May 27th, 2013 marks the one year anniversary of the passing of a tremendous fighter; a fighter who poured his heart and soul out in the ring and fought everyday outside the ring. Whether he was fighting pain, sorrow, addiction or for affection, Johnny Tapia fought hard. But his life wasn’t always filled with sorrow.
Johnny Tapia was born on February 13th, 1967 to Virginia Tapia in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They lived in poverty but Virginia did what she could. She had no bad habits. She didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and she didn’t do drugs. She did on the other hand have a knack for picking the wrong guy. Guys that would do drugs and guys that would abuse her. Young Johnny saw the abuse and attacked his mom’s boyfriend to defend his mother while he was at a very young age; not even 9. His mother was his everything and he took a beating from her boyfriend while defending her.
Thing were not always that sad for him and his mother. Johnny had very fond memories of his mother who was a very kind woman. She would dance in the kitchen while cooking food and for snacks, she would give him Dr. Pepper and a Snickers bar; a treat that he would continue eating throughout his life because of the fond memories it would bring back.
When Johnny was 8, something happened that would change his life forever. His mother was dating a man named Richard and she was going to go out one night with Richard and some other people that she knew. She really didn’t want to go out but ended up going anyways. She borrowed her sister’s car and went out. Later that night, Johnny heard a strange noise outside and looked out the window to see his mother, chained, being dragged behind a pickup truck. Johnny screamed and ran to wake up his grandparents who just dismissed Johnny’s claims of what he saw and his grandfather literally pushed him away into the wall. Johnny pleaded for someone to call the police but no one ever did. They are from the ghetto and in the ghetto you never call the cops. They are the enemy.
The very next day his mother was found with blunt force trauma and about 30 stab wounds. Her body was dumped by a rock quarry and she crawled over 100 meters to make it to the closest neighborhood to call 911. Her body was found by a construction worker who called 911 and she was taken to the hospital and registered as a Jane Do.
It wasn’t until after a couple articles in the newspaper and a picture of the jewelry were shown that the Tapia family knew their beloved Virginia was the woman in the hospital. She passed away a few days after the attack on May 28th of 1975. Later in Johnny’s life, it would be revealed that Virginia’s boyfriend Richard was the man who took away what he treasured most.
When his mother died a piece of Johnny died with her. He never got to see her in the hospital nor go to her funeral and he needed that closure. Johnny was then taken in by his grandparents who had also taken in many other family members. There were so many people in the house that many of them slept on the floor and food had to be locked up so that no one would take more than their share.
When Johnny moved in with his grandparents, he suffered greatly. Not just from the loss of his mother but the abuse he suffered from everyone else in the house, after all he was the runt out of everyone. His grandparents told him to stay out as late as possible everyday so that they would not have to deal with him. All that changed one day when Johnny was at the neighborhood park with his uncles, (who he considered his brothers) when a rival neighborhood came and challenged them to a basketball game. It didn’t take long for a fight to start. One of Johnny’s uncles bet a rival five dollars that Johnny could beat up anyone from their crew. So they ended up picking their biggest guy and Johnny just beats the hell out of the guy.
From that day on Johnny received more attention and affection from his family, especially his grandfather. His grandfather used to be a boxer and also worked as a miner. He had to quit boxing because he had breathing problems from his mining job but ran everyday and stayed in shape. He even had a homemade punching bag in the backyard.
He personally took Johnny aside and began to train him, showing him how to punch and technique. Johnny even started going on runs with his grandfather. All of the time he spent with his grandfather made his uncle’s jealous but Johnny started feeling happy again.
Johnny officially started boxing at age 9. In his first amateur fight, he had to hold rocks in his shorts just so he could weigh the minimum to compete. He was still the runt. He ended up being disqualified because his street instincts took over and he began kicking and biting his opponent. He was banned for two years and told to leave the street b*llsh*t behind.
Johnny had a great amateur career though and won the National Golden Gloves in the light flyweight division in 1983 and in the flyweight division in 1985. He went to the U.S. Olympics and was roommates with another future legend, Mike Tyson. They both got into trouble together and became friends.
Johnny’s dream was to go pro and it was a struggle. His original trainer as a pro didn’t even want to take him on which made him quit boxing all together. After some time off, he had the chance to show his skills in a sparring session which sprung up on him. He wasn’t prepared and had to use a napkin as a mouth guard. Needless to say he was impressive and became a professional boxer.
His first fight as a pro was a disappointment after it ended in a draw. But the next eleven years of his career was something unheard of to today’s generation. Tapia hadn’t lost a fight and even became world champion, but with success comes trials and tribulations.
Johnny had avoided drugs his whole life even though drugs were always around him, but it eventually caught up with him. His drug of choice was cocaine. The high took away the pain that he had but it came with a price. He was suspended from boxing and was kicked out of his grandparent’s home. He was an addict and he was now homeless.
But what’s the one thing that can save someone when they are in trouble? Love. Johnny met his wife, Teresa at a party. He fell in love with her at first sight and he instantly wanted to marry her. She had no interest in him whatsoever but persistence pays off. After so many times of Johnny asking her to marry him, she finally said yes. She was a smart woman but knew nothing about his addictions and he hid them well from her at first. He loved Teresa unconditionally and she became his guardian angel by cleaning him up when he was way beyond help. She in time became his manager and pushed his career farther than they imagined.
Johnny has had many great fights throughout his career, but one of the biggest fights ever was against Danny Romero. When Johnny was younger he trained with Romero’s father but when Johnny was away from the ring due to his drug problems, Romero rose as Albuquerque’s top fighter and began to badmouth Johnny. A fight between the two was in the works but it actually took a few years for it to materialize.
Tensions were high leading up to the fight with both camps going back and forth with each other. A couple weeks before the fight the venue for the fight refused to house the event after Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in one of the most memorable fights of all time. So, it was up to Bob Arum to find a venue and the fight ended up at the Thomas and Mack center.
Many had speculated that Romero would win by 8th round knockout but that just fueled the fire in Johnny Tapia’s belly. Johnny outclassed Romero most of the fight and did it in entertaining fashion, slugging it out and taunting his opponent. He would go on to win a unanimous decision and proved that he was the fan favorite that night.
Johnny Tapia fought a total of 66 times throughout his 23 year career, winning 59 of those fight with 5 loses and 2 draws. His record said what everyone knew, he loved to fight. And boxing fans, well, we loved to watch.
But Johnny wasn’t just a fighter. He wasn’t always angry. He was in fact a very caring person. He helped those in need. He gave to the less fortunate out of the good in his heart. He bought people houses, cars and even paid their bills because he was once in that situation. It’s what his mother would have wanted him to do.
Late in his life he found out that he suffered from many different mental illnesses. Boxing helped him cope with life and the birth of his three sons with the love of his wife made him feel loved and needed on this Earth and gave him a reason to want to live even though he has tried taking his own life on several occasions.
It’s sad when someone passes away. It is even sadder when that person has touched so many lives. Even if you never met Tapia, you could relate to a lot of the situations he has been in. When someone passes away people show that they care, but as time goes on the person becomes a repressed memory. Funeral’s are not meant to be tragic; they are meant to celebrate one’s life which is what should be done after that person has been gone for a while.
Johnny Tapia’s entire life was a highlight reel and for me was one of the greatest action fighters of my time. It is my belief that when a fighter retires, they never stay retired. Even in death their memory fights on. Johnny Tapia fought every single day of his life and boxing fans should feel blessed that they were able to partake in his “Vida Loca.”
Johnny passed away one day short of the 37th anniversary of the death of his mother, Virginia. He left behind a wife and three children who miss him greatly. He is no longer with his angels on Earth and is with his angel in heaven.
Rest in Peace Johnny. I hope you have found it.