“I was afraid of the next level,” said the New Haven, Conn., super middleweight, who’s preparing to face veteran George Armenta of Silver Spring, Md., on Friday, May 6th, 2011 at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket. “I couldn’t admit that to myself.
“That was a major thing for me. I wasn’t prepared mentally. Now I’m willing to go all the way. I feel like a beast now. I’m no longer afraid of success.”
To prove he’s willing to back up his words, Ayala has added another member to his team, hiring Providence-based trainer Peter Manfredo Sr., the father of current International Boxing Organization (IBO) middleweight champion and former “The Contender” finalist Peter Manfredo Jr.
The elder Manfredo has worked with a handful of world-class fighters through the years, including undefeated Worcester, Mass., super middleweight Edwin Rodriguez, former “Contender” star Jesse Brinkley, and 2010 national Golden Gloves champion and 2012 Olympic hopeful Toka Kahn-Clary of Providence.
Manfredo’s wisdom could pay dividends immediately; Manfredo trained Rodriguez when Rodriguez knocked out Armenta (13-6, 11 KOs) in the opening round of their bout in Oklahoma this past March. Ayala will face Armenta in the eight-round co-feature of Jimmy Burchfield’s “Champion Breed” event, presented by Classic Entertainment & Sports at the Fox Theater. Undefeated super middleweight Vladine Biosse (11-0, 6 KOs) of Providence, R.I., will star in the main event.
“I’m not the type to get comfortable with anyone,” Ayala said. “The first step was surrounding myself with the right kind of people. I’ve got the hardest-working promoter, Jimmy Burchfield, on my team now. He knows how to get fighters to where they need to be. Once I established that, I needed a world-class trainer. Not that who I was with wasn’t good, but I just felt like it was time for a change. I had always seen [Manfredo] in the past and I thought considering the type of person he is, the type of trainer he is, and who he’s worked with, I’d be comfortable. So far, I’ve been right.
“We have everything we need now. There are no excuses. This is the team that will get us to the top.”
At 30, Ayala knows this might be his last shot at chasing a world title, so he’s taking every necessary precaution to make sure nothing derails this current run. After suffering a brutal loss to prospect David Lemieux on ESPN in June of 2010, Ayala linked up with a new management team and signed a promotional agreement with CES.
Following back-to-back wins, including an impressive, fourth-round knockout win over Woonsocket’s Joe Gardner on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” on April 1st, Ayala is now looking to go one step further with Manfredo in his corner.
“[The loss to Lemieux] was like an awakening,” Ayala said. “I felt that if I was going to put everything I have on the table, then I needed to bring in the people who could help me get whatever I didn’t have. Peter has the skills to tighten me up. I’m not changing my style; we’re just making it better. I want to be able to get away from punches and still be in a position where I can throw combinations.
“The key is being able to attack right away. Sometimes I put punches in and then I wait … and wait … and then snap a jab. I want to be able to throw a jab knowing what he’s going to do next – almost like playing chess. I want to know his next four moves ahead of time. Right now, I know two. With Peter, now I feel I can execute three or four moves in advance.”
Ayala entered the professional ranks in 2003 with a limited amateur background (only 14 bouts), so working with him is still somewhat of a reclamation project for Manfredo despite the fact Ayala has 28 fights under his belt.
“He’s a quick learner,” Manfredo said. “He knows if he puts in the time and the work and the knowledge and experience I can give him, we can go to another level.
“He’s a great human being – a great person, a lot of [guts]. He’s got a lot of heart and he’s got the will. He wants it. He wants to win. He sparred eight rounds with three different guys and he looked spectacular. I closed it off with four rounds with Vladine and he did well. No matter what I tell him to do, he does. He works.”
The win over Gardner showcased two sides of Ayala. Since that was a nationally-televised swing bout, Ayala had no idea when he was fighting until Biosse disposed of his opponent five rounds into the co-feature bout against Tim Connors. Asked to step in immediately after Biosse’s fight ended, Ayala made quick work of Gardner, giving the national boxing audience a chance to see a different fighter than the one it saw 10 months earlier against Lemieux. At the same time, Ayala felt he could’ve ended the fight a lot sooner, pointing to his aforementioned lack of counterpunching as the reason it lasted four rounds.
The goal of working with Manfredo is to eliminate the holes in his game so Ayala can box more efficiently. The first test will come May 6th against Armenta, a tough veteran who could push Ayala much further than Gardner did in April. As Manfredo puts it, these are the fighters Ayala needs to “stop” in order to move up to the next level.
“I know he has a durable chin and he’s ready to go every round. He’s coming to fight,” Ayala said of Armenta. “He’s been out for a year, but I remember I was out for a year and I came back and knocked my opponent out, so that doesn’t mean anything. Edwin beat him with a body shot, so I know his body isn’t that strong. I respect every fighter who steps into that ring, but I’m looking for a knockout.”
The undercard of “Champion Breed” stars New Haven lightweight Christian Lao (1-0, 1 KO) facing Barrington Douse of Springfield, Mass., in Douse’s professional debut; unbeaten middleweight Thomas Falowo (2-0, 2 KOs) of Pawtucket, R.I., taking on Tampa’s Marvin Jones (2-0, 2 KOs); and welterweight Johnathan Vazquez (3-0, 3 KOs) of New Bedford, Mass., facing Robert Hunt (0-0) of nearby Hyannis in four-round bouts.
Former NFL defensive lineman Jevon Langford (6-0, 6 KOs), who played six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, will make his long-awaited return to the heavyweight division in a four-round bout against veteran Tobias Rice (2-3, 2 KOs) of Macon, Ga.
Light heavyweight Keith Kozlin (6-2, 4 KOs) of Warwick, R.I., and New Haven middleweight Rick Dawson (3-0, 1 KO) are also on the card in separate four-round bouts. Kozlin will face Grover Young (5-1, 2 KOs) of Memphis, Tenn.
Tickets for “Champion Breed”, priced at $40, $65 and $105, can be purchased by calling the Foxwoods box office at 800.200.2882, or online at www.foxwoods.com. For more information, visit www.cesboxing.com or www.foxwoods.com. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the first bout scheduled for 7:30. .