Forgotten Legends: Richard Sandoval

By: Steve Gallegos

Southern California has always been an underrated hotbed for boxing talent. When it comes to boxing, Pamona, CA is known as the hometown of former world champion “Sugar” Shane Mosley. However prior to “Sugar” Shane, Pomona had another world champion that was every bit as exciting and charismatic. That fighter was former Bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval.

Sandoval was an all action, fan friendly, boxer-puncher that thrilled fans throughout the 1980’s. For Richie Sandoval, boxing was in his blood as he came from a fighting family. His brother Alberto was a top bantamweight in the 1970’s who challenged for a world title. Richie was an outstanding amateur winning numerous national titles incuding the National Golden Gloves which he won twice. He earned a spot on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Boxing team, however due to the cold war and the United States boycott of 1980 Olympic games in Moscow, Sandoval wasn’t able to compete. It was a devastating blow and many felt that the lack of olympic exposure robbed Sandoval of the notoriety and bigger paydays.

Despite the olympic disappointment, he moved on and turned pro in November of 1980 and went on a whirlwind of a streak as he knocked out his first 10 opponents. He would go 22-0 with 16 KO’s from 1980-1983. He was becoming a national sensation and was a favorite among fans and media alike. Boxing Analyst’s Al Bernstein and Gil Clancy highly praised Sandoval during this time.

He would then get a shot at a world title when he faced the very talented and experienced Jeff Chandler. They met on April 7th, 1984 at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ and it was for the WBA Bantamweight Championship. Chandler came into the bout as a heavy betting favorite and was making the 10th defense of his title. Chandler was also trying to break the record for the most consecutive title defenses in the Bantamweight division. Sandoval however had other plans.

Sandoval made his presence known in the first round as he caught Chandler with a flush right hand that staggered him. Sandoval went on the attack, landing hard lefts and rights and came very close to taking Chandler out. Sandoval controlled the pace of the bout, using his jab to get inside on Chandler and land good combinations to the body and head. He was also slipping and ducking many of Chandler’s shots and he didn’t let the champion get into any kind of a rhythm.
Sandoval would drop Chandler for the first time in his career in the 11th and he would then stop him in the 15th. It was a huge upset win and Richie Sandoval was now a world champion.

Sandoval would close out 1984 with two successful defenses of his title. Sandoval would begin having problems making the Bantamweight limit and would fight at featherweight over the next year going 4-0. The WBA then mandated that he defend his bantamweight title or be stripped of it. Therefore Sandoval would defend his title against the very tough challenger Gaby Canizales.

March 10th, 1986 was a cold, rainy night when Sandoval and Canizales met at the outdoor arena at the legendary Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The bout was part of a huge card that featured Thomas Hearns vs James Shuler and the brutal war between Marvin Hagler and John “The Beast” Mugabi.

Richie Sandoval had a very difficult time making the Bantamweight limit and came into the ring dry and weakened. Richie Sandoval came out in the first round, pumping his left jab to good effect. Richie, who was known for his good footwork and movement, elected to stand flat footed with Canizales, which was a surprise to many. As the last minute of round one winded down, Canizales landed a hard combination which included a right uppercut that put Richie Sandoval down. Sandoval got up and was able to make it out of the round, however he was hurt. The knockdown was a confidence builder for Canizales who came out in the second round and landed hard combinations. Richie’s corner told him between rounds that he had to move; however Sandoval elected to stand on the inside and trade shots. Sandoval was pumping his left jab very effectively, however he wasn’t throwing any other punches and being outlanded 2-1 by Canizales.

Rounds 3-4 were much of the same as Sandoval just couldn’t get into a rhythm. In the fifth, Canizales put Sandoval down again with a vicious combination. Richie showed the heart of the champion and once again rose to his feet to make it out of the round. It would only get worse for Sandoval as Canizales would put him down 3 more times in round 7, which would end the fight.

The scene inside the ring would turn frightening as Sandoval layed on the canvas, out cold. Moments later, the stretcher was brought into the ring and Sandoval was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He remained in critical condition over the next few days and would have to undergo brain surgery. He was able to make a full recovery, however his boxing career was over. He retired with a record of 29-1 with 17 KO’s.

He was an outstanding fighter with great potential and promise only to have his career come to a screeching hault. What would have happened had he just elected to vacate his title and move up in weight instead of taking the Canizales fight? Would he have become a multi-division world champion as we see so much today? Instead he became another ‘what if’. Another very good fighter that was robbed of becoming great.

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