Sanchez Meets Chavez Again and Heads to Lightweight
Following his classic victory over fellow Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez, undisputed world super featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez took the rest of 1984 off. The off-period was as much about a lack of viable opponents as it was about letting his body heal from the bruising encounter with Chavez. The only fighter of note at 130 lbs. that Sanchez had not already defeated was Bobby Chacon, and Sanchez had beaten guys who had beaten Chacon. Eusebio Pedroza still balked at coming up to 130 lbs., and Sanchez couldn’t make the featherweight limit anymore. Old rivals Wilfredo Gomez and Azumah Nelson were set to fight for Sanchez’s old belt in December (Nelson won), so neither of them was available. Finally, despite carping constantly that Sanchez had robbed him, Hector Camacho avoided a rematch by moving up to 135 lbs.
The result was that 1985 and most of 1986 became a quiet time for Salvador Sanchez. He eventually did defend his title against Bobby Chacon, as a Mexicano vs. Chicano battle always sells well. Chacon fell in a 10th Round TKO. Sanchez also made short work against a slate of journeymen. The rest of his time he spent taking college courses as a part-time student, pursuing his dream of going to medical school, and waiting for a real payday to develop.
Rematch with Chavez
In the meantime, momentum for a re-match with Julio Cesar Chavez built to a crescendo. Recognizing that Chavez was a bankable fighter, HBO matched him against Rocky Lockridge in mid-1985. Chavez eeked out a narrow Majority Decision. After losing to Nelson, Wilfredo Gomez moved up to 130 lbs, and Chavez vs. Gomez materialized in early 1986. Chavez broke down and knocked out Gomez in six rounds. Sanchez vs. Chavez II was signed for October 1986.
For the rematch with Chavez, Sanchez used a new strategy that might have dismayed his carnage-loving Mexican fans, but it displayed his flexibility and paved the way for the later period of his boxing career. “Chava” put his elusive head movement together with his skilled counter-punching and turned pure counter-puncher for his second go at Chavez.
The result did not go entirely as planned. Chavez stormed forward into the vacuum, caught Sanchez off balance and knocked him down with a hard left hook in the 2nd Round. It was the first time Sanchez had tasted canvas since he was 19 years old, and the knockdown brought the crowd roaring to their feet. Sanchez got to his feet at the count of eight, then kept his cool and boxed cautiously for the remainder of the round and continued to feel his way through the 3rd. By the 4th, Sanchez had seized the momentum and stymied Chavez’s assault. To clinch the rounds, he ended each stanza by standing and trading with Chavez, a trick borrowed from “Sugar” Ray Leonard. The result was hardly a landslide, but Sanchez won the fight by Unanimous Decision, and took far less of a beating doing it.
Up to Lightweight
At the end of the Chavez II bout, Salvador Sanchez announced he would immediately move up to lightweight. The WBC belt was vacant at the time (Hector Camacho had dropped it the month before), so a fight between Sanchez and veteran contender Jose Luis Ramirez was set up for January 1987. Chavez was a close friend of Ramirez, and actually worked Ramirez’s corner for this bout with his bitter rival. Sanchez retaliated, throwing everything but the stool at Ramirez in an effort to knock him out and make a resounding statement upon entering the 135 lbs. division, but Ramirez had taken punishment from the likes of Arguello, Mancini and Rosario. Sanchez won a clean points victory, but was unable to dent the chin of his countryman. His next bout was a summer rematch with Cornelius Boze Edwards. This time “Chava” stopped the tough Ugandan in the 8th Round.
After three encounters with world class opponents, Sanchez followed a by-now familiar pattern. He fought a pair of easy non-title bouts in Mexico in September and November, and took Christmas off. He would need the rest, because in March 1988, Sanchez was scheduled to fight rising Olympic Gold Medalist Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.