Home Columns What if: Salvador Sanchez Had Lived? Part 1

What if: Salvador Sanchez Had Lived? Part 1

A Look Back at the Career of the Great Salvador Sanchez and What Could Have Been

Killed in a car accident in 1982 at the age of 23, Salvador Sanchez had just entered the star phase of his career. The WBC Featherweight Champion, he had defeated hard-punching Danny Lopez twice, Ruben Castillo, Juan La Porte, pound-for-pound entrant Wilfredo Gomez, and budding all-time legend Azumah Nelson. He was the first featherweight boxer to be showcased by HBO, and with that network behind him, Sanchez’s all-action style, skills and athletic powers would surely have catapulted him to super-stardom. What might have been if Sanchez had not been killed in that car crash?

Three weeks after the car crash that took his life, Sanchez was scheduled to meet #1 contender Juan La Porte in a rematch for the WBC title. By early September 1982, La Porte was no longer the novice that Sanchez had defeated in their December 1980 barn-burner. He was now a solid contender who had challenged and lost to Eudebio Pedroza in a close fight for the WBA belt. Still, it is hard to see the solid La Porte beating his now close-friend, the great Sanchez.

Once again, La Porte stands his ground with Sanchez and tries to match him blow for blow, and once again he finds Sanchez’s combination of hand speed, volume punching and elusive head movement too much. La Porte and Sanchez tussle over the early rounds, with Sanchez asserting himself and sweeping the middle part of the fight. In the 10th, he knocks La Porte down, but refuses to finish him. La Porte shows his heart and rallies, storming out to capture the 11th. Sanchez takes the momentum back and closes out the show, winning the fight with scores of 115-112, 116-111 and 116-111.

By 1982, Sanchez was showing signs of outgrowing the 126 lbs. division. With 10 defenses of his WBC title behind him, “Chava” announced that he would move up to the 130 lbs. division. Historically, the champion in September 1982 was fellow Mexican Rafael Limon, a two-time champion on his second reign, and in the midst of a bitter rivalry with Bobby Chacon. Instead of Limon vs. Chacon III (The Ring’s 1982 Fight of the Year) in December, the world was instead treated to January 1983’s Limon vs. Sanchez. Just a couple of weeks shy of his birthday, Sanchez made minced-meat of Limon. Limon had a granite chin, but a wild, arm-punching style. Sanchez stood toe-to-toe with Limon, making him miss and making him pay. Limon would throw a wide shot which Sanchez would duck and exploit with a 3- or 4-punch combination. Limon’s chin held up, but his face was reduced to ribbons. The doctor stopped the fight in the 7th.

Sanchez was now a two-division champion, and had not lost a fight in almost seven years. The #1 and #2 contenders for the WBC title were Cornelius Boza-Edwards of Uganda and a rising, flashy Puerto Rican by the name of Hector “Macho” Camacho. On his way up, Camacho was charismatic and had been trash-talking about how he could easily beat Sanchez. Combined with the renewal of the Mexican-Puerto Rican rivalry, the fight promised to be a mega-event. The WBC even ordered Sanchez to skip Boza-Edwards and fight Camacho first. Boza-Edwards was offered some step-aside money and a promise to fight the winner, and Sanchez vs. Camacho was signed for July 1983.

For once, Sanchez was in the ring with a fighter faster than himself. Sanchez came forward and Camacho alternated between brief exchanges and avoiding Sanchez with his footwork, sticking the right jab throughout. Unable to put his lead foot in the right place against a slicker opponent, Sanchez lost the first few rounds as he was unable to crack Camacho’s combination of grace, skill and southpaw stance. However, there was a warning sign that should have worried Camacho’s corner: Sanchez was no target. Camacho’s punch accuracy was noticeably lower against the ever-moving head of Sanchez, and the shots that were getting through weren’t slowing “Chava.”

Sanchez got his timing down and started turning the tide in the 5th. Standing for another tactical exchanged, Camacho was bulled back on the ropes by Sanchez. With his lead foot firmly planted on the outside, Sanchez unleashed a hard right hand that caught Camacho flush on the cheekbone, opening a deep gash. That was followed by a double left hook. Camacho blocked the one upstairs, but the shot to the body landed hard. Hurt and shaken, Camacho was in full retreat for the remaining 90 seconds of the round. As Sanchez started pitching the right in greater quantities, Camacho started losing rounds. He boxed Sanchez for the remainder of the fight, but he never tried to stand and trade with him again. That wasn’t enough. The scorecards were read out: a Split Decision with 115-113 twice for Sanchez, 116-112 Camacho.

The Puerto Rican immediately began to complain that he had been robbed, but at the time he was a 22 year old fighter who had just lost his first championship fight. Few listened and those who did labeled Camacho a cry-baby. Having fought three major opponents back-to-back in La Porte, Limon and Camacho, Team Sanchez scheduled an easy fight with a journeyman for November 1983, and then went on a much-needed Christmas vacation.

To be Continued…

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Richard Thomas has been in and out of boxing gyms in Kentucky, Ohio, the District of Columbia and Thailand and for a quarter century, and writing about boxing since 1997. A passionate devotee of the sport, he is as keenly interested in boxing history as he is in the latest bout. He currently lives in Europe, and is also the owner and Managing Editor of The Whiskey Reviewer.