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Salvador Sanchez was lying on a Tucson hotel-room bed last Thursday, idly folding a $10 bill into a tight half-inch-by-one-inch rectangle. Then he and his buddies would chortle at the uninitiated who couldn't figure out how to unfold the bill without tearing it. "Doing this kills time," Sanchez explained.
What else do you do to kill time?
"I hammer watches."
And with that, the WBC featherweight champion afforded himself the luxury of another small laugh. He doesn't laugh much, on the grounds that boxing, for those who do it well, is serious business. On Saturday afternoon in Tucson, the stoic, 21-year-old Mexican said, "I like to take care of my responsibilities properly." Then he walked out and made all 45 minutes of his bout against the No. 3-ranked contender, Ruben Castillo, count as he won a unanimous 15-round decision. It was a brilliant display of nonstop aggression and classic boxing.
It was also Sanchez' first defense since he upset Danny (Little Red) Lopez on Feb. 2 to win the championship. Sanchez' defeat of Castillo served notice that his 13th-round TKO of Lopez was no fluke. Don Georgino, president of Five Star Promotions, which, with Madison Square Garden, put on the fight, said of Sanchez, "I look on him as a machine."
If, as Webster's has it, a machine is a "device...which may serve to transmit and modify force and motion so as to do some desired kind of work," Sanchez was all of that. And because of television's renewed interest in boxing (ABC put up $450,000 for rights to televise this fight and a summer rematch between Lopez and Sanchez), it could be that Sanchez will join Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Pipino Cuevas and Wilfredo Gomez as one of those non-heavyweights who can generate a following and make very big bucks. When Sanchez, who is starting to draw squeals on the streets with his good looks—though he attracted only 3,875 paying fans to the 9,000-seat arena at the Tucson Community Center—is asked if he thinks of himself as handsome, he says, "Certainly not. I think of myself as very, very handsome."
Sanchez was born and raised in Santiago Tianguistenco, a village of 3,000 people some 30 miles south of Mexico City that prides itself on the quality of the corn it grows. He is one of 11 children; his father, Felipe, owns a small construction company and wishes his kids liked loading sand and bricks onto trucks better.
Like so many who gravitate to the sport, Sanchez got into fighting early. At school? "No, only before and after school," he says. "Trouble would start when the other guys would look me over and see how little I was and then steal my books and pencils." It got more serious when they began to call him nena, or little girl. "Then I would have to show them I had the tools," Sanchez says. "There were a lot of bloody noses and bloody eyes. Unfortunately, sometimes they were mine."
Understandably, he sought more formal instruction in boxing, and, "I found I liked to defend myself." And hit others? "Sure, sure, mostly to hit others." So his interest grew, despite the fact that nobody else around the Sanchez home gave boxing very high marks. Salvador's oldest brother, Thomas, 26, recalls that their mother "was always after Salvador to stop fighting. We all were. None of us paid any attention to his boxing. Actually, we thought it was a thing youngsters go through and then get over. We kept telling him that there was nothing for him in boxing and we never took it seriously."
But Salvador did, running up a 14-0 amateur record before turning pro in 1975, at age 16. His record is now 34-1-1; his sole loss came in 1977 to Antonio Becerra (says Sanchez, predictably, "I was robbed"). The draw occurred in a 1978 bout with Juan Escobar (which most neutral observers think Sanchez actually lost).