‘Monster’ is a term often used in boxing to describe aggression in a combatant, fighters such as Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier even more current we see Naoya Inoue taking it for his nickname but it is more encapsulating of the fighter I base this article on.
If you are an avid reader of TopClassBoxing you will have already seen a trend appearing with the features I write, Edwin Valero, Johnny Tapia and Ike Ibeabushi were all notorious for their actions outside a boxing ring, whether it’s of their own accord or actions that were out of their control. Tony Ayala Jr is another that can be added to the list of fighters who because of his own actions meant he would slip from promised superstardom to obscurity.
Truthfully his career was set to fail from its infancy, a fighter who had such a bright future that his manager Lou Duva once said “Forget Leonard, Forget Hagler and yeah, forget Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano and Tony Ayala Jr were the guys. Not even Muhammad Ali, as great as he was, had it quite like those two guys”
You can put that down to bias but others shared the same view, Veteran boxing writer Michael Katz added the superlatives, saying that he was the best young fighter he had ever seen, sentiments that were echoed by Angelo Dundee who said Ayala could have been one of the greatest fighters to ever lace gloves.
Ayala’s skill was unquestionable, his amateur record was impeccable winning 140 against just 8 losses, winning the National Junior Olympic titles in 1977 and 1978 as well as a National Golden Gloves championship in 1979.
Path to Destruction
It was never a question of skill, it was his mindset that would be his undoing, always looking like a fighter with his finger on the self-destruct button, even before making his professional debut he had plans to undo the good work of the people around him.
Aged 15, he was sentenced to ten years for sexual assault at a drive-in theatre in San Antonio, Texas. However, money talked on this occasion, his victim found it in her heart to speak on his behalf after receiving a payment from the Ayala family of $40,000 which meant he instead was handed a 10-year probation.
The writing was already on the wall but Tony put himself into a position to fight for the title with a winning streak of 22, aged 19 he had the world at his feet with a $700,000 payday waiting lucratively for him against Davey Moore, it was never to be.
The win would have meant his possible inclusion into the four kings of Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, a spot which was filled by Roberto Duran who subsequently beat Moore whilst Ayala was serving a 35-year Prison sentence, it must have been a bitter pill yet for Ayala to swallow such was his disdain for Duran, later recalling a chance meeting with the Panamanian as he walked from Madison Square Garden after signing to fight Moore.
The sound of drums being played in the distance from a street corner, Tony decided to walk by only to see Duran there.
“I’m gonna kill him – I hate him,” said Ayala Jr on the brief confrontation “He (Duran) sees me and he takes off, runs from me. I was not that bothered because I knew I would get him soon, get him in the ring.”
That fight like the Davey Moore contest would never materialise, Ayala would instead replicate his earlier crime, leaving his wife asleep at 3am on January 1st 1983, he broke into a neighbours apartment and sexually assaulted her in a horrific attack.
It was an act that waved Goodbye to potential superstardom, instead he strapped himself in for some jail time, Ayala served 16 years in prison even crediting the stint for keeping him alive “If I had not gone to prison, I would have died that year – prison kept me alive,”
His friends always said that Ayala lived by the three “B’s”, Booze, Broads, and Boxing, a mixture of which meant Ayala had virtually hit rock bottom, as skilled as he was between the ropes of a boxing ring, it was unable to satisfy his demons that stayed the course, He was ferocious at his best but even then would operate outside the lines, often spitting at downed opposition or involved in scuffles with the friends and family of his opponents.
He tried to convince everyone of being a changed man, some bought it with hopes of seeing glimpses of his potential but the years in jail had taken his prime, good enough to compete with fringe level opposition but not enough to challenge.
A first career loss to Yori Boy Campas ended even the slight possibility of making the step, retiring on his stool with a broken hand in the eighth round before another visit to the big house in 2000.
Like previous crimes, Ayala again would break into a young woman’s home, whereupon being awoken by a dark figure who had crept in through an open window, this time found the female was armed as Ayala was shot in the shoulder. He received a brief jail term but in 2003 was again making headlines for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, this time the charges were dismissed when the girl said she lied about it.
In 2004, the trend continued as he was sentenced to ten years in prison for violation of probation after he was pulled over in his vehicle for speeding, and was also charged with driving without a license, heroin possession, and possession of pornography.
You probably have the same question as I have been left with, Why? Could it have been the brutal regimes that his father Tony Ayala Snr had employed for his four sons who also would go on to become notable boxers (Sammy, Mike and Paulie)
More likely was that years later Tony confessed that he was abused as a teenager but was unable to tell his father because of the shame he felt. this probably was the main catalysts to throw his life into a spin.
His Final Act
It didn’t come as a surprise to see headlines of Ayala’s demise in May 2015, nor did it the final act of him dying, the only surprise was that it played out peacefully, slumped over in a gym which was thought to be his salvation at the Zarzamora Street Gym in San Antonio an apparent heroin overdose the cause.
He once told Steve Bunce in 1999 “There are no angels on this earth, I know that, I just wish I could have done things differently.”
A sentiment which is shared by us all.