Salvador "Chava" Sanchez was born in Mexico in 1959 and had only a handful of amateur fights before turning professional at the tender age of 16. He possessed all of the skills needed to be a world class fighter: good speed, power, and an excellent counter-punch.
Sanchez was 18-0 with 17 KO when he fought Antonio Becerra for the vacant Mexican Bantamweight Championship in 1977. In fact, his first 24 fights were in his homeland.
After being floored in the opening round, Sanchez dropped a split decision to Becerra, then won two straight by decision. In 1978 in his first fight outside Mexico, he fought Juan Escobar to a majority draw in Los Angeles. He was dropped in the fifth round, which would prove to be the last time he would ever hit the canvas.
He was a pleasure to watch. I saw him on television several times and was always entertained by his performances.
Sanchez reeled off 13 straight wins, including a fifth-round KO over Mexican champion Felix Trinidad (no, not Tito, Tito's father), before being offered a title shot.
One of the most popular smaller fighters of his time, Danny "Little Red" Lopez was the current WBC Featherweight Champion. Lopez had won the title in 1976 with a decision win over David Kotey, and was a 2-1 favorite to beat the up-and-coming Sanchez.
In his ninth title defense, Lopez gave Sanchez a shot in a battle that was billed as Little Red vs. Little Known.
Sanchez showed his entire arsenal to Lopez and battered the champion like nobody before him. By the end of the fight, Lopez looked like he was mugged by a gang of thugs while Sanchez was virtually unmarked. In the 13th round, referee Waldemar Schmidt mercifully called an end to the beating.
Chava became the first Mexican Featherweight Champion since Ruben Olivares.
In his first title defense, Sanchez won an unanimous decision against Ruben Castillo before giving Lopez a much deserved rematch. In a more competitive fight than the first, the result was the same.
Sanchez won by a 14th round stoppage.
Lopez would retire after the fight and stayed retired for 12 years. He came back for one more fight, being knocked out in the second round by Jorge Rodriguez, who owned a record of 10-25-2.
Sanchez had two more successful title defenses in 1980, beating undefeated Patrick Ford by decision, then decisioning future champion Juan LaPorte.
In 1981, Sanchez beat Roberto Castanon and Nicky Perez before defending his title against undefeated Wilfred Gomez. Sanchez beat Gomez viciously, closing both eyes before knocking him down in the eighth (he was also decked in the first) and referee Carlos Padilla calling a halt to the action.
Sanchez gained some serious popularity after that fight.
That fight recognized him by Ring Magazine as Fighter of the Year (he and Ray Leonard were both awarded) for 1981.
In 1982, he beat Jorge Garcia before fighting undefeated future champion and Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson. In a slugfest that could have been waged in a phone booth, the fighters refused to give quarter to the other. With Sanchez ahead on two of the three scorecards, Tony Perez stopped the fight in the 15th and final round as Sanchez released an attack that Nelson could not defend.
In a sad ending to a short and successful life, Sanchez was killed at the age of 23 in an automobile accident on Aug. 12, 1982. Many historians think that he would have been the best featherweight in history had he not been killed.
Ring Magazine named him the third best featherweight in history.
His career record was 44-1-1 with 32 knockouts. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
His resume contains the names of some greats: Danny Lopez twice, Wilfred Gomez, Azumah Nelson (Hall of Famers), Juan LaPorte, Ruben Castillo, Patrick Ford and Roberto Castanon.