Johnny Tapia still had plans

boxingby Pete Madzelan -- Dateline: Canastota, NY, January 25, 2012 - The International Boxing Hall of Fame announced today five-time world champion Johnny “Mi Vida Loca” Tapia will attend festivities planned for the 23rd Annual Hall of Fame Induction Weekend set for June 7-10th.

“During his championship career, Johnny Tapia always thrilled fans with his exciting style,” said Hall of Fame director Edward Brophy. “We’re looking forward to welcoming him back to the Hall of Fame and we know fans will be happy to see him in Canastota.”

Fighting out of Albuquerque, NM, Tapia compiled an impressive 150-12 amateur record. As a professional, he captured five world titles in three separate weight divisions. He reigned as WBO junior bantamweight champion (1994-1998), IBF junior bantamweight champion (1997-1998), WBA bantamweight champion (1998-1999), WBO bantamweight champion (2000) and IBF featherweight king (2002). Known for his passionate fighting style, the fan-friendly Tapia posted a pro record of 59-5-2 (30 KOs) that includes wins over Danny Romero, Arthur Johnson, Nana Konadu, Jorge Julio, Cesar Soto, Manuel Medina and Mauricio Pastrana..


It wasn’t to be.

The headlines and lead sentences were predictable in local New Mexico newspapers.

Santa Fe New Mexican: Boxing legend ruled by tragedy.
Albuquerque Journal’s lead sentence: Johnny Tapia’s “vida loca” has come to an end.

People knew more about Tapia’s life outside the ring than they knew of his exploits within the ring, where he was a five-time champion. Everybody knows the history of his Mi Vida Loca. Outside the squared circle, the opponent of drugs and alcohol; run-ins with the law and jail, more than shadowed him, it was a demon without let up, beginning when he tested positive for cocaine back in 1990 and was suspended from the sport.

As for his boxing career, it ended eleven months ago. It ended far from the bright lights of stardom, and closer to the fading side of reality. It was at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Albuquerque in Pueblo of Isleta, where he won an eight round decision over Mauricio Pastrana. The place didn’t matter much, and that the opponent was a foil didn’t matter. What mattered was that his hometown would see him one more time—one final time doing what he did so well from 1988, when he turned professional after an outstanding amateur career, that witnessed him winning the 106 pound national Golden Gloves title at 16.


In 1994, Johnny bounced back from the suspension when he defeated Henry Martinez to win the super flyweight title. It was his first championship, and he did before the hometown crowd in The Pit in Albuquerque.

He may have had a title, but his more dominant shadow opponent was right there with him. In 1995, a judge oredered him to a drug rehab program after a domestic assault incident.

Meanwhile, in the ring, from winning the title in 1994 thru 1997, he was 14-0-1. It was when he fought and defeated a rival New Mexican fighter, Danny Romero. In New Mexico this was more than a fight, it was a grudge match; it was a happening as the local media typed stories; flashed photos, and the television news ran with the intense coverage. Unfortunately, the fight was held in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, but for all the world, it seemed like it was being held in Albuquerque.

Romero, who was a quality fighter, became friends with Tapia, was quoted, “He’s a human being. We all have our problems. Everybody fights them in different ways. Last time I talked to him was about a month and a half ago...He didn’t sound too bad. We all fight our own demons.”

Tapia held the super flyweight title until 1998, when he moved up and won the bantamweight championship. After losing the title in 1999 to Paulie Ayala, he won another sanctioning body’s title in 2000. That was the same year he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

There was another fight, and another lost to Paulie Ayala. In 2002, he fought his last opponent on the main stage. He lost a decision to Marco Antonio Barrera in a twelve round nontitle fight.


In 2003, his dominant shadow opponent was there when he slipped into a coma for three days after a drug arrest, after which he went into rehab.

After that, Johnny’s boxing career was all but over. It was time to say adios, but he didn’t. Instead his boxing career did a slow fade, during which there were a number of fights in his home state of New Mexico that excited fans. It excited fans because the opposition top-ranked fighters or that another title shot would appear, but rather it was because he gave himself to his fans.

As Danny Romero would say, “He was lively, the energy he had, just making you feel good.”

During the fading days, there were two fights with another New Mexico fighter, Frankie Archuleta. Tapia lost the first one via a split decision, and then came back in a rematch the following year, 2005, to win a unanimous decision. That bout was in Albuquerque Tingley Coliseum, with then governor Bill Richardson at ringside. Through the years, Tapia had that—that certain light, a magnetism that could draw people from a variety of places and positions.

But still, there was that shadow opponent, his demon, who continued to plague him: In 2007, he was hospitalized from apparent drug overdose; then in 2009, he was taken into custody for parole violation related to cocaine use.

Tapia could never lose his shadow opponent and knew the reality. “I can stay clean...But it’s only for today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow never comes...For today I’m okay.”

After that, Tapia’s career inside the ring witnessed a few more fights, until that final fight on June 4, 2011. After the decision was announced, Tapia went to the side of the ring and screamed, "I love you, Albuquerque". The fans stood as one, paying tribute one more time, saying, “We love you Johnny”


The circumstances of his death haven’t yet been disclosed. No matter, Johnny Tapia’s life ended too soon. And as if quoting the before mentioned quote as mantra:

“Drug addiction is strong; and kids are trying it now. And with me being an alcoholic, it’s the same thing, brother. I don’t want to be a hypocrite because I have problems of my own today. But I fight through it. Day by day. Don’t think of tomorrow because it never comes. Yesterday’s gone. Live for today. Things will get better.”
Johnny, R.I.P.

Article posted on 29.05.2012

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