17. Danny Lopez VS Mike Ayala
June 17, 1979
San Antonio, Texas
Venue: Convention Center
Danny “Little Red” Lopez, despite the fact that he hailed from Utah, was one of the most popular fighters to ever fight in Los Angeles. Danny followed his brother, Welterweight contender Ernie “Red” Lopez, to Los Angeles and fought 32 of his first 34 pro fights there. The L.A. fight fans loved the aggressive, power punching style of Danny. Danny, despite being a towering 5’8”, would rather brawl inside than use his superior height at 126 pounds and fight from the outside. After defeating David Kotey in Kotey’s native Ghana to win the WBC Featherweight title, the 26 year-old-Lopez successfully defended the title six times, all by knockout, before traveling to San Antonio, Texas to defend against the number one contender, 21-year-old San Antonio native Mike Ayala.
Ayala was a gifted boxer who had only lost one time in his 22 pro fights. Before we sat down to watch the Lopez-Ayala fight on our small black and white television, my father explained to me how Lopez always had problems with fighters who could move and box. He stated the fact that since Lopez was all offense and no defense, he could be frustrated all night by Ayala’s moving. Ayala would cause Lopez frustration, but not in the way my father predicted.
The first round saw both boxers take turns landing solid combinations. Ayala attempted to box from the outside but beginning in round two decided to employ the “rope-a-dope” strategy. In rounds two, four and five, Ayala hurt Lopez several times with counter left hooks off the ropes. He would sit on the ropes and counter the ultra aggressive Lopez at will. However, beginning in round three, Lopez began hurting Ayala to the body with tremendous hooks. Round three was the only round Lopez clearly won early on. My father proclaimed after the fifth round that there was no way Ayala was going to beat Lopez with this strategy because Lopez’s body punches would eventually weaken him to a point where his punches would have no impact.
The next two rounds were a textbook display of body punching by Lopez. He kept digging right hands to Ayala’s ribcage, hurting Ayala. Late in the seventh round, Lopez knocked Ayala down with a vicious combination to the chin. I told my father at that moment that Ayala couldn’t last much longer. The following round, Ayala proved me wrong as he hurt Lopez several times with left hooks coming off the ropes. Late in the ninth, after a furious exchange of punches, Ayala hurt Lopez with a blistering right cross. The 10th round was just an all out war as both men took turns blasting the other with power punches. There was no way Ayala could keep up with this pace.
Early in round 11, Lopez landed a big left hook that dropped Ayala. Referee Carlos Padilla had erroneously counted Ayala out. Ayala’s father and trainer Tony argued with Padilla that his son had gotten up before the count of 10. After discussing it with the WBC representatives at ringside, Padilla ordered the fight to restart. Then Padilla called an end to the round because the timekeeper had lost track of how much time was left in the round. My father told me that was the first time he had ever seen a fight restart after it was declared over.
When the action resumed, the war continued like it never ended. Rounds 12 through 14 saw one furious exchange after another. Ayala was fighting with a broken nose and still giving as good as he was getting. Early in the 15th round, Lopez staggered Ayala with a wicked left hook. He then battered Ayala against the ropes before finally knocking him out with a dynamic right cross.
Lopez was never the same after this fight. Eight months later he lost his title and subsequent rematch in one sided fights to future legend Salvador Sanchez. Lopez retired at the age of 28 after the second fight with Sanchez. Twelve years later, Lopez made an ill=advised comeback against a fighter who had a record of 11 wins and 27 losses. That stiff of a fighter knocked out Lopez in the second round. Wisely, Lopez went back into permanent retirement.
Ayala revealed a few years after his war with Lopez that he was high on heroin that day he fought. Maybe that’s the reason he camped out on the ropes the majority of the fight. Ayala would receive two more world title opportunities in his career, getting knocked out in both. He retired in 1991 at the age of 33. Despite an ongoing battle with addiction, Ayala currently runs a boxing gym and is a trainer in his hometown of San Antonio.