Having been denied a shot to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics, one of the promising young smaller weight fighters in the United States in the early 1980s made his mark as a World Champion almost 40 years ago.
Richard “Richie” Sandoval of Pomona, California, was a two time National Golden Gloves champ, who won at the U.S. Boxing trials in the Spring of 1980 to place him on the Olympic team. But, the USA boycotted the Moscow games due to Russian military conflict in Afghanistan.
Sandoval was so highly thought of by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and they wanted him to get Olympic recognition that he was chosen as one of eight athletes to lead the 1984 teams into the L.A. Coliseum, while holding the U.S.A. flag. This despite him no longer being an amateur.
Sandoval had turned pro, and had raced to 22 straight wins and stepped through the ropes in Atlantic City on Saturday afternoon April 7th, 1984 seeking to capture the WBA Bantamweight Championship. It was a fight on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with a younger, legendary Emmy award winning Al Michaels on the play by play.
Sandoval took on the reigning WBA bantamweight champ “Joltin Jeff” Chandler, who had captured the title in 1981 and had defended it successfully eight times over the next three years. Chandler was a rugged brawling fighter from Philadelphia, who loved to exchange blows at close quarters and wear down his opponents. The champ was an overwhelming favorite due to his championship experience.
However, from the outset Sandoval set the tone by blistering Chandler in the first round and staggering him with a left hook. After another exchange of punches along the ropes and with the crowd at the Sands Hotel and Casino already roaring out of their seats, Sandoval nearly knocked Chandler down with a right hand before he was able to tie the challenger up.
Chandler never went down earlly, but clearly a statement had been made. Sandoval continued to dominate the action with faster hands and bigger punches and staggered Chandler again in the 10th round, but without dropping him.
The first knockdown of the fight finally came early on in the 11th, as Sandoval caught Chandler coming in with the left ,knocking him off balance and cleanly to the canvas. The Californian poured on another barrage of punches, but could not finish Chandler in that round.
This was the first time that Sandoval had ever been past the 10th round in his career and yet, he looked much fresher then Chandler in the championship rounds
Finally, Sandoval got to Chandler early into the 15th stanza staggering him in a corner, and then landing for tremendous punches that rocked Chandler. Finally, two right hands snapped Chandler’s head back and legendary Referee Arthur Mercante stopped the fight.
Sandoval was on top of the boxing world having won a World Championship at just 23 years of age. By the way, Chandler never fought again.
Meanwhile, his popularity was growing and it included him defeating Edgar Roman by 15 round round unanimous decision in September of that year in another NBC nationally televised fight from Monte Carlo.
Unfortunately for Sandoval, he was having increasing difficulty making the 118 lb. weight and began to fight as a 126-pound Featherweight in non-title fights through out 1985. Finally, the WBA ordered him to fight its number one contender, Texan Gaby Canizales in March of 1986.
That fight was on the PPV undercard of the Marvin Hagler-John Mugabi World Middleweight Championship main event in Las Vegas.
Sandoval was tremendously overweight the week of the fight and had to shed 12 lb. in the 72 hours before the weigh-in to keep from being disqualified. He made weight, but was clearly sapped of any strength in this one.
Canizales dominated the unbeaten champion from the beginning scoring an early knockdown in round one. He later staggered a lethargic Sandoval for a “standing 8 count” in round five.
Finally, in the fateful 7th round, Sandoval already looked spent, as Canizales dropped him twice. Referee Carlos Padilla let the fight continue and Sandoval was knocked flat with a straight left. and his head slammed down on the canvas.
Padilla waved the fight over without counting and Sandoval, while being tended to by doctors, never moved for more then three minutes, while apparently suffering a seizure.
The attending physicians and paramedics eventually got Sandoval onto a stretcher, quickly into an ambulance and to nearby Valley Medical Center. Sandoval was initially in serious condition, however, he recovered and regained consciousness that night. Amazingly, he actually was released from the hospital a couple of days later. He still has no memory of any part of the Canizales fight.
And, the injury was serious enough, and scary enough, for Sandoval to retire for good at just 25 years of age and finished with an 29-1 record.
Still, he fought on the biggest stage successfully in the early and mid-1980’s and his first title win came in a spectacular upset performance in 1984.