He career saw him reign as champion in four weight classes, and as Undisputed Champion in two of them.
After a lengthy vacation with his family, Sanchez went back to college full-time and finished his degree. His lifelong dream had been to be a doctor, but he was 35 by the time he finished his BA and not interested in a few grueling years of medical school. Instead, he trained as a paramedic and used some of his money to open a clinic in his hometown of Tianguistenco, where he volunteered his own services a few days a week.