Boxing was the family business for the Ayala family. Tony Ayala, Sr., was the patriarch of the family. The ultimate payoff for the sacrifices made by the family was a “World Crown” as Ayala, Sr. once called it. I liken the fate of the Ayala boxing family to the House of Creon. There is more to life than any one man’s single enterprise. Can the imagination fathom what four boys could do if they were simply given the task of pursuing the Renaissance ideal?
Mike Ayala came perilously close to winning a world crown when he fought Danny “Little Red” Lopez. I say “perilously close” in the sense that the “House of Creon” would not be a tragedy without hubris; thus, had Mike Ayala emerged victorious how would the fate of the family have been impacted? Perhaps this is the wrong question. There is so much more to life than achieving a “world crown.” What would Mrs. Pauline Ayala not have given for a more diversified family portfolio?
These prefatory remarks serve as a way to write about the enigma that was Tony Ayala, Jr. I met with Tony Ayala soon after his release from his first prison term and just prior to his return to the ring in the summer of 1999. I was given an interview on the basis of me telling his handlers that Chicanos should write their own stories. I grew up in the Westside of San Antonio, as had Ayala; thus, I felt qualified to ask for an interview. I grew up with constant reminders of the destructive concept of machismo. I dedicated myself to study as a way to explore the life of the mind and to distance myself from the cultural yoke that is machismo. I had to fight also but it was in the intellectual arenas.
Tony and I spoke extensively and, when we concluded, I said that I would like to publish an article about our conversation. His response was, “as long as it’s honest.” Honesty is a much friendlier epistemic modality than truth. Truth is much too abstract to encompass the human condition. But, honesty is a better vehicle because, truth be told, Tony Ayala, Jr., was- if nothing else- an honest fighter.
The identity for most Hispanic men rests on their collective and subjective sense of machismo. My contention is that there is much to be said for the life of the mind. All men have it in their blood to know. All four Ayala brothers sacrificed their native ambitions because there was no other path open to them than to heed their calling as dictated by their father. Here, I could be wrong. My purpose in this article is to bury machismo, not to honor Tony Ayala, Jr. My key recollection on our conversation is in the form of what I thought was a poignant question: “why is it that Mike Tyson keeps making the same mistakes, why is his life riddled with self-destructive behaviors?”
Tony’s response was that, “Mike has not looked deeply enough into himself.” There was an embedded assumption that Tony had applied that introspection successfully. I was wrong about that deft assumption because it felt like an unrelenting, honest promise.
When I heard that Tony had repeated his shenanigans in 2000 that resulted in him getting shot, I was disappointed in myself. Why? Because I bought what he told me of Tyson, I could not suspect that he was not being honest with me.
In the fullness of time, I have accepted two things. How could I think that he tricked me if he could not be honest with himself? He could tell me what he thought about Tyson’s inability to escape his demons but I was unwilling to assume that he suffered from a special malady. He adroitly pretended to have faced his demons. He was simply unwilling to take a walk on the wildest of his sides. Perhaps he reasoned that when you can put a man on the proverbial seat of his pants then why should he have to do all that dangerous introspective work.
There was a time when Ayala was a feared man. He was once asked, after dismantling an opponent on national television, who do you want next? He said, “I’ll fight anybody… If my dad asked me to fight Godzilla then I’ll fight him.” Godzilla must’ve been trembling.
In John 8:7, Jesus utters the biblical admonition, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …” I can understand why critics turned Tony Ayala, Jr. into a pariah in the sport of boxing (albeit he was effortlessly doing that to himself). That sense of righteousness, however, may be embedded in an act of re-criminalization; thus, such unbridled judgment is morally suspect. My Archimedean question to such critics is, “How would you like to be known by the worst thing that you ever did?”
My decision to write this testimony is aimed at offering his victim(s), his family, his mother, my memory of a moment in Tony’s life (and mine) when he opened up to me and provided me with an honest retrospective of his affairs. At the time he looked forward to redemption in the only way he knew how- to make a living and to give back. After all, he was a cautionary tale but a great deal more. Godzilla is trembling now.