Postscript to a Bad Night in Vegas

By Ted Sares on September 20, 2011
Postscript to a Bad Night in Vegas
Javier Ayala left the ring under his own power, albeit unsteadily, and seemed to be okay.

Come with me as I return to the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas in 1976, a night grounded in the true pathos and ambivalence of boxing…

“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

After the over-the-top hype of Mayweather vs. Ortiz fight and then the bizarre ending to the fight, I find myself in need of a reality check. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time. It happened when Tyson dined on Holyfield’s ear and it happened when I heard Riddick Bowe being interviewed. So come with me now as I return to a night at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas in 1976 where I would forever be grounded in the true pathos and ambivalence of boxing.

His name was Javier Ayala and he lived in Los Angeles by way of Tijuana. He had gone 10 rounds with both Nicolino Locche and the great Roberto Duran and also went the distance with Leroy Haley and Esteban 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 third 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 10 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 six-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 nine 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 10-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 whipsawed 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 pathos…my 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 11 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: A few weeks ago, some 30 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?” He was.

In a sport known for its inherent brutalities and sleazy underbelly, there is nothing wrong about a boxing story with a happy ending.

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  1. Scott Yaniga 11:08am, 01/24/2014

    Ted Sares is the unsung literary hero of the sport of boxing. Never following a linear path through the pugilistic landscape, his sometimes quirky, always entertaining and informative articles provide an invaluable resource to us slavish devotees of the Sweet Science.

  2. TEX HASSLER 07:04pm, 09/25/2011

    That was a truly great article and well worth reading. No one who boxes long comes out unscratched as it is an extremely dangerous sport.

  3. The Thresher 04:48pm, 09/22/2011

    In the end, Boxing is a harsh place. It’s a man’s world; it’s not for the fainthearted or the prissy. Still, it’s a safe place for me to be without having to worry about how I behave or what I say.

  4. The Thresher 12:28pm, 09/21/2011

    basis-typo

  5. The Thresher 11:57am, 09/21/2011

    We have been friends for years. The basis for our friendship is that we are both Old School fans and both of us like boxing trivia as in “What did you know about that guy?” He is a peach of a man.

  6. dollar bond 11:41am, 09/21/2011

    I’m impressed that you know Harold Lederman, Ted.  How did you meet him?

  7. The Thresher 05:35pm, 09/20/2011

    Harold I did. That was some hard core boxing.

  8. The Thresher 05:34pm, 09/20/2011

    Thanks, Bob

  9. Bob 05:09pm, 09/20/2011

    I remember the Silver Slipper well.  The promoter was a very colorful fellow whose name escapes me, but Ted really captured the essence of the place, as well as the sport of boxing away from the glitter, with this beautiful story.  Great read, Ted.

  10. Harold Lederman 04:00pm, 09/20/2011

    Good article Bull.Did you ever go to the fights down the basement at the “Silver Nugget” Bowling Alley?

  11. The Thresher 03:25pm, 09/20/2011

    Thanks, Es

  12. es 10:54am, 09/20/2011

    Cool read indeed Mr Sares. Nothing wrong with your grey matter.

  13. The Thresher 10:28am, 09/20/2011

    Well thank you Pug

  14. pugknows 10:25am, 09/20/2011

    This one almost made me cry. It was if I were in the Silver Slipper myself. Great read, Ted.

  15. The Thresher 09:19am, 09/20/2011

    Dollar, I was involved in a Labor Realtions assignment in Glendale, AZ. It was at Digital’s ultra modern printer plant and lasted three months. It was simply marvelous. Once I resolved the issues, I was rewarded by the company with a week in Sedona and a trip to Cailfornia. Vegas was an easy weekend plane trip for me. Did it several times mostly to gamble and visit with relatives.

  16. dollar bond 09:06am, 09/20/2011

    What kind of assignment were you on that would place you in vegas?  I want one of those.  After Mayweather-Ortiz, perhaps here is something with which to get grounded on the reality of boxing.

  17. The Thresher 09:01am, 09/20/2011

    Mike Casey, as in Nelson and Buckley-ha!

  18. The Thresher 09:00am, 09/20/2011

    MIKE SCHMIDT and John Coiley, many thanks, mates. BTW, Johnny, my book should be ready for November. Publisher is working on rhe cover design.

  19. The Thresher 08:58am, 09/20/2011

    Your Name, it was in my book, but this is the POSTSRIPT that makes it a NEW piece. The first one did not have a happy ending; this one did. By the way, who are you?

  20. john coiley 08:30am, 09/20/2011

    GREAT STORY; neither sad nor happy ending. How can there be? He lost, was tough enough to withstand brutality and survive. Though barely, and with but foggy memories of the night the lights went out.

  21. Your Name 07:50am, 09/20/2011

    Ted i’me pretty sure i’ve read this story or something very similar, was it in your first book “Boxing is my sanctuary” ? i’ll have to check it out.

  22. MIKE SCHMIDT 07:36am, 09/20/2011

    Great article Ted. Put the reader right in the moment, right in the moment.

  23. mikecasey 06:57am, 09/20/2011

    .... and when they call you The Professor, it means you can string together two sentences without offending anyone!

  24. The Thresher 06:54am, 09/20/2011

    FD, Bobby Chacon was nicknamed “Schoolboy.” It goes all the way back to the 60s. Jerry Cheehtam was another. It’s part ob\f boxing history. Actually, all you have to do is take a corresponence course somewhere, and you get the nickname.

  25. The Thresher 06:51am, 09/20/2011

    Thanks, Mike and Bill

  26. FrankinDallas 06:41am, 09/20/2011

    Why is every boxer with a post high school education called “schoolboy?” Well, except for Bonecrusher Smith, who had a college degree. Bonecrusher is a better nickname for a boxer than Schoolboy.

  27. mikecasey 06:22am, 09/20/2011

    Very refreshing and well written article, Ted - and yes, nothing wrong with a happy ending at all. I too remember that awful crack that Javier took - nice to know that all turned out well.

  28. dollar bond 05:54am, 09/20/2011

    This is a pure masterpiece.  Best I have read in many years.  Keep honing your craft, Ted.

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