FEW will admit it, but the name of Johnny Tapia conjures up at least a brief moment of contempt and an underlying feeling that his was a life wasted. Yes, as great as Tapia’s ring career was it could have been even better if not for the lengthy layoffs and disruptions from training due to drug abuse, and trouble with the law. His lifestyle robbed him of possibly several more decades on this earth.
Officially Tapia’s death on May 27, 2012 was ruled as being from a heart attack. While that technically may have been correct, Tapia was at the door step of the grim reaper on enough occasions that it was inevitable that he would be taken in sooner rather than later.
HBO is paying homage to the Albuquerque fighter with a documentary that will first air this Tuesday evening in the United States, aptly named “Tapia.” In it he gives a number of revealing interviews shortly before his death.
Tapia was 45 when he passed. Had he continued to live his demons would have remained. The grip they had on Johnny was much stronger than he had on them. They fueled Tapia inside of the ring, destroyed him outside it.
There was no father presence in Tapia’s life. He was very attached to his mother Virginia who was violently killed at age 34, when he was eight. Tapia never got over his overwhelming grief. How it ended, why it ended, and the void of love would consume him to the day he died.
Ultimately Tapia would be presented with opportunities to get his life back in order. There was the gift of greatness inside of the ring that could bring with it financial security. There was the adulation of the public who could lift him and make him feel special. Most of all there was the other woman in his life, his wife Teresa who stood by his side to the bitter end. She did not always approve of his lifestyle but loved him unconditionally. She was addicted to Johnny and was a primary reason he did not meet his fate earlier than he did. Eventually there was one setback too many and Johnny Tapia is no more, but his memory remains.
Tapia will probably make it into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility, but no one ever refers to him as an all-time great. The statistics though differ. He was 17-1-1 (6) in official world title bouts. His record against former world champions was 11-3, with two of those losses against Paulie Ayala being highly disputed. Tapia won five major world titles from flyweight to featherweight. Yet despite those statistics his nickname of Mi Vida Loca (“My Crazy Life”) conjures up more memories than anything else.
Tapia fought as emotionally as he lived. Against fellow Albuquerque fighter Danny Romero in what was the defining fight of his great career, Tapia was said to have hated his opponent. Despite the hostilities you could see Tapia thawing out during the match, reaching out to Romero and saying right afterward that he would like to put the feud behind them. Eventually they would become great friends. The one man he would never forgive is the one who murdered his mother. Eight years later he would die in a hit and run accident, but it took Tapia many years after that to find out. This only after the case on his mother’s murder had been reopened. This did not bring Johnny the closure Teresa hoped it would. Tapia would later say he wished it was he who had the opportunity to kill his mother’s murderer, claiming he would have stabbed him to death and not even been concerned about the consequences of spending the rest of his life in prison.
I caught a sneak preview of the Tapia documentary at HBO’s headquarters on Wednesday evening, December 10. When it concluded Teresa Tapia was brought up to address the audience. She went the distance with him in their marriage and was prepared to go as many more rounds as necessary. Her wish is to have us all celebrate Johnny’s life, not mourn it. Out of respect for her, let’s do so. Remember how exciting it was too see him box and how he never failed to entertain us inside that ring.
Tapia was very resilient inside of the ring, but could not recover from the harshest of blows outside of it. Hopefully he is finally at peace now.