Salvador Sanchez was a great Mexican featherweight boxer who ran up a 44-1 record and won a featherweight title shortly before dying in a car crash in 1982, at the age of 23. Salvador Sanchez II is a Mexican featherweight boxer. The meaningful resemblances end there. The superficial resemblances continue: Sanchez II, the nephew of the original, took the ring at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night wearing his uncle's classic red-velvet short-short boxing trunks. He also sported his uncle's exact huge fro, and the classic extra-high red boxing boots, and high red-striped socks, appearing for all the world to have just dropped in from 1979, a real time-travel trip. He had the haircut and the feel-good enthusiasm of Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro. He should have been DJ'ing a pool party at the Ace Hotel. He should have been a smiling background character in an LMFAO video. He should have been a roller-skate disco king. Poor, gentle boy! He should have been anything but a boxer.
For Salvador had traveled all the way here, to 2012, from a time, we must surmise, before violence was invented. His feel-good aura lasted right up until the bell was rung, at which point it became clear that he possessed the look, but not the skill, of his uncle. (It defies belief that he has found 30 men to defeat in his career, and 18 to knock out, especially since he was not favorably disposed toward punching. But many things are possible in Mexico.) He held his arms tightly in front of him, parallel, upper body stiff, hopping around the ring, as his Puerto Rican opponent, Jayson Velez—an actual, talented fighter, not a fashionable curio—proceeded to land looping right hand after looping right hand to the side of Salvador's head. (To be fair, Salvador's fro expanded the circumference of his head to the point that it was impossible to miss.) There was Salvador, bouncing around stiffly in his fabulous throwback outfit, being clobbered. In the second, he ate an awfully ignoble left uppercut and went down, and then was knocked down again as soon as the third round began. Velez felt so unthreatened that he jumped onto the ropes, turned his back on his opponent, and exhorted the crowd as the ref was making his count. Luckily, Sanchez II was still peeling himself off the canvas and did not have to witness that rather crude gesture of dismissal. He was then promptly smashed again, and TKO'd. It was jarring. All of that forethought into his outfit, for naught. Had this been the movies, the inspirational figure with the stunning wardrobe would, of course, have pulled out the gritty victory. But this is boxing. Its tendency is to bathe all sentimental narratives in blood.
Saturday night was dedicated to the proposition that Puerto Ricans are among the last people on Earth who reliably buy boxing tickets. Miguel Cotto, Puerto Rico's biggest (ever so slightly fading) boxing star, was fighting the tough, hungry, younger, and far less famous Austin Trout—a hard fight with little to no upside for Cotto in a business sense, but he fights the hardest motherfuckers, and that's why he's beloved, so maybe he's smarter than I am. The undercard was designed to be mostly a procession of Puerto Rican fighters mismatched against weaker non-Puerto Rican fighters, for the amusement of the paying fans. Michael Perez, a Puerto Rican out of Newark, faced off with the Mexican Fernando Carcamo, who appeared at first to be the easiest man in North America to knock off his feet, going down in the first round after a glancing left hook, and then again after a mediocre straight right to his belly, which he blocked, but fell down anyhow from its not considerable force. He also tripped once. But perhaps he was just one of those slow starters. Carcamo had the elderly looking body of a fighter, the back bent from the tight abs and the neck jutting forward and the arms constantly crooked for throwing hooks. He could punch, and he liked to fight, two things that go a long way toward replacing physical strength. He lasted until the eighth before getting knocked down again from an uppercut that Perez threw with notable anger, probably out of frustration that he hadn't knocked Carcamo down for the last seven rounds despite his demonstrable frailty.
Jeffrey Fontanez, Puerto Rican, with a puncher's long arms, knocked Pedro Arcos out cold in the second with a beautiful short left hook, leaving Arcos sitting down with his right arm draped over the second rope, totally unconscious. Jorge Melendez, Puerto Rican, battered James "Shotgun" Winchester for four rounds, sapping his will to the point that he tried to fake an ankle injury in the fourth round, rising up only after the entire crowd of Madison Square Garden began booing him simultaneously. The fight resembled an episode of Bully Beatdown, in which the tough-nicknamed but flabby and unskilled guy comes up against a pro fighter and has his body and ego publicly flayed. The ref stopped the fight in the fourth while patting Winchester on the chest, consoling him. For many losing fighters, the ego damage is the hardest thing to take, although punches to the head would be high on the list as well.
Cotto lost. He is a great fighter in his own way, but he is too small to be fighting at 154 pounds. Trout is taller than him, and possessed a huge reach advantage, and—most importantly—used that reach advantage properly. Meaning that he kept popping Cotto with jabs and an occasional hard right hand to the face and filled up minute after minute with steady combination punching, moving constantly; when Cotto was able to get inside, he'd grab at least one of his arms. Trout, a southpaw, keeps his lead hand low, and was open for Cotto's left hook, his best punch. And Cotto hit him with it, solidly, at least a half-dozen times. And Trout took it and kept fighting. Cotto was the smaller man and could not get inside enough to do damage, and he could not hurt the bigger man even with his best shot, so he lost. It was pretty straightforward.
In the subway station afterward, a young Puerto Rican guy strode up and down the platform, asking people if they knew who'd won the fight. He could scarcely believe it when he heard it had been Trout. "Yo, he won easily??" He sounded devastated. Though the night had been purposefully designed as a violence-swaddled Puerto Rican celebration, it had not been altogether successful. One man with a reach advantage more than canceled out 10,000 screaming boricuas. The triumph went not to the entire Puerto Rican flag-waving upper deck of the Garden, but to the lone Kimbo Slice doppelganger down in front wearing a white "TEAM TROUT" T-shirt that appeared to have been printed up at home. Cotto has reached his twilight years. Puerto Ricans did not get their championship narrative that night. And, thanks to Salvador Sanchez II, they didn't even win "Best Dressed."