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To Hell and Back

by Robert A. Waters
Author, The Best Defense


On April 20, 1999, the "To Hell and Back" tour began. El Torito, the Little Bull, was back in business. He'd been away for sixteen years, and many inside and outside the boxing ring were safer for it.

In 1983, Ayala had been poised for a million dollar fight. As the number one challenger for the middleweight title, world champion Roberto Duran was in his sights. Ayala, a vicious puncher with nineteen knockouts in his twenty-two wins, was in New Jersey training for a tune-up fight while awaiting the bout with Duran. Lucrative fights with Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler were also being discussed. Win, lose, or draw, Tony Ayala was on the verge of becoming a wealthy man.

But demons from the past were festering in his soul.

At midnight, on New Year's day, El Torito broke into an apartment located near his training camp in West Paterson, New Jersey. The resident, a school teacher, awoke to find him standing over her. Ayala pulled a knife, blindfolded the woman, and spent four hours raping and sodomizing her.

The rapist served only fifteen years before being released. On the day he left prison, the "To Hell and Back" tour, as his handlers named it, began.

He was caught the next day and later convicted. A judge sentenced him to thirty-five years in prison. But in the criminal justice system, nothing is ever what it seems to be. The rapist served only fifteen years before being released. On the day he left prison, the "To Hell and Back" tour, as his handlers named it, began.

Brian Raditz, a psychiatrist turned fight manager, claimed Ayala was a changed man. But although he won four out of five fights on his comeback tour, his training regimen was suspect. Rumor had it that the fighter and his entourage were seen drinking and carousing at more than one topless bar in his hometown of San Antonio.

But, as had happened in the past, local authorities chose to enable his predatory behavior by ignoring the fact that a registered sex offender was flaunting the law by going to topless clubs.

Years before, in 1978, while still a teenager, Ayala had nearly killed a woman. He followed her into the ladies rest room at a San Antonio drive-in theater and beat her so badly that her bladder was ruptured and her kidneys bruised. Then he raped her. Prosecutors allowed Ayala to plead guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault rather than aggravated rape. This allowed him to be placed on probation instead of serving a prison term.

Two years later, he broke into a San Antonio woman's house. Police filed attempted rape charges, but again the charges were dropped.

Just weeks later, Ayala was in New Jersey when he spotted the school teacher, broke into her house, and raped her.

Nancy Gomez, an eighteen-year-old high school senior, had also been to hell and back.

A year before, she'd been the victim of a brutal rape. It so traumatized her that the pretty teenager swore it would never happen again. In an attempt to pick up the pieces of her life, she moved in with friends, John Hogan, his girlfriend, and their two children.

On December 11, 1999, while Hogan was at work, Gomez slept on the couch. At 3:45 a.m., she drifted awake and saw a shadow standing over her. The teenager jumped up, startling the man and causing him to flee into the kitchen. She recognized him as Tony Ayala, the boxer who sometimes trained at the same gym where she worked out.

Gomez ran into the bedroom.

"Get the gun," she called to her friend, who was also asleep. "There's someone in the house."

The two women reached under the mattress and retrieved a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Gomez took the gun while her friend gathered up her children and called 911.

The teenager cautiously made her way into the kitchen and confronted the intruder.

"I just came here to see you," Ayala said, lacing his words with expletives. "I can't believe you're holding a gun on me."

"I can't believe you broke into my house," Gomez responded, no doubt remembering his history of violent assaults on women.

Ayala stepped forward, but the teenager held her ground.

"One more step and I'll shoot," she said.

When Ayala moved toward her again, she fired. The bullet hit him in the left shoulder, knocking him backward.

Soon afterward, the police arrived and arrested Ayala on a charge of burglary of a habitation with intent to commit assault.

Gomez was not charged. A San Antonio Police Department spokesman said, "We feel she was right and justified in what she did."

A few hours later, Ayala's team began a media campaign to spin public opinion in his favor. It was a tough sell, but they kept at it. "He knew her," Raditz said. "They were friends. She'd eaten at his house with Tony and his wife. Tony parked his car in front of her house rather than behind it when he went in." Raditz was obviously desperate--he saw his fantasies of becoming a wealthy celebrity boxing manager withering on the vine.

Gomez denied being friends with Ayala. She'd met him at the gym, she said, but had never dated him, had no interest in seeing him, and had never even met his wife. Besides, she said, he broke into her house with the intent to rape her.

This case won't have a pretty ending. Ayala has enough money to hire the best attorney available. There's no doubt that when the case comes to trial, Gomez will be savaged like Ayala's opponents in the ring. But if there's any justice in this world, he'll be taken off the streets for the rest of his life.

Marilyn Zdobinski, the New Jersey prosecutor who sent Ayala to prison, had been opposed to his release. When contacted by a Texas newspaper reporter and informed that the boxer had been shot by his intended victim, she expressed relief. "He's an incorrigible animal," she said. "There was something about him that you knew the violence was never going to end."

The violence finally did end, because one of Ayala's victims had a gun. Had any of the other women Tony Ayala attacked been armed, maybe the violence would have ended years ago.

Robert A. Waters is author of The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a Firearm, Cumberland House Publishing, Inc., 1998.

Also from Mr. Waters


Printer Version

You are bound to meet misfortune if you are unarmed because, among other reasons, people despise you....There is simply no comparison between a man who is armed and one who is not. It is unreasonable to expect that an armed man should obey one who is unarmed, or that an unarmed man should remain safe and secure when his servants are armed. In the latter case, there will be suspicion on the one hand and contempt on the other, making cooperation impossible. Niccolo Machiavelli in "The Prince."

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