40 years ago Sunday night, one of Mexico’s great fighters won his first massive World Title bout in an upset against a popular American Featherweight Champion. That’s when Salvador Sanchez announced himself to the boxing world with a 13th round TKO over long-time popular WBC Champ, Danny “Little Red” Lopez.
The fight was held at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in Phoenix, Arizona, with a partisan crowd behind the popular “rags to riches” champ” Lopez who had grown up on a Native American reservation in Utah in poverty. His gutsy hard-punching style, and willingness to trade punches made him popular with fight fans.
And, Lopez had captured the WBC Featherweight Championship in 1976 and defended it eight times over a four-year period after that. That set him up for taking on the rising twenty-one-year-old contender Sanchez in a nationally televised fight Saturday afternoon on CBS.
Unfortunately for Lopez, he met his match in terms of trading punches, guts and “will to win.”
Sanchez just simply out-fought Lopez at every turn, beginning right away with staggering Lopez with a hard right hand in the first round. That would be Sanchez’s best weapon throughout the fight, and he had landed such big shots, that Lopez’s left eye was already swelling shut in the fourth round.
Lopez would occasionally land one of his patented hard straight punches, but Sanchez would fire back with combinations and answers nearly every time..
In the 7th round Sanchez nearly floored Lopez with another hard right hand, as he buckled along the ropes and had to hang on to survive. Sanchez continued to pile up the rounds in the 8th and the 9th with Lopez bleeding from his right eye and nose.
Lopez finally began to score some in the 10th round of the fight, but his large crowd in Phoenix couldn’t will him to victory. The still seemingly fresh Sanchez eventually wore him down more, hurting him again with a combo late in the 12th.
In the 13th round the end came quickly, after two hard right hands staggered the champion, and the referee jump between the fighters waving the fight off for a TKO.
Sanchez made a quick defense of the WBC 126 lb. title and then, he and Lopez squared off again in June of 1980 with the fight being almost a carbon copy of the first. Sanchez repeatedly out-slugged Lopez in exchanges, as “Little Red” was just overmatched, worn down and stopped, again. This time in the 14th round.
As we wrote previously, Sanchez tore through the Featherweight division over the next two years and eventually, scored an impressive KO over former unbeaten Undisputed 122 lb. champ, Wilfredo Gomez in August of 1981. Sanchez won 11 straight title fights in two and half years to become 44-1-1.
Sadly, Salvador Sanchez’s life was cut short by an auto accident in August of 1982 in home country at only 23 years old, leaving every fight fan in Mexico devastated. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Lopez only fought once more, some 12 years later, and was kayoed once more.
And, while he was an exciting smaller weight champ for awhile, it all ended at the hands, and the will, of Salvador Sanchez.