Pilgrimage to Santiago Tianguistenco: Rocky García and Salvador Sánchez’s penultimate rival

Peregrinaje a Santiago Tianguistenco: El viejo rival que rinde tributo a Salvador Sánchez

On the 39th anniversary of Salvador Sanchez, the commotion broke out on the esplanade where the statue of the young boxing prodigy is in Santiago Tianguistenco.

A man of middle age, in his sixties, approached a small group of family and friends from Sal Sanchez gathered there and introduced himself. Thick hands, thin eyebrows, a flat nose, the unmistakable signs of someone who has passed through a ring.

“It is Rocky garcia! ”Someone in the group exclaimed. Suddenly, everyone exploded in joy and came to meet and greet him.

Every August 12, hundreds, and even thousands of people gather in Santiago Tianguistenco to commemorate the death anniversary of Salvador Sanchez. This time, in 2021, and for the second year in a row, the Covid 19 pandemic has considerably reduced the group gathered there. Now, about 20 people, commanded by the brothers of Salt, and his nephew savior.

The group that met for the 39th anniversary of Sal Sánchez

Rocky García in Santiago Tianguistenco: the penultimate rival of Salvador Sánchez

Jorge Garcia, Rocky, is a former professional fighter. But he is a character known only to those who perfectly master the history of Salvador Sanchez and the boxing scene of his time. That is why, in the group, automatically, they understood everything. They knew who it was and they all jumped from their seats at the same time.

He was the penultimate rival of Salt. Rocky garcia faced Sanchez just weeks before the tragic accident at the Porsche. It was at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas, on May 8, 1982 when Rocky challenged Salt in dispute of the WBC featherweight world championship, held by Sanchez. Y Rocky garcia, who had only lost two bouts in his career, managed to resist the 15 rounds to Sanchez to lose a unanimous decision.

In 1982, Sanchez Y Garcia they clashed on May 8; then, after just over two months, Salt knocked out in the last round Azumah nelson at Madison Square Garden.

And then, on August 12, 1982, the cruelest of outcomes. While driving back to his preparation camp in San José de Iturbide, Querétaro, the Porsche 928 of Salvador Sanchez he was hit in the rear by a truck. The vehicle of Salt It was thrown into the opposite lane where it hit another truck coming from the opposite direction. There it all ended. Since the fight with Rocky garciaIt had only been three months and five days.

About Salvador Sanchez a special, almost mystical aura has been created. The young prodigy who did everything at 23, but dies tragically and prematurely. What would have happened if … is the question that everyone asks.

And so, Santiago Tianguistenco has become a place of pilgrimage for Salvador Sanchez. The one that goes from the Parroquia de Santiago Apóstol to the esplanade of the Hidalgo Auditorium is a path that every boxing fan must walk at some point. As you walk, at the bottom of the walker is the statue of Salvador Sanchez. The bronze character, with unmistakable curls and a raised guard, grows larger and larger as he advances through the walker.

The statue is there on the esplanade, on the same ground where a helicopter landed with the remains of Salvador Sanchez back to Santiago Tianguistenco, just a few hours after the accident.

Statue in honor of Salvador Sánchez in Santiago Tanguistenco
Statue in honor of Salvador Sánchez in Santiago Tanguistenco

They have walked that same path Wilfredo Gomez, Azumah nelson Y Juan Laporte, emblematic rivals of Sanchez over the ring. Other great Mexican champions have walked it, such as Julio Cesar Chavez. They all come to pay their tribute to the young prodigy.

The pilgrimage of Rocky García

Just like they, Rocky garcia traveled from California to Santiago to fulfill the mandate. He walked, alone, along the path to the statue, where he was warmly received by the group of family, admirers and friends who remember the great champion year after year.

There, in the sacred town of Mexican boxing, Rocky walked to be for the first time in the traditional death anniversary. That’s where the legend was born.

“It is the first time that I come to Santiago Tianguistenco”, he explains Rocky. “I came to know where he lived Salvador Sanchez; and I was given that I could come in this month. I had come before, but it did not coincide with the death anniversary. “

And is that Rocky He traveled from California, where he has lived most of his life. Born in Mexico, Rocky He crossed the border at a very young age to the United States, where he began his boxing career.

Upon arrival, he observed the base of the statue that has been consecrated to Salt in the place. There are carved out several of the most important fights of the great champion. Rocky discovered that it is part of history.

“I was surprised that my name is on the statue of Salvador Sanchez“, He said Rocky in a broken voice. “It’s good that my name is there, so that my friends do not think that I told them lies that I fought with Salvador Sanchez“.

Rocky García points to the star with his name on the statue of Salvador Sánchez
Rocky García points to the star with his name on the statue of Salvador Sánchez

The family of Salvador Sanchez, like his brother Sulio, her nephew savior, and all those present, received Rocky as one of the family. As if they had known him his whole life, it took just moments for him to Rocky congregate everyone at the foot of the statue telling the anecdotes of his fight with Salt. They all listened carefully.

The mental file of those present has well registered every moment of the race of Sanchez. And immediately, it was Sulio, younger brother of Salt, who began to throw data from Jorge Garcia, that expeller whom a few hours ago, he had never seen in person.

“But you endured the 15 rounds,” he pointed out. Sulio to Rocky with admiration. “But I do remember that you started very brave, moving.”

They all smiled heartily at the memory.

That night, Rocky garcia made $ 35,000, according to the magazine Sports Illustrated, nine times more than in any of his last fights. Salt, on the other hand, he took 150,000.

“I was very well prepared,” he recalls Rocky. “In my career no one had knocked me out, no one had thrown me. savior I hit hard, but what happened is that he never gave me a full combination. It hurt me more to start, but then I warmed up. I didn’t hit quietly, I hit hard, but it may be that I also had my stamina ”.

Rocky explained the main challenges of fighting with Salvador Sanchez, who by then had already knocked out Wilfredo Gomez

and twice a Coloradito Lopez, two future Hall of Famers.

“The most difficult thing to fight with Salvador Sanchez was to locate it, ”he says Rocky. “He had a lot of movement. You didn’t catch it standing up, all the time it jumped, it moved, you couldn’t position it properly ”.

As soon as Rocky began to relate anecdotes, those present gathered around him, eager to see him again. Salvador Sanchez. And see it, even if it was only in memory. Which is not a small thing.

“Without knowing me they welcomed me,” he says. Rocky. “It is a joy to know the place where one of the best champions that ever lived was born. Two years ago I came, but at the end of August, and the mourning anniversary had already passed ”.

From the statue dedicated to Sal Sanchez, the group walked a few meters to the cemetery where the champion is buried.

Tomb of Salvador Sánchez
Tomb of Salvador Sánchez

The stories went on.

“I fought a very good fighter. As time went by, he showed that he is one of the best in Mexico ”, he kept remembering. Rocky garcia. “I knew I was going against an established figure who had already beaten Wilfredo Gomez, but my thought was to win the fight myself. I knew he had already fought good fighters, but I prepared to beat him, but I had to fight one of the best fighters there has been. Until now she has not dated one like him.

To the surprise of many, Rocky garcia He said that the day after the fight, he ate with Salt.

“We finished well, and we met for breakfast or lunch the next day,” he recalls. Garcia. “He was good to me. I didn’t like him, and he didn’t like me either. I even served as his interpreter because the newspaper interviewed us. The next day after the fight they invited us to eat. He congratulated me on the fight I gave him. He didn’t mean badly about me or anything. I did get agüined, because I did not beat him ”.

The best Mexican fighter in history

That night in Dallas Rocky garcia he lost in the ring, but he won in morale.

Magazine Sports Illustrated, in his chronicle of the fight, he handed over to Rocky the respect he earned on the ring.

“Against Rocky garcia, to Sanchez it was not easy. That Garcia has survived the 15 rounds is not the result of some carelessness of Sanchez, but from the determination of Garcia to get off the ring with the respect earned. And he did”.

In Rocky Garcia’s mind, his fight with Sanchez it grows bigger every year, as the legend of the mythical Sal grows.

“For me it is an honor to have fought with Salvador Sanchez because of the legend he has become, and that I was able to fight with him ”, he says. Rocky. “As far as he got, and at the age he was, he is the best Mexican fighter in history.”

In his memory Salvador Sanchez He is a giant, and the arguments to defend the greatness of his rival, he launches with the same naturalness with which he threw blows on the ring.

“Although some may feel bad, at the weight he fought, he was better than Marquez, Barrier, Morales. At that age of 23, he already had a name, “he says. Garcia.

Y Rocky He does not shy away from entering one of the hottest debates in Mexican boxing. For him, Salvador Sanchez must be above Julio Cesar Chavez in the history. And there he also launched arguments, powerful as hooks and uppers. His reference is a rival who Salt Y Chavez they had in common: Juan Laporte.

“Inclusive, Salvador Sanchez it was better than Julio Cesar Chavez“, Explain Rocky. “And if not, watch the fight of Chavez with Laporte, and see the fight of Sanchez with Laporte. Sanchez hits easier to Laporte that Chávez. And what with Chavez fought at another weight higher. It was so Chavez he will knock him out, just because of the punch and the change of division ”.

To Rocky garcia, the fight with Salvador Sanchez it was the biggest of his career. Three months later, on August 12, 1982, Rocky garcia, and all of Mexico, woke up to the news that their great champion had died in a car accident at dawn.

“That day I woke up, and it was everywhere, on the news, on television, on the radio,” he recalls. Rocky. “There was a general duel. He felt sad at how old he was, 23 years old. At that age he had already surpassed many of those who followed, but he was lacking. I feel that he was not even halfway through his career ”.

The phrase of Rocky garcia the meeting ends, and sets the mood. Salvador Sanchez he was not even in the middle of his career. The faces soften, the glances lose themselves in the forested horizon. And they all leave with the same question they came with.

The question inspires thousands of boxing pilgrims who come to Santiago Tianguistenco every year. And for them, it is an answer that does not arrive either.

What would have happened if I hadn’t died Salvador Sanchez?

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