Remembering a Mexican Hero

By Christian Giudice on August 12, 2017
Remembering a Mexican Hero
“He passed at such a young age. He was ready to become a superstar.” (Gary Williams)

Since the loss in 1981, all Gomez could focus on was the rematch—it consumed him—and then the tragedy occurred…

For anyone who knew Salvador Sanchez, time never heals old wounds. Thirty-five years to the day since he died at the age of 23, and the great fighter is still remembered fondly by friends, family and the legion of Mexican fans who adored him for his dedication, drive, and humility. Sanchez died in an early morning car accident on August 12, 1982. At the time of his death, he had been traveling at high speeds in a Porsche 928 near Queretaro, a city 139 miles outside of Mexico City, and collided with a truck. It was never confirmed if the devoted fighter was heading to his training camp in San Jose Iturbide in Guanajuato or not. What really mattered was that a great boxer, a great man, was gone. The tight-knit boxing community mourned the loss.

“When Sanchez died, it was a devastating blow to all of us,” said boxing trainer, Jimmy Montoya.

To this day, Montoya’s sentiment still resonates throughout the boxing community. So young. So gifted. So much potential to do more in his career and his life. Decades later, memories are all that are left.

“The entire Mexican community was saddened,” said respected boxing trainer, Abel Sanchez. “He passed at such a young age that we were left wondering about how great he really could have been. He was at a point where he was ready to break out and become a superstar.”

To this day, boxing insiders and fans alike never got to witness how great Sanchez could have been. He was a fantastic fighter, who earned the nickname “Iron Lung” for his unbelievable stamina. But he was more than that. In fact, one just has to watch a couple rounds of his legendary bout with Wilfredo Gomez to see what a wonderful counterpuncher he was. Sanchez had perfect timing, accuracy, a steel chin, and although he wasn’t as flashy or charismatic as some of his Mexican counterparts, he knew exactly what tools he needed to access in each fight. Never tired, Sanchez was a wonder to watch in the late rounds.

By dominating Gomez in such convincing fashion the previous August, Sanchez proved that he was worthy of being inducted into the fraternity of Mexican greats. Less than a year later, a country and a sport was left to pick up the pieces.

“It was a shock,” said WBC President, Mauricio Sulaiman. “Nobody could believe it was true when the news reported the accident. My father was devastated and it took many months for it to sink in. A young, talented exemplary kid with a bright future had just perished. A national hero was gone and a legend was born.”

When rival Gomez heard the news from a local sportscaster, he broke down, overwhelmed with emotion. Since the loss in 1981, all Gomez could focus on was the rematch—it consumed him—and then the tragedy occurred. It was too much to accept at that moment.

“I called Wilfredo for an interview and my first question was, ‘What goes through your mind now that the man you desperately wanted to fight for revenge from such a disastrous loss, is no longer alive?’” recalled Puerto Rican journalist, Rafael Bracero. “He started to cry like a child.”

Even though Gomez found solace in the ring after the loss to Sanchez, he knew now that his career had to take a back seat.

Gomez left his training camp and went to Sanchez’s funeral in Mexico City. In that moment, he learned more about himself than he had in any previous boxing match. This was no longer about boxing; it was an act of compassion for a man he shared the ring with.

“When Gomez visited the grave of Sanchez after he died in a car accident, the act was praised by Puerto Ricans and Mexicans because it was a humanitarian gesture and respectful act for his conqueror,” said Puerto Rican boxing historian, Chu Garcia.

The act revealed a different side of Gomez for so many people.

“The Mexicans fans really were impressed with Wilfredo when he said all those nice things about Salvador at his funeral,” said legendary manager, Don Chargin. “He showed the proper respect. It was refreshing to see.”

Sulaiman added, “This was huge for Wilfredo to go to the funeral. He showed so much respect and even now he keeps coming back to Mexico. The people in Mexico like him and respect him and that’s the reason why.”

At the time, Gomez was experiencing upheaval in his personal and professional life, but, in a way, the act grounded him. Even if he didn’t get the closure (as a fighter) he was searching for, Gomez recognized how important it was to say goodbye. He went back to camp to prepare for Roberto Rubaldino and was forced to move on.

“I felt relieved that the baggage went away,” said Gomez. “I felt loved and respected by the Mexican people. It wasn’t a move, I was just being human like my mother taught me.”

Christian Giudice is the author of A Fire Burns Within: The Miraculous Journey of Wilfredo Gomez

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Salvador Sanchez Tribute from ABC

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  1. George 07:13am, 08/17/2017

    I was ringside when Sanchez defended against Azumah Nelson. The African put up a great fight, but was unable to topple the great Salvador Sanchez.
      I was also in Puerto Rico when he fought Wilfredo Gomez. All my Puerto Rican friends (I was their gringo buddy) were betting alot of money on Gomez. I kept telling them that they should just root for Gomez, but not bet. They didn’t listen. Gomez put up a great fight for a man with a broken jaw, but again the great Salvador Sanchez was again too much to handle. I was devastated when I read the news about his death. I feel he would have become one of the top ten al time greats!

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