A Boxing Memory: Johnny Tapia

A Boxing Memory: Johnny Tapia

By Will Lott

Throughout the years boxing has brought with it some tragic backstories of its fighters, but non more so than that of the three-weight world champion Johnny Tapia. A quote from Johnny’s widow Theresa in an article by USA Today sums up Johnny’s mindset quite well. “Johnny always said that when my career is over, I do not know what I’m going to do with myself and I probably won’t last long. He lasted one year from when he quit boxing.” This is his story.

I could talk for hours about Tapia the Hall of Fame fighter, the three-weight world champion but this article is more about the man whose nickname truly described his story “Mi Vida Loca” (my crazy life).

Even before he was born, tragedies were already occurring in Tapia’s life with the murder of his father while his mother was pregnant with him. By the age of eight, Tapia found himself an orphan after the kidnapping and brutal murder of his mother. There was a lot of pain and pent-up frustration within Tapia and it was no surprise when he turned to boxing at the age of nine while under the care of his grandparents.

As a young boy, Tapia was matched in fights against other neighbourhood children for his family to bet on. By now boxing wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity. Tapia described his life as: “Raised as a Pitbull. Raised to fight to the death.” And in his life, there were many fights with death. In fact, Tapia was declared legally dead four times with doctors considering pulling his life support before he made his miraculous recoveries. Ever the fighter.

Even on his wedding night, Tapia was struck by tragedy as he suffered a drug overdose, after being found by his new wife. Wherever Tapia went, heartbreak followed, with the loss of his brother-in-law and nephew in a car crash in 2007. In the same year, he would again suffer a cocaine overdose and he would later spend four years in prison on a drugs charge before making a brief but not very successful return to the ring.

The only place Tapia ever really felt comfort was in the middle of the boxing ring and that in itself displays the sorrow and pain the man felt. Theresa Tapia said of him: “When he got in the ring, it was more than just salvation for him, it was his way to give back to the fans. His whole life was about people.”

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t discuss the career of a sporting legend, even just briefly. In a career that spanned 22 years and 66 fights, Tapia won world titles at super-flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight. Wins against the likes of Danny Romero and Hugo Soto helped to raise his stock in the boxing world. Tapia would go 48 fights before suffering his first defeat to Paulie Ayala in what would be awarded the fight of the year by Ring Magazine in 1999. He would later win the IBF featherweight title before suffering another tough defeat against Mexican icon Marco Antonio Barrera. Tapia has since been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame where his name will forever sit amongst his heroes such as Muhammad Ali.

Boxing has always been credited as a sport with the ability to save the lives of those who partake in it. With Tapia, it is fair to say, boxing may have extended his life but ultimately the many demons and horrors he faced throughout his life proved too much. Tapia passed away in 2012 at the young age of 45 from heart failure but left behind a legacy in boxing that will be remembered for decades to come.

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