Forgotten Legends: Tony Ayala Jr.

By: Steve Gallegos

In the 1980’s boxing saw a new golden era which featured four kings in Hagler, Leonard, Hearns and Duran. All 4 men had legendary careers in which they all faced one another. During the early stages of this golden era, a new star was on the rise and he had all the tools necessary to compete with these four legends. His name was Tony Ayala Jr. Ayala had it all. He had the skill, the speed and the power. The prize was his for the taking, however he lived a reckless, partying lifestyle and that lifestyle would prevent him from reaching greatness.

Ayala was born and raised in San Antonio, TX and boxing was in his blood as his father Tony Ayala Sr and his two brothers Sammy and Mike were all fighters. Ayala turned pro in 1980 at the age of 18 and would begin his pro career with a bang as he won his first 13 bouts, 12 by knockout. It was in his 14th fight that he would get his first taste of national exposure as he appeared on the undercard of Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns. Ayala was impressive in scoring a first round knockout over Jose Baquedano. The boxing world began to take notice as Ayala was making a name for himself. Prior to his appearance on the Leonard-Hearns undercard, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and many experts and key figures such as Angelo Dundee and Lou Duva predicted that Ayala would be an all time great.

Outside the ring however, Ayala was living a reckless lifestyle that included alcohol and substance abuse. As one of his friends once said, they lived their lives by the three “B’s”, Booze, Broads, and Boxing. Ayala was also getting in trouble with the law as he was twice convicted of assault against women in which he received probation for his offenses. After going 22-0 with 19 KO’s, Ayala was in line for a word title shot, however his reckless lifestyle outside the ring would prevent him from reaching that goal.

In early 1983, Ayala was convicted of sexual assault after he broke into his neighbor’s house and sexually assaulted her. Since he was a repeat offender, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison, which brought his promising boxing career to a screeching hault. He was only 19 years old. After serving 16 years of hard time, Ayala was released in 1999 and many managers and promoters were eager to sign Ayala as he returned to the ring. Upon his return to the ring, he would go 5-0 with five KO’s against credible opposition. His bouts were being fought in his home state of Texas and the arenas were being sold out as many fans came out to support Ayala.

After winning his fifth bout in his comeback, Ayala was once again back in the hunt for a world title. He would face former world champion Yori Boy Campas in a title eliminator. They met on 07/28/00 in front of a packed, pro Ayala crowd at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, TX. It was an exciting toe to toe fight in which Ayala was getting the better of Campas in many exchanges. As the fight headed into the late stages, Campas began to take control of the fight as he began to batter Ayala. After the eighth round, Campas retired on the stool due to a broken hand.

It was Ayala’s first career defeat and probably his last shot at becoming world champion. His demons outside the ring continued to haunt him. In late 2000, he would once again break into a woman’s home and this time he was shot in the shoulder. He received a short jail sentence and probation for the crime. He would continue to fight up until 2003, going 4-1 with three KO’s, however his troubles outside the ring ended his career for good. In 2004, Ayala was sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating his probation after he was pulled over speeding in which he didn’t have a license as well as possessing heroin. His record as professional boxer stands at 31-2 with 27 KO’s.

He was released from prison in 2014 and would help his brothers run the Zarazamora boxing gym after their father’s death in April of 2014. Ayala’s life; however would come to a tragic end as he passed away on 05/12/15 due to an apparent drug overdose. He was 52 years old. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family. He had all the talent and skill to become an all time great. Could he have become the fifth king during boxing’s golden era, had he stayed out of trouble outside the ring? Could he have won multiple world titles while mixing it up with Hagler, Leonard, Hearns and Duran? What we are left with are the memories of promises unfulfilled.

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