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The Battle of the Little Giants

The Battle of the Little Giants was a boxing event with a deep social impact.

Fought on August 21, 1981 at the Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, it pitted Wilfredo Gomez, a Puerto Rican who had a record of 32 wins, 0 losses and all his wins by knockout, and who was the world's Jr. Featherweight champion, against the lesser known Salvador Sanchez, who hailed from Mexico and was defending his world Featherweight crown.

Gómez was the favorite at the betting windows by a landslide. His knockout win streak of 32 fights in a row and Sánchez's relative obscurity made him be so.

The fight was broadcast to all of the United States and through many Latin American countries. Sánchez began by surprising most fans and dropping Gómez 40 seconds into round one. Gómez got up, and came back to take round two. By round three, however, Gómez's eye started to puff, and Sánchez started zeroing into that area. Sánchez took round four, but Gómez roared back in round five, and had Sánchez badly hurt against the ropes in round six. However, by then his right eye was almost closed and his left eye had begun to close too. Sánchez took advantage of that and battered Gómez around in round seven.

Round eight proved to be the final round. With Gómez almost blinded, Sánchez took him to the ropes and landed a combination of punches that almost sent Gómez off the ring. With Gómez down against the ropes, referee Carlos Padilla stepped in and stopped the fight, giving Sánchez an eighth round knockout win.

In Mexico, a new legend was born. Sánchez had, in their eyes, avenged the loss that Gómez had inflicted to Carlos Zarate some years before. He became recognized by many Mexicans and international fans as Mexico's greatest world champion ever, but that moment of glory was short lived, because almost a year after his fight with Gómez, on August 12 of 1982, Sánchez was killed in a car accident. Soon, Julio Cesar Chavez would replace him in the hearts of many Mexican boxing fans as their greatest fighter ever.

In Puerto Rico, it was a moment to mourn for most boxing fans. Many businesses and stores were closed the day after, as Gómez was a national hero to most Puerto Ricans, and he was seen by many as invincible. It took, in the eyes of Puerto Rican boxing fans, 18 years to really avenge Gómez's defeat against Sánchez, and that was when Felix Trinidad beat Oscar De La Hoya in 1999. Gómez went into a depression, but he roared back the next year and posted world title wins against many other boxers from there until he retired in 1989. Among the fighters he would beat later were Lupe Pintor (who was also Mexican) at the Carnival of Champions, and Juan Laporte. Gómez joined the exclusive group of fighters to win titles in three different boxing divisions.

It could be said that Sánchez, in between the moment he beat Gómez and the moment he died almost a year later, warmed himself to the hearts of many Puerto Ricans. He granted interviews to many Puerto Rican television news shows, and was known for speaking well about Puerto Rico and it's people. When Sánchez died, news of his death were heard across Latin America, and many people both in Mexico and Puerto Rico were saddened by his passing. His funeral was shown live in Mexico, and in Puerto Rico, a tribute show to him was aired by WAPA-TV five days after his death, featuring his past interviews with that network's sportscasters, his story, and clips of his fights.

Gómez himself also became a dear person to the people of Mexico after this fight. Although they knew him as the Mexican beater because of the many other fights he won against Mexican boxers, Gómez showed no ill feelings towards the people of Mexico by offering Sánchez flowers after Sánchez died, and becoming a frequent visitor to the Sánchez family thereafter. On Sánchez's small town, there is always a festival to commemorate Sánchez's memory every year, around the week of August 12. Gómez has been named Grand Marischal of that festival three times already, and has been a guest of honor the nineteen times it has been celebrated after Sánchez's passing.

There had always been talks of a rematch between the two before Sánchez passed away. What would have happened in a rematch will never be known, but the fact is that both Gómez and Sánchez are now together in a place far different from a boxing ring: They are both in the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.