Long before there was a Canelo Alvarez, there was a Salvador Sanchez.
Sanchez was born in 1959 in Santiago Tianguistenco, a city of 60,000-plus residents in south central Mexico that sits about 325 miles from Tlajomulco de Zuniga – where Alvarez arrived in 1990.
Both men became championship-level boxers within candle-blowing distance of their 21st birthdays, with Sanchez capturing the World Boxing Council’s featherweight title exactly one week after his milestone in 1980 and Alvarez winning the organization’s super welterweight crown 135 days before his in 2011.
The similarities end, though, at age 23.
That’s when Alvarez was a party to the highest-grossing pay-per-view fight in the sport’s history, his 12-round majority decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2013.
It’s when Sanchez died.
A reigning champion with nine successful defenses, he was killed when the Porsche he was driving collided with a tractor-trailer on a highway north of Mexico City on August 12, 1982.
It was 40 years ago this past Friday.
He was three weeks past a stirring defeat of future multi-weight world champion Azumah Nelson at Madison Square Garden -- boosting his record to 44-1 -- and a month ahead of a scheduled Garden rematch with Juan LaPorte, and perhaps a subsequent climb to 130 pounds.
Sanchez would have been 63 this year.
He was the greatest fighter a generation never saw.
“He was so smooth, so complete,” said former Ring Magazine editor Randy Gordon. “He was tireless. Had a full arsenal and array of punches. The only thing he didn't have was a monster punch. He was still getting better and near impossible to beat when he was taken from us.
“He loved staying active. Had he survived and fought for another 10 years, I believe he would have won over 100 fights, and be talked about as a Top-10 all-time great.”
The International Boxing Hall of Fame posthumously included Sanchez as part of its second class of inductees in 1991, and Boxing.com placed him at No. 62 on its list of history’s top 100 fighters in 2013.
Had he lived even a few more years, he’d have climbed a bunch more spots.
“Who knows what we in boxing lost when we lost Sanchez?” list-maker Matt McGrain wrote.
“He consistently showed the understanding and awareness of a veteran in his early twenties, a testimony perhaps to the number of fights and defenses he crammed into his short career. As a veteran, he might have attained the rare heights of strategic genius reserved for the likes of Archie Moore and Bernard Hopkins.”
Sanchez’s title-winning fight against Sports Illustrated cover boy Danny “Little Red” Lopez -- a 13th-round TKO -- was broadcast on CBS, as was the rematch four months later that Sanchez captured by 14th-round stoppage. His initial bout with LaPorte and other title defenses against Patrick Ford and Ruben Castillo were shown on ABC, while ESPN carried a match with Nicky Perez.
A 15-round decision over Rocky Garcia in May 1982 was the first featherweight championship match ever broadcast on HBO, and Sanchez crossed over into closed-circuit success -- the precursor to today’s pay-per-view format -- with an eighth-round TKO of previously unbeaten Wilfredo Gomez that was billed as the “Battle of the Little Giants” and held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
His career earnings ultimately measured in the millions, then rare for a smaller fighter.
“Those who know him knew that he was untouched by his status as a national hero and a world champion,” said ABC’s Howard Cosell, as part of an eight-minute tribute that aired the day after Sanchez’s funeral. “The great thing about the kid was that he never forgot what he might have been had it not been for his success in boxing.
“When one is but 23 years of age and dies tragically in an accident, there is no fulfillment for the fullness of life, no opportunity to do all the things you wanted to do. In Salvador's case, his dream was to retire in another year, study and become a doctor. But no, no chance of that.”
A horrible loss for his family, obviously.
But a painful one for us, too.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO heavyweight titles – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Oleksandr Usyk (champion) vs. Anthony Joshua (No. 4 IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO)
Usyk (19-0, 13 KO): First title defense; Held IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO titles at 200 pounds (7-0 in title fights)
Joshua (24-2, 22 KO): Twelfth title fight (9-2); Avenged first career loss in immediate rematch
Fitzbitz says: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I believed AJ would beat Ruiz in their rematch and I believe his aggression and size will matter with Usyk this time. Joshua in 8 (55/45)
Vacant WBA super lightweight title – Hollywood, Florida
Alberto Puello (No. 1 WBA) vs. Botirzhon Akhmedov (No. 2 WBA)
Puello (20-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside Dominican Republic (1-0, 1 KO)
Akhmedov (9-1, 8 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Last six wins have come by KO/TKO (32 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: It’s difficult to analyze the fight without cringing that these guys are ranked 1-2 in a stacked weight class at 140. Akhmedov has been in with better foes and should win. Akhmedov in 8 (90/10)
WBA super featherweight title – Hollywood, Florida
Roger Gutierrez (champion) vs. Hector Luis Garcia (No. 1 WBA)
Gutierrez (26-3-1, 20 KO): Second title defense; Sixth fight in United States (3-3, 1 KO)
Garcia (15-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight in United States (2-0, 1 NC, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: A quick glance reveals that 130 isn’t exactly bursting at the seams beyond Shakur Stevenson. Garcia, though, has a nice record thus far and should get a belt. Garcia by decision (80/20)
WBO featherweight title – San Diego, California
Emanuel Navarrete (champion) vs. Eduardo Baez (No. 8 WBO)
Navarrete (35-1, 29 KO): Third title defense; Held WBO title at 122 pounds (2018-20, five defenses)
Baez (21-2-2, 7 KO): First title fight; Third fight in United States (1-1)
Fitzbitz says: Navarrete is an entertaining TV fighter who deserves a better grade of opponent than he’s gotten. Baez is not that guy. The champ will pressure him until he breaks. Navarrete in 7 (100/0)
Last week's picks: None
2022 picks record: 22-10 (68.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,231-402 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.