Superfight: Gomez vs. Sanchez 36 years later

By Christian Giudice on August 21, 2017
Superfight: Gomez vs. Sanchez 36 years later
Sanchez knew the benefits of hyping a fight at all costs, but Gomez stepped over a line.

Possibly trying to hide his own insecurities, Gomez aggressively went after Sanchez in the press…

Tensions increased as soon as the fight was announced, as Wilfredo Gomez continued to taunt Salvador Sanchez right up to fight night. Possibly trying to hide his own insecurities, Gomez aggressively went after Sanchez in the press. Of all the mistakes Gomez committed, infuriating Sanchez before the fight started was a risk that paid significant dividends in the past—when he had trained properly and was facing a lesser opponent.

“That was Wilfredo’s personality,” said Mauricio Sulaiman. “He was always outspoken and intimidating. He felt invincible. Salvador was very calm and took it as huge motivation. He not only wanted to beat Wilfredo, but he also wanted to hurt him. Wilfredo just took the wrong approach. He was much too aggressive.” Gomez’s insults and provocations were not lost on Sanchez, who used them as motivation. Both fighters shared a severe dislike for the other as the Mexican vs Puerto Rican rivalry soared to new heights.

The Puerto Rican fans patriotically waved their flags while their Mexican counterparts readied their mariachi bands accordingly. Having been around the sport long enough, Sanchez knew the benefits of hyping a fight at all costs, but Gomez stepped over a line by challenging Sanchez’s masculinity. Not as effusive or arrogant, Sanchez vowed to make the Puerto Rican pay for his transgressions. Not one to initiate a confrontation, Sanchez had a laid-back exterior where his playful nature often came out in interviews. The 2-1 odds were in Gomez’s favor as fight fans were not completely sold on Sanchez, who even though he had avenged his three losses to that point in his career, wasn’t as decorated a fighter as Gomez was.

“I traveled to Puerto Rico with him,” said former welterweight champion Carlos Palomino, who worked as a commentator with ‘Colonel’ Bob Sheridan. “I stood between them and translated. Wilfredo definitely talked a lot of smack. It was my only time around Sanchez and after the press conference, he was very upset. Wilfredo was saying stuff like Sanchez didn’t belong in the ring with him and he would knock him out. Salvador was such a humble guy that there was no fighting or anything like that. He was not that type of guy. He was irritated, but he told me, ‘I will do my talking in the ring.’ I was flabbergasted by Wilfredo. It was such a huge fight, and Wilfredo was undefeated. The fans were taken aback by Wilfredo. They had a huge dislike for him.”

Each fighter eventually had his final say. First, Gomez made a figurative beeline for his nemesis. “I am going to go after him,” and that he would be like a “hunter looking for a rabbit.” Gomez predicted a knockout before the tenth round and added, “I’ll hit him in his heart, his liver, his lungs, and his pancreas.” Conversely, Sanchez, who had taken Gomez’s boorish behavior personally, said, “I admire his record, but he’s just another challenger, nothing more. Gomez better take a picture of himself, because after the fight he won’t recognize himself.”

In the end, it all came down to one punch.

A punch that changed everything. A punch that stays with Gomez to this day.

When the first round started, both fighters took few risks. Content to hastily get inside, Gomez pushed Sanchez to the ropes. Sanchez landed a straight right to Gomez’s neck during a chaotic flurry, and landed a left hook that sent Gomez down to the canvas. Desperate, Gomez stuck his right glove out to grasp the bottom rope. It was extremely rare for Gomez to be so off balance but Sanchez quickly took advantage as he landed a wide ranging left hook.

Having risen by four, Gomez looked at Padilla for a sign to continue. Padilla walked over and continued the count.

Everything that Gomez stood for had fallen with one punch. It was a cracking one that landed awkwardly as he fell, but somehow he still absorbed it with the same force. Friends, family members, acquaintances, lovers all watched in horror tinged with curiosity as a man who had born the emblem of bravery had slowly fallen to the canvas. As Gomez went down, his entire world exploded with it. Refusing to let this opportunity pass, Sanchez landed another big left hook that backed Gomez up. The intensity of the round heightened as Sanchez missed a combination and then landed three punches with no Gomez response. Gomez clinched and tied up Sanchez to get a breather. But Padilla was right on top of them and seconds later shocked fans watched as Sanchez backed Gomez to the opposite side of the ring and made him pay with a right cross.

The knockdown punch would have knocked out most featherweights, but Gomez decided he would survive the round on his feet. After the right hand, Gomez fell off the ropes and grabbed for Sanchez, but he was too unbalanced to make a strong clinch and Sanchez punched through his guard. If the early knockdown against Yum in the first title fight only briefly stunned Gomez, this punch left him reeling. Local journalists described the punch and the round itself as both a shock and a nightmare. “After that punch, I wasn’t the same,” said Gomez. “I felt that punch and my face started to swell up because I had to lose so much weight in so little time. That was when I knew that I couldn’t win the fight.”

As the fight continued, Gomez had brief moments, but never threatened Sanchez. It was his show, his stage, and he basked in its glory over the next seven rounds. By the eighth, it was officially over. The fight had transformed from a superfight to a bloodbath. Implicitly Sanchez winked at everyone sitting ringside as if to remind them that he told them so. The fight itself became an extraneous act. Everyone wondered how long the abuse would last. At 2:09 of the eighth, referee Carlos Padilla stepped in and stopped it, much to Gomez’s dismay.

Even years later Gomez’s hubris surfaces. He has moments where he accepts the reality that Sanchez was the better man that night, but it is with a mixture of regret and reluctance that he recognizes that the stoppage may not have been the best call, but the necessary one.

In the end, the only one.

Christian Giudice
Author: A Fire Burns Within: The Miraculous Journey of Wilfredo Gomez
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran


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  1. Pete The Sneak 10:38am, 08/22/2017

    Great write up Christian. Really bought me back to that time. As a Boricua teenager when this fight went down, it was tough for me to see Gomez lose in such a fashion and we (Puerto Ricans) were devastated. But Gomez did indeed talk up a storm before the fight and said some really classless things about Sanchez in interviews and press conferences. That was nothing unusual in boxing, but Sanchez was such a laid back, quiet guy, almost like an Alexis Arguello type personality that you wondered why Gomez was bending over backwards to make this more than the typical Boricua/Mexico rivalry. As it is, Sanchez was not going to be denied that night. It’s a fight that still tinges me with emotion even today…Peace.

  2. David 09:45am, 08/22/2017

    Salvador Sanchez should be in the boxing hall of fame.

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