On this day in 1967, 49 years ago, one of boxing’s most exciting entertainers was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. That man was of course, Johnny Tapia.
Johnny died May 27th in 2012 aged only 45, but in less than half a century the troubled soul that was Tapia scaled highs and lows few in any sport, or walk of life for that matter, can match.
Perhaps it was best said by the man himself one time:
“My name is Johnny Lee Tapia. I was born on Friday the 13th. A Friday in February of 1967. To this day I don’t know if that makes me lucky or unlucky. When I was eight I saw my mother murdered. I never knew my father. He was murdered before I was born. I was raised as a pit bull. Raised to fight to the death. Four times I was declared dead. Four times they wanted to pull life support. And many more times I came close to dying.”
Life had dealt Johnny Lee Tapia a tough hand to play, even before he had seen the light of day having never met his father who apparently had been murdered, while his mother was still pregnant with him.
Tapia would lose his mother by the age of eight. Johnny’s mother Virginia was kidnapped, raped, hanged and stabbed and left for dead. Virginia died four days after the attack without ever regaining consciousness.
At the time of the attack Tapia was awakened by his mother’s screams, he tried to alert others in the house, but his shouts for help were met with disbelief. No one would come to help.
His mother was later found by the police and taken to hospital. After the tragic loss of his mother, Johnny would turn to boxing as a 9 year old.
An outstanding amateur, Johnny’s talent was more than evidenced by winning the 1983 and 1985 National Golden Gloves tournaments at light flyweight and flyweight.
Tapia then turned professional in 1988, drawing his first fight but going on to have eight more fights that year – with five wins by way of KO, of which four were in the first round.
1989 would continue the same way 1988 finished with Tapia winning seven more fights, but as would so often happen though out his life, trouble would somehow find him.
His career came to a halt for the next three and a half years after being suspended from boxing for testing positive for cocaine use.
1994 would see Tapia defeat Henry Martínez in eleven rounds to win the vacant WBO super-flyweight title. Then, in 1998, Tapia defeated WBA bantamweight champion Nana Konadu by unanimous decision to become a two-weight division world champion.
In 1999, Tapia suffered his first loss as a pro in his 48th professional bout, losing a decision and the WBA title to Paulie Ayala in what the Ring Magazine called it’s ‘Fight of the Year’.
Later that year Tapia would try to commit suicide with a drug overdose.
In 2002, Tapia would win the IBF featherweight title against Manuel Medina making it his 5th and last world title, in what was a stellar career.
However trouble and heartache was never too far away and on February 11th 2009, Tapia was taken into custody for a violation of parole for cocaine use. On May 27th 2012, Tapia was then tragically found dead at his home in Albuquerque.
Only 45 years old, Tapia died of heart failure, the irony of which isn’t lost on anyone who watched him fight because a failure of heart inside the ring was never an issue. A champion boxer and human being.
Here’s a fitting tribute to the life and career of a man who valued love above all else, admired for his honesty and enthusiasm, recounted in his own words.
(Hat tip to Showtime Sports):
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