Forgotten Legends: Tony Ayala Jr.

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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.

TonyAyalaJr

Super Bouts Throughout Boxing History

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By: Steve Gallegos

With the long anticipated mega fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao just a day away, we are going to look back at some of the “Super” bouts throughout boxing history.

Marvin Hagler vs Thomas Hearns– During an era of 4 kings: Hagler, Leonard, Hearns and Duran, this was probably the best fight matchup made from the circle of these 4 legends. The 1st round was one of the best rounds in boxing history as Hearns came out throwing everything he had and rocked Hagler.. Hagler showed his grit as well as a very hard head and weathered the early onslaught. Hearns, who liked to end fights early, tried his best to get Hagler out early and broke his right hand in the process. After a bad cut on the forehead of Hagler, put the possibility of the fight coming to a close, Hagler went in for the kill and put Hearns down and out.
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Marvin Hagler vs “Sugar” Ray Leonard– Like Mayweather vs Pacquiao, this bout was the most anticipated fight in the 1980’s. Both men were superstars with contrasting styles and personalities. Leonard was the charismatic, fun loving hero and Hagler was the blue collar, all American Joe. After many years of waiting as well as many comebacks for Leonard, the fight finally took place in 1987. The fight wasn’t an all out slugfest as Leonard chose to box, move and not engage with Hagler. Hagler started off slow, choosing to fight in an orthodox position as compared to his southpaw style. Ray used the ring, threw flashy combinations and would flurry in the last 30 seconds of each round to try and steal the round. Hagler had his moments in the middle rounds; however this was Ray’s night as he fought a smart fight, won over the crowd and would win over the judges as he won a 12 round split decision.
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Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield– Mike Tyson was considered “The Baddest Man On The Planet” and very few fighters posed a threat to Tyson. After putting off a big payday against Evander Holyfield and electing to give a shot to a 42-1 underdog in James “Buster” Douglas, Tyson was knocked out in 10 rounds in Tokyo, Japan in February of 1990. Holyfied would then knock “Buster” out later on that year to claim the heavyweight title and a showdown between Tyson and Holyfield looked like a done deal. They were scheduled to meet in early 1992; however Tyson’s rape conviction would scrap the fight all together. After Tyson’s release from prison in 1995, he did claim 2 Heavyweight titles over obscure oppostion. Finally in November of 1996, the two met at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. Holyfield, who showed he wasn’t intimidated by Tyson fought a well strategized fight in which he kept the fight on the inside and didn’t let Tyson land his hard bombs. The end result was an 11th round TKO for Holyfield.
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Julio Cesar Chavez vs Oscar De La Hoya– It was the most anticipated bout since Hagler vs Leonard. You had the Mexican legend in Chavez who had ruled the 140 lb division for the 7 years and you had the Mexican-American Golden Boy moving up in weight, trying to win his 4th world title. It was a contrast of styles as Chavez was the all action banger and De La Hoya was an exciting boxer/puncher. They met in June of 1996 at the legendary outdoor arena at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, NV. De La Hoya came out using his jab and immediately opened up a huge cut over Chavez’s right eye. The eye continued to bleed badly and in the 4th round, De La Hoya opened and began landing hard left-right combinations. Referee Joe Cortez called time to have the ringside doctor inspect the cut and the bout was stopped awarding De La Hoya the WBC Super Lightweight Championship.
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Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier– It was the fight dubbed as the “Fight Of The Century”. You had 2 undefeated Heavyweight Champions going against each other to see who was the best. Ali had been away from boxing for 3 1/2 years due to refusing induction into the Armed Forces. During Ali’s exile from boxing, a new heavyweight champion came along in “Smokin” Joe Frazier. Frazier; however didn’t garner the same respect as Ali did and many didn’t feel he was the true heavyweight champ. The 2 champions would meet in 1971 and they had the United States of America divided. It was a fight of many twists and turns and the most memorable moment of the fight happened in round 15 when Frazier landed a huge left hook that put Ali down. The end result was a 15 round unanimous decision win for Frazier.
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Beyond the Ropes: Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson

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By: Heath Harlem
Follow Heath @PittGrad0214

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(Photo courtesy of Mysanantonio.com)

The 2012 International Boxing Hall of Fame class was headlined by the induction of Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns.  The Hit Man is a household name to both fight fans and general sport fans due to his success winning titles at five different divisions over the course of his career.  Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was also on the program that day and to many fight fans he was the “other” American fighter inducted that day.  It was fitting for Johnson to be “other” fighter inducted that day, since throughout his career Mark was often seen as the “other” fighter in his own division and in the larger fight world.  However, when we take a look back at the career of Mark Johnson we find a trailblazing fighter who dominated a division like no American had ever dominated before.  Unfortunately, due to politics of the game, fight fans missed out seeing how great Johnson really was.

Born in Washington D.C on August 13, 1971, Mark was the son of a boxing trainer.  Being born into a fight family, it didn’t take long for Johnson to join the family trade.  Mark entered the ring for the first time at five years, and quickly became a dominant amateur.  Mark was given the Nickname “Too Sharp” by his best friend, and his amateur career was capped off with a U.S. Amateur championship in 1989.

The American fight game historically has been dominated by fighters in the 140lb and higher weight classes.  Mark turned pro in 1990 and despite the historical trend; “Too Sharp” took the Flyweight division by storm, winning 38 straight fights at the flyweight division.  While most fighters with Mark’s type of talent prefer to take safe and easy fights in their hometown, Mark took a different route.  Mark had a desire to face the best in the game on the biggest stages.  This competitive fire took Mark away from D.C. and he became a regular fighter on the West Coast at the Great Western Forum when the Forum was the biggest stage in boxing.  Despite fighting many big fights outside of D.C., “Too Sharp” never wanting to be away from his family, never held a training camp.  Instead he trained in his own gym in D.C. and that training formula turned wildly successful.  On May 4, 1996 Mark defeated Fransisco Tejedor via an impressive 1st round KO to become the IBF Flyweight Champion.  No African American had ever held a Flyweight Championship before Johnson accomplished this historic feat.

Mark successfully defended the IBF Flyweight Title seven times before moving up to the Super Flyweight division.  In his first fight at Super Flyweight, Johnson defeated Ratanachai Sor Vorapin via a 12 round unanimous decision on April 24, 1999 to win the IBF Super Flyweight title.  Johnson defended this title three times before moving to Bantamweight.  Mark’s 3rd and final Super Flyweight defense was declared a no contest when an all-out brawl broke out due to low blows.  The fight was called in the 4th round and Mark was ahead three rounds to none on all three judge’s score cards. 

Johnson moved up to Bantamweight and after two easy wins, stepped into the ring to face Rafael Marquez on October 6, 2001.  Mark lost via split decision in what is considered one of the worst refereed fights of all time.  Referee Robert Gonzalez took 2 points away from Johnson for holding and that proved to be the difference in the fight.  Mark then lost the rematch with Marquez four months later via knockout.  Many fight observers thought that after the 2 fights with Marquez that Johnson was finished as a top level fighter.  However, Mark had different plans and dropped back to the Super Flyweight weight class and on August 16, 2003 Mark defeated Fernando Montiel via a 12 round majority decision to become the WBO Super Flyweight champion.  Mark successfully defended the title twice before he lost it to Ivan Hernandez on September 25, 2004.  Johnson fought one last time in February 2006, suffering a final defeat at the hands of Jhonny Gonzalez.

Throughout his career fight fans were consistently entertained by Mark’s charismatic personality and exciting performances.  Johnson never had a consistent style, instead he had an incredible ability to adapt to his opponent’s style.  Fighting in an age where tape study was a key part of most fighter’s training camps, Mark never watched a minute of tape during his career.  He simply had natural instincts that allowed him to scientifically box when needed or simply start a slugfest with his opponent if that was in his best interest.  This natural boxing ability made Mark one of the most dangerous potential opponents for his contemporaries.  Throughout his career, Mark called out the best in the game including Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero, and Michael Carbajal.  Top Rank promotions owned the promotional rights to many of the top fighters in Johnson’s weight class and they kept their fighters away from Mark.  Due to the top name fighters ducking Johnson, Mark was never able to secure the marquee fights he deserved or fight fans wanted to see.  This cost Johnson millions in personal income as well as left a void when his career ended; disappointed that he never got to show the world how much better than the other “names” he really was.

Boxing has always been in Johnson’s blood and when he retired he continued to be part of the game.  He began training young fighters, sharing his love of the game and keeping the kids off of the streets at the same time.  He also worked as a fight commentator, a job he simply loved and can’t wait for the next opportunity.  Mark is best known for his historical accomplishment of  becoming the first African American Flyweight Champion as well as a two time Super Flyweight Champion.  Despite these accomplishments, when Mark first retired he felt that he didn’t get his just due, since he never got the marquee fights due to the politics of the game.  However, that all changed in 2011 when Mark got the call from International Boxing Hall of Fame letting him know he was going to be inducted into the hall of fame in his first year of eligibility.  It isn’t often that fighters are voted in on their first year of eligibility.  Despite not making the millions the marquee fights would have brought, Mark’s career was capped with the boxing writers acknowledging to him and the fight world just how great of a fighter Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson really was.