Antonio Ayala Sr. pilots his maroon Citation through the largely undeveloped countryside northwest of San Antonio, his dreams along for the ride.
"Look at this country, eh, amigo. I get out here and I'm like another person. What we want to do is build a nice ranch house with a little gym next door and enough land to keep some horses. Maybe 15, 20 acres. Get up every morning, look out over the hills toward the city. Hey, it's a long way from the barrio, eh, amigo? I guess I'm one crazy Mexican thinking about this. But it's like my father used to say: 'A man without dreams is nothing.' "
Ayala drives up a steep road and slows down by an attractive Spanish-style house built on a knoll. A frown appears on his round face. "That's the place we had picked out before, amigo, back when Mike was going good. That dream didn't work out. You know, the Mexicans have a saying that goes, 'No falta una mosca en caldo.' It means something like, 'You're never lacking a fly in the soup.' I believe that. I'm a dreamer, but I still believe that fly's always buzzing around somewhere. There's always something that goes wrong. Like with Mike and, later, Sammy. But with Tony...well, so far there's been no fly."
Undefeated Antonio Ayala Jr., the 18-year-old boxer who will either answer his father's prayers or put the mosca back in the caldo, has knocked out 12 of his 14 professional opponents, 11 of them in four rounds or fewer. He is the WBC's 14th-ranked junior middleweight and he is rated fifth by The Ring magazine.
But Ayala is more than just a legitimate challenger for Wilfred Benitez' title and a future contender in the middleweight division, in which he fought during much of his amateur career. He's a blood-and-guts mauler, a barrel of Chicano oil for boxing's hyperbole machine. Remember Marciano? Hey, you should see Ayala. Remember the young LaMotta? Hey, you should see Ayala. Remember the pre-no-más Duran? Hey, you should see Ayala. His nickname is El Torito, the baby bull.
Some Ayala reviews:
Promoter Bob Arum: "The best young fighter I've ever seen in my life."
Flash Gordon, a respected judge of ring talent: "The best young fighter in the world right now."
Angelo Dundee, cornerman for Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard: "There's no telling what he can do. He's going to be champion."
You wouldn't necessarily know it from Ayala's physique. When he isn't training, he has weighed as much as 170 (the junior middleweight limit is 154), which is a lot on 5'8". His arms are thick pumping machines that wear down an opponent with body punches. His dark face is full and round, though not as much as his father's: Antonio Sr. could have been cast in one of those old bandido movies. There is a little roll around Torito's middle, but that, too, fits his image: a Ruthian sort who could go blithely to seed but for now chooses to stay reasonably fit and overpower mere mortals.