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Postscript to a Bad Night in Vegas: Javier Ayala's Final Fight

Ted "The Bull" Sares is back again tonight (or this morning, I guess) with his final piece of 2010.

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In no other sport is the connection between performer and observer so intimate, so frequently painful, so unresolved.
- Joyce Carol Oates

Every man's memory is his private literature.
- Aldous Huxley
His name was Javier Ayala and he lived in Los Angeles by way of Tijuana. He had gone ten rounds with both Nicolino Locche and the great Roberto Duran and also went the distance with Leroy Haley and Estaban De Jesus. His career highlight likely came in Brisbane in 1974 when he shocked Aussie Hector Thompson (49-3-2 coming in). He also retired Angel Mayoral (51-7-2) with a points win in 1976.  But on this night at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas, his main event opponent was Bruce Finch whose legacy would be that after his 3rd round TKO loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in1982 in Reno, Leonard would have surgery to repair a detached retina.
Coming into the Finch fight, Javier had lost six straight including bouts to the very capable Jerry "Schoolboy" Cheatham, Dujuan Johnson, and rugged Lou Bizzarro. He had become a gate through which prospects must get through before going to the next level.
I was visiting my brother at the time (I had been on assignment in nearby Phoenix and flew in for some R and R), but on this particular July night in 1980 I was alone. After several hours of Black Jack at Bally's and  a soulful dinner at Kathy's Southern Cooking restaurant, I pursued my real interest of the evening which was to watch  a young lightweight prospect out of Youngstown, Ohio by the name of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. He had won ten in a row and was on the undercard in a eight-rounder against one Leon Smith who he blew away in the first round with several unanswered body shots to Smith's liver that you could hear throughout the hall. I was on the aisle near ringside and they sounded like muffled bombs. I was most impressed and anything else on this particular boxing night would be icing on the cake.
Chris Schwenke fought his first pro fight and won a four-round UD over Bill Fallow. This would be the start of a 14 fight win streak. There was an uneventful 6-rounder between Danny Sanders and Irish Pat Coffey which Danny won by TKO in the last round. At that point, there was a brief intermission and I remember this young boy of about 9 or 10 years old who then appeared and was standing just to the rear of my seat. I asked him his name and he said he was Javier Ayala's son. He was very shy and humble. We had a nice exchange (in Spanish) and I said I hoped his father would do well. As the fighters walked to the ring, I noticed Javier reach over to pat his son on the shoulder and give him a smile and a wink. The fighters were then introduced amidst the usual fanfare and the crowd readied for the main event.

Finch, a welterweight from Milwaukee, had lost only three fights coming in and these were to top level opponents Tommy Hearns, Larry Bonds, and Pete Ranzany. He had won 21 and was touted as having lots of pop in his punches. The much younger Finch looked to be in excellent welterweight shape, while the tattooed Ayala looked every bit his age of 37.
As I torched up my Cuesta Rey -- thankfully, there were no smoking restrictions back in 1980, particularly in a gambling casino -- the fighters received their instructions touched gloves, the bell rang and the fight began.

The first two rounds were mostly cat and mouse with both fighters feeling each other out and getting in a few decent shots. Finch threw some neat combinations and seemed to have taken control by the end of round two. It happened in the third round. Both fighters were coming out of a clinch and as they set themselves, Ayala moved forward to throw a telegraphed looping right. Finch got there first unleashing a short and vicious right uppercut which hit Ayala at the point of his chin.

You could hear the blow back in the gambling area. Ayala hit the canvas as if he had been hit with a ten gauge shotgun...and that's when what started out to be a pleasant evening of manly fun became something else. As he landed on his back, his body hit before his head which then whip sawed onto the canvas. He stayed down as his only handler hovered over him and as ringside officials and the referee quickly went to revive him. He was unconscious and stayed that way for some 10 to 15 minutes without so much as moving a limb. A stretcher was being readied, the crowd was hushed, and a genuine sense of concern permeated. Everyone feared the worse. Finch, while elated with his one punch victory, was visibly concerned as well. While this was all going on, I glanced over at his son standing in the rear area and I'll never forget the look on his face or the tears welling up in his eyes. I went over and put my arm around him and said "don't worry; your father will be fine." He was shaking all over and it was all I could do to keep myself composed.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Javier Ayala arose to scattered applause.

The relief was palpable. He left the ring under his own power, albeit unsteadily, and seemed okay. As he was heading for the dressing room, he stopped and took his son's hand in his own and they both disappeared from sight as they went into the room. The word that best describes what I witnessed at that moment was overwhelming emotion was one of sympathy and pity.

I never found out exactly what happened to Javier but I do know that was his last fight. He finished with a record of 24-25-1. Where he is today or where his son might be remained mysteries that I never attempted to solve. Maybe I was afraid of what I might learn.
As for Bruce Finch, he would win eleven in a row before being stopped by Sugar Ray in 1982. He would then lose six of his next seven fights before retiring in 1985.
To this day, when I get giddy over some fight or engage in a heated argument over boxing in general and need a reality check, I always think back to that bad night in Vegas, one that would leave me with indelible, though mixed memories.
Postscript: Last week, some thirty years later, I received the following email from Gerardo Arroyo. "Hello, my father is good friends with Javier Ayala.  Javier is doing fine and currently resides in Tijuana.  He has good memories of his boxing career.  I met him when I was a young kid.  He has a peacock tattoo on one of his shoulders, is he the same person you are describing in your article?"

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