Tapia's death appeared inevitable
Posted at: 05/28/2012 10:48 PM
By: J.P. Murrieta, KOB Eyewitness Sports 4
Sunday night I heard the news longtime New Mexico boxing champ Johnny Tapia died. I’ve covered Johnny Tapia’s career for the past decade and a half and news of his death was sad, but to anyone who knows his life, the ending to this story was unfortunately predictable.
I don’t know if there’s anyone who had a tougher upbringing than Tapia. When he was 8 years old, his mother was kidnapped, raped, hanged, repeatedly stabbed and died a couple days later. To help fight that nightmare, Tapia turned to boxing. Of his 58 professional wins, the one opponent he could never take down was his addiction to drugs. Tapia lived like a guy who thought he had nine lives and wanted to use every last one of em. He admitted to being dead several times from his drug use.
He didn’t like being alone. Years ago Tapia once called me at work from a limousine because he just wanted someone to talk to. I never found Johnny to refuse an interview or deny a fan of an autograph or picture. Tapia was charismatic and a crowd favorite every time he stepped in the ring.
His story was a mixture of triumph and tragedy. The same Tapia who could make a stranger feel like his best friend was the same Tapia who once pulled a gun on his wife. The same Johnny who would bring home strangers from town because they needed a place to eat was the same Johnny who was found on the bathroom floor with a needle in his arm on his wedding day.
Tapia battled demons, but it was his warrior like determination that kept him alive for over four decades and made him a 5-time world champion in the process. He was a fighter with manic energy and a huge heart.
Tapia fed strangers, built gyms for other troubled youth and shared his story of survival with other addicts in the hope of saving them. Hugs were his currency. I heard someone say the only people who don't like Johnny Tapia are the ones who haven't met him. He was known to light up any room just by walking in. He needed bodyguards around him, not for protection, but to keep the masses from wanting to shake his hand or take a picture. Any press conference involving Johnny would always start late because it took him 20 minutes to say hello to everyone. That was Johnny.
To some people, Johnny Tapia was a drug-addicted criminal who spent time in and out of jail. While to others he was a man trapped by the demons and depression of “Mi Vida Loca” but still found a way to rise and become a champion. He will be remembered as a guy with hard hands and a soft heart. To me, it’s a sad waste of a talented boxer whose early death appeared inevitable.
It wasn’t a shock his life ended at 45. All things considered, it’s a shock he made it to 45.