It was a fight in the ongoing and never-ending boxing rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico and without doubt its very finest chapter, embossed in letters of fire, when Salvador Sanchez lined up against Wilfredo Gomez…Chava Vs Bazooka, forty years ago today!
The scene for a slugfest like no other, was Caesars Palace Las Vegas, and the bookies lost a bundle because they had knowingly installed Wilfredo as the firm favourite. Salvador was the WBC featherweight champion and Wilfredo was the WBC`s super bantamweight champion. Up to this point undefeated Wilfredo had one draw and thirty-two blasting victories…by KO. In the build-up to the fight, Wilfredo kept smiling, telling Salvador that he was going for an early KO. And Salvador nodded, smiling back, inwardly burning and absolutely determined to prove otherwise with his fists, backed up by unquenchable willpower.
As promised, Wilfredo sporting shorts with Puerto Rican national colours, started off real fast with a two-fisted attack in round one. Showing no hesitation, taller, longer armed Salvador who was clad in pale blue trunks with a white stripe, met fire with thundering firepower. With his back to the ropes, he swivelled and in a flurry of punches he dropped Wilfredo hard with a clipping right hook, smack on the button. Wilfredo got up on rubbery legs and then… the unthinkable! He was retreating!!! Sensation! The crowd on its feet roaring, as Salvador pounded him left, right and centre. A huge connecting overhead right almost dropped him again! Wilfredo was stunned, running and he was in big trouble!
It took Wilfredo until the third to fully clear his head, but his right eye was swelling and by the seventh it was almost shut, thanks to the unremitting bombardment. Both men were throwing caution to the winds and wickedly going for broke. It was obvious that this fight wouldn`t and it couldn`t go the distance.
Wilfredo instinctively knew time was ebbing away and he launched a terrific attack in the seventh. A right left combination almost put Salvador into orbit. But thanks to his incredible conditioning, Salvador weathered, rather than shrugged it off and waded straight back into the fray.
In the eighth, Salvador slammed three unanswered clubbing rights into Wilfredo`s ribcage, backed him into the ropes and connected with a terrific long right to the face. Wilfredo involuntarily wobbled, and that was Salvador`s cue to open up with literally everything he had. The cannonade buckled and folded Wilfredo in two. No man could have remained on his feet in the eye of such a storm and down he went.
Somehow, and it`s hard to know just how, he managed to get up, but one look into his swollen, misty eyes convinced Referee Carlos Padilla to save him. The drama was over!
Wilfredo went back to his division. Salvador marched on, but for such a short while, because on that fateful early morning of August 12th 1982 he died instantly in a crash on the Queretaro-San Luis Potosi highway.
Salvador was only twenty-three. He left a widow and two sons. Already a ring great, the exquisite promise of so much more to come, forever out of reach and lost in the dusts of time and eternity. Fans had hankered after a super fight with Alexis Arguello, but “The Thin Man” moved up to super lightweight. Managed by Cristobal Rosas, who went on to manage Julio Cesar Chavez. Salvador was inducted into the International Hall of Boxing Fame in 1991.
Every year the Sanchez family, holds a loving tribute to Salvador in their hometown of Santiago Tanguistengo. It culminates in a meal and a boxing match for up-and-coming amateurs, eager and seeking to be the next famous son or daughter of this town embedded in the vastness of Estado de Mexico. Salvador would have so liked that.
One year Wilfredo came, especially to pay his respects and show his everlasting friendship. The people cheered their hearts out, hugged him and adopted him on the spot. Wilfredo, accompanied by his wife, was not in the best of health. But he said he just had to come for a great friend, as they`re bonded forever. You can`t mention the name of Salvador Sanchez without in the very same breath… lauding Wilfedo Gomez.