The Four Hombres
In recent weeks the focus has rightly been on the ‘Four Kings’ of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran and the fortieth anniversary of their intertwined bouts which dominated the 1980’s.
However, at the beginning of the decade four boxing legends from the Hispanic community were operating in the lighter weight divisions – three of which would go onto capture multi-divisional ‘world’ titles, and the fourth would be ranked one of the greatest featherweights of all time.
The esteemed quartet were Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez and Salvador Sanchez.
The cover of The Ring magazine of October 1982 and rankings within would recognise the impact these fighters were having on the Latino scene and at world level. Three being organisational ‘world champions and two recognised by The Ring as the divisional king.
Centre stage was the Nicaraguan Arguello – ‘El Flaco Explosivo’ The Explosive Thin Man – who was attempting to capture a fourth world title at light-welterweight (140lbs/10 stone) having won titles from feather (126lbs) through to lightweight (135lbs). Arguello would go onto narrowly fail against Aaron Pryor in two title attempts, the first fight in the Orange Bowl, Miami on 12 Nov 1982 being recognised as one of the greatest fights of all time. Arguello would finish with a record of 82-8 (65 KO’s) and enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota.
Wilfredo ‘Bazooka’ Gomez from San Juan, Puerto Rico followed a stellar amateur career competing at the Munich Olympics at 15 by gaining world titles at super-bantamweight (122lbs/8st 10lbs) to super-featherweight (130lbs/9st 4lbs). In his homeland he was and remains a boxing and cultural icon.
Back in 1982 he had made 17 successful defences in the super-bantamweight division, all by knockout. A divisional record. He made a single manned assault on Mexican boxing heritage and the Mexico-Puerto Rican rivalry by beating legends like Carlos Zarate before moving up to featherweight for a first time and failing in a bid at Salvador Sanchez’ WBC world title. His first loss. It would take him some years to recover but he eventually added the two heavier titles. Gomez’ career record would read 44-3-1 (42 KO’s).
Wilfred ‘El Radar’ Benitez, also Puerto Rican but born and raised in New York, was the heavier of the fighters campaigning and winning world titles up to light-middleweight (154lbs/11st). He won his first world title at light-welterweight at age 17 (which remains a world record) from Colombian great Antonio Cervantes and would go onto beat Roberto Duran and lose narrowly to Sugar Ray Leonard in marquee fights. Benitez would finish on 53-8-1 (31 KO’s).
Finishing the quartet was featherweight great and Mexican icon Salvador ‘Chava’ Sanchez. He would compile a record of 44-1-1 (32 KO’s) making nine successful defences of his title, two against future hall of famers Azumah Nelson and Wilfredo Gomez. The historic fight against Gomez on 21 Aug 1981 would see the Puerto Rican enter the ring with a 32-0-1 (32 KO) record, including 14 world title fights. Sanchez would dominate throughout scoring an 8th round stoppage victory.
Tragedy would strike in August 1982 when Sanchez life was cruelly taken in a car crash at the tender age of 23. The October 1982 edition of The Ring would mark this sad occasion with a eulogy by Jose Torres. In the mode of James Dean this tragedy would further add to the legend of his accomplishments. Arguello’s life was also sadly cut short at 57 in 2009. Gomez and Benitez survive in difficult health but collectively define a golden Hispanic era.
Five fights that sum up the period of the ‘Four Hombres’ can be viewed on YouTube. Check out Gomez v Zarate, Sanchez v Gomez, Sanchez v Nelson, Pryor v Arguello I, and Benitez v Leonard.