One of Jack London's short stories is entitled The Mexican. It concerns a desperately poor youth who slips across the U.S. border to fight in cheap smokers to buy guns for the revolution. He always wins, even against his betters, because his way of life dictates he dare not lose.
At the age of five Jorge Garcia Gonzalez, a/k/a Rocky Garcia, was on the streets of Mexico City, shining shoes and peddling papers. After he crossed the border, he slept in the backseat of a battered Camaro for 10 days because he couldn't pay the rent in Placentia, Calif., where he was working in a bakery. He went on to win 23 of 24 professional bouts, never being knocked down, before taking a fight with a superb champion for $35,000, nine times more than any pf his prior purses.
But the ending for Garcia diverged from London's story line. Garcia's ending was Salvador Sanchez. The WBC featherweight champion with an illustrious 42-1-1 record, Sanchez pounded out a unanimous decision over Garcia last Saturday night at Dallas' Reunion Arena.
It wasn't the rout that had been predicted, just the workmanlike culmination of a workaholic's week, in which Sanchez had handed out 1,000 photographs of himself at the Cinco de Mayo festival, and worked; visited Tom Landry, and worked; turned down the chance to throw out the first ball at a Rangers game, and worked.
"He's strangely different," WBC President José Sulaimàn said of Sanchez. "Like Ali, not a great puncher, but a train could not knock him down."
"The reason I fight is to beat three champions: Danny Lopez, Wilfredo Gomez and Alexis Arguello," Sanchez said. "Two have been done," said Eddie Maf√∫z, Sanchez' translator. And so they have—Lopez by a knockout in 1980, Gomez by a knockout last August.
Now came Rocky Garcia, and he didn't go easily. Garcia's 15-round survival was the result not so much of any largess on Sanchez' part as Garcia's determination to walk out of the ring with respectability. That he did.
The first six rounds were strictly fox-and-hounds, with Sanchez boring straight ahead. Sanchez threw few jabs, merely tracers lighting the way for his big right hand. He began blasting Garcia with rights in the second round, scoring heavily with a bolo to Garcia's head. But Garcia's chin held firm. Many of Sanchez' heaviest punches caught the challenger high on the head.
Still, with the added effect of Sanchez' body attack, Garcia absorbed endless punishment. But his skin served him. He didn't cut until late in the fight, and then it was a small one, below the left eye, and stayed that way.
"You've got to enjoy it," said WBC heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, who had fought a four-round exhibition earlier in the evening to sharpen himself for next month's title bout with Gerry Cooney. "You've got to enjoy the shots you take and you've got to love landing."
Sanchez was landing and loving it, although with his doll's face he doesn't look like a pug. It's that face that precipitated Sanchez' first fights, defending his masculinity and schoolbooks and pencils against toughs in Santiago Tianguistenco, near Mexico City. They called him ni√±a, or "little girl." "He did not start out as a hero in Mexico," says his physician, Dr. José Valenzuela. "He was of the middle class."
"You know how people love the fighters from the humblest beds," says Sulaimàn. Sanchez' father owns a construction firm, and Salvador still lives at home with his 11 brothers and sisters, most of whom haven't seen his title fights.
Lack of an entourage isn't the only difference between Sanchez and other champions. He has no nickname—no El Torito or Chapo or Mantequilla. Just Sal. He will gain at most five pounds between fights, and for him the height of dissipation is savoring the aroma of apple-flavored pipe tobacco. There's a girl back home, but beyond that "he doesn't even go out," says Maf√∫z. "All he wants is to fight. And perhaps shop."
Sanchez is currently shopping for Arguello, the estimable WBC lightweight champ. "I am ecstatic with delight," says promoter Don King. "I have both Sanchez' and Arguello's names on the contract. The fight should be in September, in Las Vegas." That's assuming Arguello survives his May 22 bout with Andy Ganigan and Sanchez later defeats Colombia's Mario Miranda. "Sanchez got $150,000 for Garcia, plus Latin rights augmentation," says King. "He should get around four times that for Arguello."
"We don't mind if Arguello gets more," says Juan José Torres Landa, Sanchez' lawyer. "We have a good guarantee and percentage."
Garcia called Sanchez a "great champion," even though he struck him a low blow in the seventh, which held up the fight for five minutes.
"I will win," Sanchez says of the prospective bout with Arguello, for which Sanchez would move up from 126 pounds to the lightweight limit. It would be the biggest fight for Latin Americans since he beat WBC super bantamweight champ Gomez last August. Sanchez continued: "I will win because I promised, and because of the faith and the confidence I have in Salvador Sanchez."
Sanchez battered Garcia often enough to knock down a wall, but he still wouldn't fall.