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Remembering Johnny Tapia
Johnny Tapia may have been born into a life of drugs, poverty, and devastation. However, Johnny Tapia died a hero because, he overcame to overachieve during a life that shed more darkness than light.
Johnny Tapia’s mother was violently stabbed to death 26 times with a screwdriver when he was young child. Tapia never really knew is father, as he was raised by his grandparents. Growing up on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico, game-warfare, rage, and violence led Tapia into a path of self-destruction.
Johnny Tapia had more than one episode with drug overdose and depression. Johnny Tapia may have been suicidal, yet, still, he had an passion and desire to live. If he didn’t Johnny Tapia would not have lived as long as he did having accomplished so much.
Just when the future of Johnny Tapia appeared inevitably bleak and meaningless, the 45 year-old who died on May 27, converted a lifetime of pain and suffering into a something special.
From the moment Johnny Tapia focused his attention to boxing, you knew Tapia was on the verge of straightening his life in order. It was through boxing, not a collegian scholarship or life skills program, which Johnny Tapia worked to restructure his life.
Johnny Tapia may have appeared to have been a failure at everything he did outside the ring. However, when Johnny Tapia stepped through those ropes, he proved to be one of the most successful fighters around. Johnny Tapia felt comfort and solace lacing up the gloves and battering his opponents upside the head.
Johnny Tapia was an excellent boxer-puncher. Johnny Tapia’s left-jabs had a lot of pop and rhythm which he used to close the gap between his opponents. While on the inside, Johnny Tapia did nothing but work. His sharp, left-right hook body punches drew delightful reactions from his supporters.
Johnny Tapia wasn’t a brawler. Johnny Tapia, unlike his life outside the ring, eventually found the discipline and control as a professional prizefighter. Johnny Tapia was able to regulate his emotions and trusted his skills enough to win consistently. Johnny Tapia fought with high resistance and unparallel energy.
Johnny Tapia was a relentless technician. Johnny Tapia was a former WBA bantamweight, unified IBF/WBO junior bantamweight, and IBF featherweight champion.
I am hopeful that one day, Johnny Tapia will be elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Johnny Tapia was famous for telling everyone that cared enough to listen, “I can’t be hurt. I refuse to lose,” during a career which ended with a record of 59-5-2, 30 KOs.
I remember the first of many interactions with Johnny Tapia through the years. I was wearing a red sweater with a red New York Yankees baseball fitted cap. I met Johnny Tapia at a press conference in New York and we spoke for a while. We spoke about what it was like to recover from his past addictions, his commitment to boxing, and the influence his wife Teresa had on his life.
Johnny Tapia was a compelling story, a compelling man, and a very likeable person. Johnny Tapia spoke to all who listened as if he knew you and that it would be the last time you’d be able to speak to him. Johnny Tapia wasn’t supposed to have lived as long as he did. Johnny Tapia wasn’t supposed to have achieved the levels of success he reached.
Johnny Tapia, instead, defied the odds of had been dealt and turned rotten grapes into sweet, expensive red wine. I hope Johnny Tapia can find the peace and solace in heaven that he was deprived of here on earth.
All I can do is shake my head when I tell you that Johnny Tapia will be sorely missed.
Amongst my fondest memory of Johnny Tapia’s in-ring career is when he fought hometown hero Danny Romero in July 1997 to unify the IBF/WBO junior bantamweight titles.
It was a fierce action-packed battle between two of the best super flyweights in the world at the time. In the end it was Johnny Tapia’s energy and counter-punching aggressiveness that led to a widespread unanimous decision (116-112, 116-112, and 115-113).
In December 1998, Johnny Tapia moved up in weight to dethrone talented WBA bantamweight titlist Nana Konadu, via majority decision.
In June 1999 and October 2000, Johnny Tapia engaged Paulie Ayala into two sizzling encounters. Both fights ended in controversial/disputed decisions against Johnny Tapia. The scores were extremely close in both fights and many believed Johnny Tapia at least won the first fight.
Johnny Tapia continued his Hall of Fame career by surprisingly winning the IBF featherweight championship at the legendary Theater of Madison Square Garden by out-pointing Manuel Medina in April 2002.
Johnny Tapia’s last fight was on June 4, 2011. Tapia won an unanimous decision against the once-dangerous, Mauricio Pastrana.
Johnny Tapia was an inspiration to those that ‘failed’ in life. He was a living example of how people can rebuild and restructure their lives given time and opportunity. The more trouble Johnny Tapia suffered from, the increasing support and well-wishes he received from family, friends, reporters, and fans.