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Sanchez’s breakthrough came at Lopez’s expense

31
Jan

You couldn’t blame the 6,000 or so fans at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona for refusing to give up on Danny “Little Red” Lopez even as a 21-year-old, once-defeated kid named Salvador Sanchez beat him around the ring.

After all, Lopez, who was making his ninth defense of the WBC featherweight title, had been through this all before — the mixture of blood and sweat burning his eyes, the swelling around his eyes pulling down the dark shades, further obscuring his vision, and the punches that landed so cleanly you could be excused for thinking he was, at best, indifferent to pain, and at worst, an enthusiast of masochism.

Lopez, at 42-3 (39), had made a career of walking through the punches and wills of men less committed than he and hammering them to the canvas.

It made him, along with the similarly configured light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad, one of the more popular TV fighters of his time in an era when it was hard to find a weekend on the calendar when some pug or another wasn’t scrambling the brains of one of his brethren on network television.

“That was the way I trained. I trained that way in the gym, coming forward, give or take a shot,” Lopez recently told me from his home in California. “It used to work for me quite a bit.”

It was largely this improbable gift for drama, along with a dynamite right hand, that propelled Lopez into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. He will be inducted in June.

It was his great misfortune that Sanchez, 33-1-1 (26), wasn’t like the others, whose constitutions and chins Lopez so consistently shattered. One of 11 children, Sanchez was born and raised in Santiago Tianguistenco, a small town roughly 30 miles south of Mexico City.

His father owned a small construction company. He’d begun fighting in grade school when neighborhood toughs, mistaking his diminutiveness for weakness, tried to bully him. It seems always to start that way, doesn’t it?

“Trouble would start when the other guys would look me over and see how little I was and then steal my books and pencils,” Sanchez told writer Douglas Looney in 1980. Later, older boys would call him “nena,” or “little girl.”

“Then I would have to show them I had the tools,” Sanchez said. “There were a lot of bloody noses and bloody eyes. Unfortunately, sometimes they were mine.”

None of the blood spilled in the ring on February 2, 1980 belonged to Sanchez. It all had once belonged to Lopez, then to posterity. A ringside observer for the New York Times reported counting more than a dozen fresh cuts on Lopez’ face after referee Waldemar Schmidt stopped at :51 of the 14th round.

The largest wounds — a gash at the corner of his right eye that pumped blood from early on, and a left eye that was swollen shut for all practical purposes — twice moved referee Schmidt to ask for the ringside doctor’s permission to continue the fight, presumably so he wouldn’t be held liable if Lopez bled to death.

Lopez didn’t bleed to death. He charged headlong into Sanchez,’ full arsenal round after round, hoping it would work this time like it had against all the others. He just couldn’t connect.

“He was a much better fighter than I thought he was and than I expected,” Lopez said. “He had the moves and I never could hit the guy. He just gave me way too much movement. I just could never land a shot on him. If I did it was a glancing shot or a shot to the body that didn’t hurt him anyway. He was a strong, great young fighter.

“He was in great condition and my punches never seemed to bother him at all,” said Lopez. “I don’t know if I ever landed a shot that would have taken somebody else out but I never could hit him with a solid shot.”

Sanchez had no such worries. Once he started Lopez’ left eye swelling, he would slide to his right and bang Lopez on the left eye. It worked over and over. It was exactly what he had envisioned happening when, after fighting on a couple of Lopez’ cards, he studied the champion and planned his strategy.

“I knew from the first time I saw him that I could hit him with my right,” Sanchez said after the fight. “Today, I don’t think I missed with it.”

To many, Sanchez’ win came as an enormous surprise. He was not well known outside Mexico. Even Lopez didn’t know much about him.

“Going into the fight I had no idea how good Sanchez was,” he said. “I took him as another up-and-comer coming to try and get my title and I trained hard for the fight and was in good shape and didn’t take him lightly for sure.”

Others weren’t as surprised.

“It was no big surprise to people in the fight game,” Don Fraser, the legendary West coast promoter who put together many of the biggest fights of the era, told RingTV.com.

“People in the fight game knew Sanchez was a very good boxer and puncher and knew that Danny Lopez, even though he was a very good puncher too, really wasn’t in his league. Sanchez was considered a very good fighter.”

A few months shy of two years after Sanchez dethroned Lopez, Dwight Muhammad Qawi overwhelmed Saad Muhammad in Atlantic City, effectively bringing to a close one of the fight game’s great TV eras. Thirty years down the road, those fights still hold up.

Epilogue:

Sanchez was killed in a car crash in 1982, after making nine title defenses. He was posthumously enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Lopez fought just twice after losing the title to Sanchez. He was stopped by Sanchez in the 14th round in their rematch, and in a one-fight comeback in 1992, Jorge Rodriguez stopped him in the second round.

Some random observations from last week:

I like Mayweather-Mosley more than I did Mayweather-Pacquiao anyhow. And speaking of Mosley, this is a how a fighter acts who has nothing to hide. Take note, Pacquiao fans

Kudos to Jesse Brinkley for taking apart Curtis Stevens on Friday Night Fights. It’s always fun when a bully gets his head handed to himÔǪ

Ray Serrano is a nice enough little boxer, but he’s a threat to hurt someone like a Scandinavian sprinter is a threat to win an Olympic gold medal. It just ain’t happeningÔǪ

That the Glen Johnson-Yusef Mack fight is an IBF “title eliminator” — in Johnson’s first fight since being schooled by Chad Dawson — is just the kind of logic-defying nonsense that has become the norm in our sport. How embarrassingÔǪ

So based on what you saw on ShoBox, who would you pay to see fight again — Archie Ray Marquez or Derrick Campos?ÔǪ

I don’t know how far Chris Avalos’ punch will take him, but I’ll be watching him until it takes him no furtherÔǪ

Bob Arum is absolutely right to delay Yuriorkis Gamboa-Juan Manuel Lopez. His job is to make the fight as big as it can be, and it can get a lot bigger than it is right now. Good for him

According to Australian boxing doyen Paul Upham, delays in getting a visa are what kept Sakio Bika from meeting Allan Green to see who would replace Jermain Taylor in the Super Six tournament. Green never got so lucky in his life; Bika would have run through him like week-old oysters

Don’t worry, Erik Morales’ comeback won’t last long. Just as long as it takes to make Barrera-Morales IV, which I welcome no matter how old they are. Who wouldn’t?ÔǪ

Add JD Salinger, who died last week, to the list of great writers to leave us over the last few years. He joins Norman Mailer, W. C. Heinz, Kurt Vonnegut, William Stryon, and John Updike. And yet, Jeremy Priven, Tyra Banks, the Octomom and the executive members of the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO live on.

Bill Dettloff can be reached at [email protected]

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