BY K.C.MURPHY . This was the first featherweight fight in HBOs history and was billed “The Battle Of The Little Giants”
Don King actually made this fight happen, he was the promoter and he worked overtime even for him, to promote the importance of this fight.
In addition to the anticipated match there was an animated “Battle Of The Bands” before the fightl as the Mariachi and Salsa bands competed for the crowds attention, crowding together close enough that for a moment many of us thought the MUSICIANS were going to get into it !
BOTH fighters were extremely confident leading up to the fight, Sanchez had beaten the courageous and gifted “Danny Little Red Lopez” for the Featherweight title stopping him in the 13th round, and defended it in a grueling 15 round fight against the brilliant unsung hero Ruben Castillo.
To prove this was no fluke Sanchez defended against Lopez and AGAIN stopped Danny, this time Lopez lasted one more round succumbing eventually in the 14th. To fully appreciate the dimension of this fight its helpful to recall how great the guys Sanchez fought leading up to this fight really were.
Ruben Castillo fought EVERYBODY, from Alexis Arguello to Julio Caesar Chavez Sr. and Lopez was, in addition to being World champion, one of the most respected fighters in all of boxing when he fought Sanchez. Juan Laporte and Nicky Perez were both world class contenders, Laporte won the Featherweight title from none other than the great Mario Miranda. Sanchez, who died tragically at the poetic age of 23 saved his greatest achievement for his last appearance in the Ring as he stopped Azumah Nelson in the 15th and final round in one of the greatest title fights in Featherweight history.
Wilfredo Gomez, in my opinion the greatest super bantam in boxing history; was moving up in weight only a few lbs, but at this small a weight, every pound matters and matters a lot. Gomez had knocked out every single one of his 32 opponents including Alberto Davila, Juan Antonio Lopez Royal Kobayshi and the great Mexican legend Carlos “Zarate”
The “Drama” leading up to this fight was intensified by Gomez’s trash talk. Not only did he insult Salvador, but threatened to send him back to Mexico in a box! Salvador for his part promised his wife and the Mexican people to make an example of the cocky Gomez and warned him “Better take a picture of yourself now because after the fight you wont recognize yourself”
As a result there was a lot of bad blood leading up to this fight. It wasnt the beginning of the Mexico/Puerto Rico boxing rivalry, but its my firm opinion that this was, up to this time in the rivalry; the greatest match between fighters from their respective country.
There were many fights in this storied rivalry and have been many more since, but this was the first of this magnitude I had ever seen and Ive been watching boxing since Ali beat Liston
So a result the mood and the tone was set for an epic fight, the combatants for their part promised to live up to the hype and indeed they did
The great “Carlos Palomino” was one of the ringside announcers, Heavyweight legend “Larry Holmes” was another. Another Hall of Famer Wilfredo Benitez was also ringside. This was one of the most anticipated fights of the year if not THE most of the year and the energy was off the charts
During the introductions Sanchez looked every bit the bigger fighter, and its my opinion that despite appearances to respective size, Gomez underestimated Salvador this night.Gomez was a 9-5 favorite w/ the betting crowd in Vegas
It was also revealing for me in that for it once again confirmed that at the lower weight divisions, each pound makes an enormous difference. Ironically it was Gomez who had trouble making the 126 lb limit as he was up at 430 the morning of the fight to make weight.
There is no question this was a factor despite how formidable Sanchez was this day ad every fight afterwards
GOMEZ came out for the opening round like he was breaking out of jail, missing with an overhand right, he landed a left hook high up on Sanchez head, Sanchez responded with 2 left jabs as they circled each other warily. Sanchez landed a hook below the belt then quickly came up top with a beautiful right cross, Gomez answered with a sizzling right cross right on the for head of Sanchez and Sanchez responded with one of his own.
With about a minute left Gomez backed Sanchez against the ropes and went to work, with Sanchez countering calmly. It was at that point that they started to trade and trade viciously, with each fighter winging left hooks and right hands with abandon. Suddenly Gomez landed a perfect right hand FLUSH on Sanchez’s face, with absolutely no effect, while Sanchez came right back with right hand that knocked Gomez off balance. Salvador followed with a perfectly timed left hook right on the point of Wilfredo’s chin and DOWN went Gomez. It really didnt look like it had much on it, which shows us still again the importance of “accuracy” and leverage.
Gomez got up but he was wobbling, its hard to believe the fight went the 8 rounds it did when one looks at this round, as for the next 60 seconds Sanchez dished out punishment that made me surprised Gomez corner didnt throw in the towel. As Gomez got to his feet for the beginning of the 2nd round he looked positively grim.
It looked to me that Sanchez’s reach was a concern, as well it should have been. As a result Gomez closed quickly and the fight lost all pretense re. a chess match as each man proceeded to throw down as if their life depended on it. Gomez gamely went after Sanchez and Sanchez willfully obliged !
As the fight progress it was clear that Gomez eyes werent clear yet but we was really winging left hooks and right hands and towards the end of the 2nd stanza landed a thunderous right uppercut to Salvador’s sternum, then followed it up with 3 left hooks in succession underneath. Then another right hand by Gomez had Salvador dancing, as he moved quickly to his right and then re set boxing cautiously as the round came to a close. I called that round “EVEN”
Round 3 found the combatants exchanging viciously, and as good a boxer as Sanchez was , Gomez time after time found him easily with left hooks downstairs, right uppercuts left hooks up high on Sanchez cheeks and straight right hands but Sanchez never once changed his stoic expression. However his body language spoke eloquently as to the effect Gomez was having on him. Again I called it even. However to look at them, Gomez right cheek and eye were swelling noticeably and his corner, chiefly among them Nestor Quinones worked feverishly to stem the swelling
The 4th The pace slowed noticeably but it was Sanchez who landed the only significant punches of the round during the first minute with 2 right hands that back Gomez off but for the most part Sanchez jabbed and circled out of range. About a minute in, Gomez connected with a sizzling right hand and Sanchez answered with one of his own as Gomez right eye was beginning to close. The last minute of the round was one of the most exciting I have ever seen in a title fight.
The 2 fighters as if drawn by an invisible magnet found themselves for the 3rd time in the same corner they had been when Sanchez had dropped Gomez in round 1. Gomez scored repeatedly with body shots and over hand rights and Sanchez answered almost punch for punch and despite the appearances of each fighter, I felt as did Larry Holmes that Gomez had won that round.
Round 5: Sanchez must have heard Larry Holmes talking because he stopped boxing and came right AT Wilfredo as the round commenced. They battled back and forth furiously until about 10 seconds before the end of the round Sanchez had Gomez in trouble again. Gomez had connected with a left downstairs and a overhand right when suddenly Sanchez caught him with a solid right that had Gomez holding on for dear life as the bell sounded the end of the 5th round.
The 6th round found both combatants exchanging furiously. The only time I saw Sanchez show any visible effect when Gomez landed thunderous combination, but Salvador shook it off and the 2 traded furiously all through the round as they had the entire duration of the fight.
The 7th round opened with both Gomez eyes almost swelled shut. Wilfredo somehow found the gear to press the action and Sanchez was content to counter punch, the respective roles they had played all throughout the fight. However about a minute in Sanchez landed a left hook to Gomez body, then 3 more in succession and Gomez immediately backed into a corner. I had Sanchez winning this round and between the swelling on Gomez and the momentum, the end looked near.
Gomez opened the final round on rubbery legs but was “game’ as he had been all night, to the utter amazement of everyone at ringside. They traded big right hands 30 seconds into the round and the fight continued to rage. 1:30 into the round they stood and traded 3 successive left hooks, Sanchez to the body, Gomez upstairs…
You really must see this final round to fully appreciate the fight and the fighters. Gomez momentarily backed off and then once more bravely came forward and Sanchez eagerly obliged. They came together and after briefly jockeying for position, Sanchez managed to turn Gomez around and back him into a corner, the same one he had dropped Gomez during the opening round.
A right had that seemed to start all the way from Guadalajara deposited Gomez on his backside again and it was clear he was done and the fight was over. I must conclude my commentary by saying this fight, despite the disparity in appearance of the 2 fighters, was close all the way till it was stopped.
In fact, at the time of the stoppage, Sanchez was ahead on all 3 cards, but only by a point each while Gomez who had been mentioned as a possible rival for Duran’s coveted P4P best in boxing, found himself without a title
This was a “Super Fight” that lived up to its billing as each fighter covered themselves with Glory. Unfortunately there was to be no rematch as Sanchez died tragically in an auto crash in August 12 1982.. Since that day there has been an anniversary to celebrate Salvadors achievements each year since his demise and to mourn his passing.
Wilfredo Gomez who was at the funeral, has been Grand Marischal 3 times at this festival and an honored guest no less than 33 times since Salvador’s untimely passing.
Each fighter now firmly resides in the hallowed halls of Myth and Legend.