Tony Ayala Jr. serves as cautionary tale as potential great ‘Tank' Davis takes on Garcia this Saturday on Showtime PPV.
It was 40 years ago that the promising career of Tony Ayala Jr. – the top-ranked junior middleweight in the world – ceased to exist. A New Year’s Day break-in and a heinous crime combined to spell the end of the undefeated can’t-miss contender. Gone were potential super fights with Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Marvin Hagler. Gone were the multi-million dollar paydays – replaced instead by a legacy of failure and prison. Today, Ayala is regarded as the poster child for wasted talent.
This is not to suggest Gervonta “Tank” Davis will end up like Ayala. But the Baltimore phenom has seen enough serious close calls lately to at least draw legal comparisons to the troubled San Antonio fighter – and serve as a cautionary tale as to how disastrous things could get. There has been an assault, a hit-and-run, and most recently, a disturbing domestic violence charge that was later refuted and dismissed by the alleged victim, who is reportedly the mother of his daughter.
Amid this backdrop of chaos, Davis’s career will continue as Tank takes on Hector Luis Garcia, 16-0 (10 KO’s), at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. (9 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, Showtime pay-per-view). The stakes are high: if Davis wins, it’ll be on to a showdown with fellow lightweight phenom Ryan Garcia in one of the most anticipated fights of 2023.
“I’ve always been the guy who stays focused and knows that whoever is in front of me is a threat,” Davis said early last month. “We know that Ryan Garcia is coming. I’m watching him a lot. I know what they’re doing day in, day out.”
Simply, Davis, 27-0 (25 knockouts), is one of boxing’s biggest stars. Blessed with extraordinary athleticism, Davis is an explosive puncher with speed, quickness, and ring smarts. At 5-foot-5½, Tank is a 135-pound answer to Mike Tyson: a stocky, versatile destroyer who sets the table with boxing skill and incredible speed.
His 2020 knockout of Leo Santa Cruz reiterated his stunning ability. After a fairly even five rounds, Tank erupted in the sixth, countering Santa Cruz’s succession of right hands with his own uppercut that instantly concussed the four-division champ. Fight over.
In his next fight, Davis moved up 10 pounds to 140 and carried his power with him, stopping Mario Barrios in the 11th. He outpointed durable lightweight Isaac Cruz a year ago in a fight that looks better as time goes on. And in his last fight in May against Rolando Romero, Tank did as he did to Santa Cruz, luring his opponent into a false sense of security before lowering the boom.
Three weight divisions, four emphatic victories. That is why Davis is considered special. And fight fans have noticed, as he has become one of boxing’s biggest live draws. His fight with Romero generated a gate of $5 million and drew 18,970 to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn – the highest-grossing and most-attended boxing event in the history of the arena.
Whether it’s L.A., Atlanta, or his hometown of Baltimore, fans turn out for Tank. Davis has averaged more than 15,000 fans over his last six fights, according to Showtime Sports. The latest D.C. affair against Hector Luis Garcia is also expected to be a sellout. For good reason. The confident Dominican beat undefeated Chris Colbert in February in a huge upset and is on a roll himself.
He certainly does not see himself as a tuneup.
“If I beat Tank on Jan. 7, I’d be happy to go after a fight against Ryan Garcia,” he said.
But, lately, Tank’s out-of-the-ring issues are more relevant than future opponents or attendance records.
Davis had previously been arrested for domestic violence and assault. Charges were dropped for both. He will go to trial in February for fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run in 2020. He faces 14 misdemeanor charges from the incident, all of which carry a possible one-year jail sentence.
Then came last week, when Davis was arrested for allegedly striking a woman with a “closed-hand type slap” that left her with a cut lip. A 911 call from the woman was especially disturbing. “He is going to kill me,” the woman said in the recording. Davis was charged with misdemeanor battery assault and released on a $1,000 bond. A few days later, the woman retracted the allegations and said Davis harmed neither herself nor her daughter.
The walking back of her tale saved Saturday’s card.
The power-punching Ayala also had an ugly history of abusing women before being sentenced to prison, starting with a sexual assault in the late 1970s that severely injured a young girl at a San Antonio drive-in when Ayala was 15 years old. The Ayala family made the charge disappear when they paid the girl’s family $40,000. He was given 10-year probation. Later, charges of breaking and entering and assault also disappeared.
Eventually, though, it all caught up with him.
At age 19, he was the #1 contender to challenge Davey Moore for the WBA junior middleweight title when he broke into a neighbor’s house on New Year’s Day, 1983, and sexually assaulted her. He was sent to prison for 16 years, all but obliterating his boxing career. He made a comeback in 1999, but “El Torito” was nowhere near the terror that bulldozed his way to the top of the junior middleweight division. He died in 2015.
Ayala isn’t the only fighter in recent years to have his career disrupted or even destroyed by an inability to keep his distance from trouble. Ike Ibeabuchi was the heavyweight version of Ayala, undefeated and fearsome when he went to prison for sexual misconduct in 1999. And lightweight Edwin Valero was on a path of destruction both professionally and personally. He tragically ended his troubled life in jail in 2010 after he was arrested on suspicion of killing his wife.
And, of course, Mike Tyson did prison time from 1992-95 for the rape of a teenage beauty pageant contestant.
For now, Davis is still on a path toward achieving his vast potential. D.C. was the site of his pro debut, where he won by first-round knockout in February 2013.
“It feels good to be back home,” he said in early December. “All the greats have fought here, and now I get to come back home and put on a great event. I love getting everyone together to have a party. That’s what it is. We grind in the gym, and a lot of people don’t see that, so when the big event comes, it’s time to show up.
“I’m just ready to shut everyone up. All the talking that’s going around, I just want to go in the ring and shut them all up.”
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]