FOTY 1979: Lopez / Ayala

This is an entry in an occasional series of posts looking back at the Ring Magazine Fights of the Year from 1970 to 2009.

In 1979, Danny “Little Red” Lopez defended his WBC Featherweight championship against Mike Ayala in Ayala’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas. This was a ferocious contest between two almost unbelievably rugged fighters. It was ultimately decided by a 15th round KO that was as much a testament to Lopez’s durability as his power, as he had to weather an extraordinarily difficult fight to even reach the 15th round.


Ayala fought almost the entire bout backing up, and won a good part of it with that style … not in a technical, “have to score it for him” way, but in a power-punching, dramatic, undeniable way. Lopez, for his part, was a dogged aggressor who survived (there’s no other word for it) the first 8 or so rounds before beginning to wear Ayala down.

Ayala produced most of the “wow” moments in the match, which made Lopez’s eventual victory all the more remarkable. I was amazed at Lopez’s toughness, and found it hard to picture any other fighter standing up to Ayala’s attack.


If you’re a boxing fan, you owe it to yourself to look this one up. Aside from the spectacle of the thing itself, one can’t help but wonder how today’s fighters would have fared against either man. (Consider that Lopez fought just 3 months before, and again 3 months after, this 15 round war.)

I scored the 14 rounds preceding the KO 134-130 for Lopez, but there were many, many close rounds, and I can’t argue too strenuously with the judge who saw it 131-134 for Ayala. In fact, I wonder if my vague knowledge of the fight’s outcome (I knew Lopez won, but not how) might not have shaded my scoring to some extent.

Lopez retired shortly after this fight, making one more successful title defense, then losing a pair of late TKOs to Salvador Sanchez. (A bizarre and ill-considered 1-fight return in 1992 is best ignored.) Although Ayala would retire with a slightly better record (45-6) than Lopez (42-6), he never broke through to capture a major world title.

Round Notes

1: Even though the fighters are practically the same weight, Lopez looks one or two weight classes bigger than Ayala. The fighters immediately engage, with little feeling out. Lopez is the primary aggressor, but Ayala shows excellent defense, and fights a cagey, counterattacking round. Lopez not only gets hit coming in, but often when he momentarily retreats. Nevertheless, in a pretty even round, I give the slight edge to Lopez as the aggressor.

2: Awesome display by Ayala; this is one of the few times you’ll see a guy legitimately win a round on the ropes and in the corner. Ayala’s defense is so solid, and his counterattacks so sharp, that he wins the round despite taking the offensive for only 30s or so. (When he does attack, Ayala looks even more impressive.) Lopez does get in some good punches, but this is Ayala’s round.

3: This round begins as the 2nd ended, but after about 20s Lopez appears to try standing off a bit more, attempting to use his reach to negate Ayala’s counterattacks. This works to a limited extent; this round is closer than the 2nd, but I think Ayala still wins it based on defense and ring generalship.

4: Once again, the round is a matter of Lopez attacking Ayala in the corners, where Ayala mounts a stunning defense and counterattacks. The patterns is that Lopez seems to have a handle on things for 15 or 20 seconds, and then Ayala turns the tables with a spectacular assault. Narrowly to Ayala, since his punches seem more effective.

5: Ayala clearly wins this round on the strength of 3 or 4 ferocious batterings which he delivers to Lopez. The balance of the round is the normal pattern of Ayala laying in the corner, blocking some and taking some of Lopez’ attack.

6: A tough round to score. Lopez continues to play the role of the aggressor, and seems to do better at finding a range for his attack that mutes Ayala’s counters, but this also slows the pace of the fight, and doesn’t stop Ayala’s counterattacks entirely. I see this round very closely for Ayala, as I felt his punching was sharper and a little more effective.

7: Ayala opts to fight more of this round in mid-ring, and Lopez seems to more consistently establish his jab. Notwithstanding several good attacks from Ayala, I see this round trending Lopez’s way when he also earns a knockdown as Ayala takes a knee after a straight right.

8: Ayala shows little to no ill-effects from the KD, and the fight resumes its course in the corners. Although Lopez controls the pace of the fight for most of the round, Ayala’s punches look so much sharper that I feel he lands enough in his flurries to win the round.

9: Although it might seem that we’ve seen this round before, and that Ayala should win it based on cleaner, more dramatic punching, I’m actually going to award it to Lopez because of a small, but I think significant event. In the latter part of this round Ayala opts to fight in the middle of the ring, and trade with Lopez. After one such exchange Ayala looks hurt, tries to hold on, and then retreats. I think the momentum has subtly shifted in Lopez’s favor, despite an impressive round-ending showing from Ayala.

10: A very close, back-and-forth round, but Ayala seems to be getting hit more when he goes to the ropes. All else equal, I award it to Lopez as the aggressor. A real toss-up, though.

11: One of the most remarkable rounds in boxing history, and not for a good reason: Lopez seems to be winning this round when he knocks Ayala down with a left. Ayala stands, but not before the referee counts him out and waves off the fight. Bystanders flood the ring. Then the referee suddenly reverses himself, orders everyone out of the ring, and indicates that the fight should resume. After a few seconds the bell rings, and the round ends. 10-8 for Lopez, in a fiasco.

12: Lopez wins most of this round, but Ayala has his moments, particularly in the last minute. I score it narrowly for Lopez. Ayala’s defense is cracking, and his attacks are less frequent and less effective, but he still comes close to winning the round.

13: Ayala has his moments — it wouldn’t be impossible to give him the round — but takes too many shots while laying on the ropes to win the round in my view. I don’t know what it says that I’m so amazed at Lopez’s durability, though.

14: Lopez clearly wins this round; Ayala takes an enormous amount of punishment against the ropes, and twice has to come off them to clinch after particularly hard hits.

15: Lopez wins by KO, as Ayala finally catches one punch too many.

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