A Boxing Memory: Tony Ayala Jr

A Boxing Memory: Tony Ayala Jr

Tony Ayala Jr had many opportunities in boxing, and in life itself. But in many ways, he blew it.

In 1977 when Ayala was 14, he sparred with the great Mexican world welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas and legend has it that Cuevas called time after two rounds. He’d had enough.

There was always a buzz around Ayala, a 140–8 amateur record and numerous titles put him on the brink for the 1980 American Olympic Team. But he turned professional at 17 with Lou Duva and Shelly Finkel, and the subsequent American boycott of the Moscow Olympics indicated he had made the right call. One of the few times you could say that.

Ayala was seemingly on his way to becoming a superstar. He was 19, an unbeaten start to his career had promised plenty, world titles a mere formality. Twenty-two wins had spawned nineteen stoppages, the world title was next. Davey Moore the WBA light-middleweight champion had agreed to defend his title against the rampaging but deeply troubled prospect.

A former defence attorney of Ayala once said of him: “Tony had some rough edges. If you really, really got to know Tony, he was a nice guy.”

Ayala never shared a ring with Moore, in the early hours of the first morning of 1983, Ayala broke into a neighbour’s house tied her up and brutally raped her at knifepoint. Rough edges, nice guy, he said. It’s like saying Jack The Ripper had a few minor issues to address, but he was otherwise an OK type of guy. Nice guys don’t rape defenceless women with a knife.

Sixteen years later and back on the streets and apparently born-again, Ayala now 36, tried to revive what he had taken from himself. But his time had passed, very soon he was back serving it.

Before that alcohol and drug-fuelled attack that ended his freedom and much more, Ayala was the perceived can’t miss red hot prospect. Moore, an unbeaten champion was nothing more than the sacrificial lamb. All Ayala had to do was turn up, The bigger fight was to try and stay out of trouble. A fight he could never win.

“I was Tyson before there was a Tyson,” Ayala once said. There were many similarities. Early transgressions were swept aside, covered up by the dirty dollar. He was still in his teens when he committed his first assault, an attempted rape of an eighteen-year-old, a financial settlement and 10 years probation saved him. But not for long.

It helped Ayala in the short term, but in reality, he was beyond it. Drinking to excess, shooting heroin as if there was no tomorrow, many times, Ayala was lucky there was. The drink and drugs started when he was twelve, the school years hampered by frequent drunken visits before he finally dropped out after passing his ninth-grade exams. Boxing was the excuse he gave for his premature exit. In truth, an excuse was all it was.

From an early age in San Antonio, Texas, Ayala had demons to conquer. Before he was a teenager Ayala was sexually assaulted by a family friend. The macho environment he lived in led Ayala to believe he had to suffer in silence. An early voice could have saved him. And his victims.

Ayala and his three brothers were born into boxing, and as one writer said, ‘homeschooled in violence and machismo.’ Tony Ayala Sr went far beyond the strict disciplinarian. He ruled with an iron fist and more. The tough uncompromising ex-marine wanted his sons to become world champions. None of them did.

Despite his violent background promoters formed a not-so-orderly queue to sign Ayala on his release from prison. There was still value in his name, hope that redemption and an unlikely resurrection could come his way. A changed man, the usual narrative to salvage a destroyed reputation. Ayala managed five wins against carefully selected opposition before a too-tough Mexican Yori Boy Campas derailed the plans for fights with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad. Ayala was 37, his future looked bleak. And short.

Ayala fought on, but he was losing a bigger one. A stoppage loss to one Anthony Bonsante in 2002, was the final nail in his boxing career. In truth, it had come many years earlier. But Ayala had bigger problems.

Just two years later Ayala would find himself incarcerated once more. He was arrested for having no driving licence, being in possession of heroin and pornography with a charge for speeding thrown in for good measure. A clear parole violation and it cost him 10 more years of his freedom. It should have come sooner. Ayala had been shot in the shoulder by a teenage girl after he broke into her house. Somehow, he escaped a long prison stretch. But it was always a matter of when and not if Ayala would return to an extended period behind bars.

Released in 2014, Ayala would soon reach a predictable end. The following year he died of a heroin overdose. He was 52.

There has always been this great myth about the career of Ayala. A curious case of what if. The resume was padded with the usual suspects who were there for a reason. But make no mistake, Ayala had largely looked the part. Davey Moore would likely have been bludgeoned to defeat in a similar manner to what Duran inflicted on him on that memorable night in Madison Square Garden in 1983. There was more than talk about Ayala and Duran sharing a ring together. But when the Panamanian legend dropped a decision to Kirkland Laing, plans changed.

Duran was in the middle of his own recovery after his ‘No Mas’ shame, but Ayala would have been the perfect foe to reignite the old fire. You suspect, Duran would have exposed the myth.

But we’ll never know what could have been. Ayala was always on that road to oblivion, as much as a threat he was inside the ring. He was a much bigger one outside of it.

Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Allsport

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