If he had lived, had his life not been so cruelly taken from him in a car smash at the age of just 23, Mexican great Salvador Sanchez would be celebrating his 65th birthday today. How great was Sanchez? Plenty of experts, fans, and fellow fighters say Sanchez ranks as THE greatest-ever Mexican fighter. This, of course, is incredibly high praise, what with other Mexican warriors such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Canelo Alvarez, Ruben Olivares, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and so many others being up for discussion.
And the thing about Sanchez is the fact that, taken as he was at such a young age, he had so, so much ahead of him in the ring. We will never know how truly great Sanchez – who thrilled fight fans with special wins over fellow greats Wilfredo Gomez, Azumah Nelson, Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Juan Laporte, and Ruben Castillo – might have gone on to become.
At the time of his shocking death, Sanchez was 44-1-1(32), and many historians say he had reached ‘complete fighter’ status. A world champion at featherweight, with Sanchez notching up nine successful defenses, “The Invincible Eagle,” to use one of Sanchez’s numerous ring nicknames, was in the middle of training for a return fight with Laporte. And, hugely tantalizingly, there were also ongoing negotiations regarding a fight between Sanchez and reigning lightweight champion Alexis Arguello.
Had Sanchez beaten the great Arguello, his place in boxing history would have been made even more secure and special than it was destined to be. And the thought of how many more weight divisions Sanchez might have been able to conquer really does get a fight fan’s mind going. 126 pounds was a weight in which Sanchez ruled, while he may or may not have beaten Arguello at 135. Might the 5’7” Sanchez have then gone as high as 140, maybe even 147?
Sadly, we will never know.
Sanchez, though, gave us some super-special ring performances as it is, and he ruled the world for a shade under two-and-a-half years. After suffering a learning defeat in his 19th pro outing, this against Antonio Becerra, down at bantamweight, Sanchez would never suffer defeat again; the draw on his record coming in his 22nd fight, this against Juan Escobar.
By the time he was putting on a true masterpiece against Gomez, these early setbacks were firmly in the rear-view mirror of not only Sanchez but of his fans also.
Was Sanchez at his peak, as great as he was ever going to get when he passed away, or had he even more improvement to make? Again, we will never know. But age 23 is young, even for a Mexican warrior who, as is often the way in Mexican boxing, has been fighting at the pro level since scarcely being out of his early teens (Sanchez going pro at age 16, other Mexican greats turning pro at an even younger age).
The logical way to look at things here is to believe that Sanchez would have got even better, that he would have added more to his game with added experience. Maybe Sanchez would also have become a bigger puncher up at 135 and beyond. It might also have been that Sanchez never suffered a second defeat.
Then again, there is a chance that Sanchez HAD peaked, and that he was beginning to feel the effects of his 46 pro fights; the war with Nelson proving especially tough for Sanchez. It’s often very hard to accurately predict any fighter’s decline, and maybe Sanchez would have gone from strength to strength for many years to come had he not died, or maybe he would not have done so.
It really is fascinating to think what Sanchez might have done had he not got into his Porsche that fateful day.
As it is, Sanchez is a firm fan-favorite, with many of these fans lauding the warrior who was born in Santiago Tianguistenco, State of Mexico, as THE greatest fighter ever to have come from a country that is so synonymous with superb fistic talent.