Outside the Ring: Teresa Tapia

By Jill Diamond on March 20, 2015
Outside the Ring: Teresa Tapia
“It is painful being involved with all projects related to Johnny. It is definitely bittersweet.”

Hand in hand, they crossed a battlefield, mined with drugs and depression, desperate to make it to safety. And finally, they did…

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

This is a story about love. Love of sport. Love of family. Love of self. So, what drives a man, who seems to have everything, to risk it all for a Belt? Maybe for this man, there was only peace when the robe dropped, the bell rang, and the war waged. Boxing is a primal sport, fought by men and women who can elevate it to an art form. Johnny Tapia was one of those men. But the only person who really knew what motivated him, year after year, battle after battle, was Teresa Tapia, the one who survived to share his story. 

One will never know in which arena Johnny fought hardest. It’s possible that he may have felt safest within the confines of four ropes. Life doesn’t have such clean boundaries. The only thing that’s clear, is standing next to Johnny was Teresa, a woman of steely determination and hope. Johnny fought inside the ring, but outside of it, they fought together, using their weapons against an invisible assailant threatening to rob them of their future. Hand in hand, they crossed a battlefield, mined with drugs and depression, desperate to make it to safety. And finally, they did.

But there was no fairytale ending. No happily ever after. As a poet once said… “if love were all…” But it’s not. At best, it’s a net, and sometimes, a prayer. And in this case, a longing. After years of struggle, Johnny died, leaving Teresa memories, and a mission. It’s that mission that drives her. It’s that mission that defines her arena. A diminutive woman of great stature, a woman who believes her experience will make a difference to others, she fights on.

Meet Teresa Tapia, woman of wonder … based on a true story.

When I say “Johnny Tapia” what words immediately come to mind?

The immediate words that come to mind when I hear Johnny’s name are: survivor, protector, and love.

Tell us about your family’s relationship to the sport of boxing?

My family is still very much involved in the sport of boxing. We own and run a boxing gym, as well as promote fights locally.

Do you believe that boxing was an asset or and inflammatory issue in Johnny’s life?

I believe that boxing was an asset to Johnny in his life. I think Johnny would have ended up in prison or worse at an early age if he didn’t have boxing.

What was it like being the wife of such a charismatic celebrity?

Being the wife of Johnny was never boring! It was a constant rollercoaster ride. However, my favorite thing about being married to Johnny was witnessing how humble he was in and out of the public eye.

Were there times that the media scrutiny became too much for you and your family?

Media has always been and still is a thorn in our side. I believe media can make or break you. Unfortunately because of Johnny’s substance abuse problem, he was always a target. Johnny wore his heart on his sleeve and didn’t hold anything back and that also made him a media favorite.

Did you enjoy watching Johnny fight?

Watching Johnny fight fascinated me!! I never tired of watching him display his natural talent in the ring. I loved the way he would get his fans involved during his bouts! He could keep thousands mesmerized it was a rare sight.

What do you believe was Johnny’s greatest achievement?

I believe Johnny’s greatest achievement was being a husband and father and living to the age that he did. I know it sounds strange, but he never wanted to live beyond the age of 32 because that was the age his mom was murdered. Whenever Johnny was asked this question in the past about his proudest moments, three fights came to mind. 

His three greatest fights?

The most special was his first World Title on October 12, 1995 in front of his hometown crown against Henry Martinez. The second that comes to mind is beating his archrival, Danny Romero in Las Vegas on July 18th, 1997. His third favorite was his third Title fight against Nana Kanadu in Atlantic City. He says it was his best boxing performance.

What elements led to his comeback?

Johnny made his comeback on March 27th 1994 in Oklahoma. After three and a half years of being banned from boxing, Johnny became sober and stayed sober and was able to make his comeback.

Do you children follow boxing?

My children respect the sport of boxing, but it is bittersweet for them because their father isn’t here.

How are they coping with the loss of their dad?

There is a huge void in our lives since Johnny’s passing. Things have changed dramatically.

What are your thoughts on improving boxing?

As an outsider to the sport of boxing, I think the sport should be organized in the same matter as the NFL and the NBA. I think that allowing certain states to handle their ver-sion of what’s safe is actually dangerous to fighters. I also think it would be nice to see things set in place that will offer a fighter retirement benefits. It is sad to see a fighter give their Heart and Soul to this sport and then they are chewed up and spit out and no one cares about them after the fact.

Who was Johnny’s support team?

Johnny had a great family support on hand at all times. 

What did you think about the HBO documentary about Johnny?

I believe the HBO documentary was a very emotional and well done piece.

Anything about the movie you’d change?

The original version was better in my opinion but I know time was a factor. I would have liked to see more of my children and their interaction with Johnny.

Do you think Johnny would have approved of it?

I think Johnny would have been happy with the end result of the documentary.

Who helped you during the dark times?

My mom, brother, and grandma were a great support system for both of us. Johnny used to call my mom his mom and my brother his brother. We were all very close. Sadly on the flip side, you notice how most other people are fickle and were only around for the actual fights. Johnny also leaned heavily on his grandmother and grandfather.

Who are your role models, inspirations?

My role models are God first, and all women I consider strong! Jill Diamond is among them!!

What is your life like now, Teresa?

Life now is complicated and at times empty. I try to focus on positive things and I really like helping people. I have started the Johnny Tapia Foundation and am constantly looking for ways to help people in need. My children are the roots that keep me grounded and moving forward.

You’ve been through so much and still, you give so much. Why?

I hope my message has an impact on people.

What other projects are in the works?

We actually have two movies coming up. The first one is about Johnny’s life from the years 1990-1995. It was his downfall and ultimately his rise back into boxing. The second movie is a movie about my life with Johnny through my eyes.

Is it painful or cathartic being involved in these projects?

It is painful being involved with all projects related to Johnny. It is definitely bittersweet. However, I believe it’s also therapeutic. My goal is to secure Johnny’s legacy.

And the future?

I don’t know what my future holds. When Johnny was alive I used to be so neurotic about planning the future but since his passing, I take life one day at a time.

What would Teresa’s mantra be?

My mantra would be, “I can do this.”

If you had one wish, what would it be?

My wish would be to turn back time…

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Outside the Ring: Bruce Silverglade
Outside the Ring: Mauricio Sulaiman
Outside the Ring: Luke Downdey
Outside the Ring: Kevin Iole
Outside the Ring: Barry Halbritter
Outside the Ring: Chicago Youth Boxing Club
Outside the Ring: Robert Guerrero
Outside the Ring: Mike Tyson
Outside the Ring: Teresa Tapia

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. peter 05:41pm, 03/22/2015

    Yet another interview interesting interview….“Boxing is a primal sport, fought by men and women who can elevate it to an art form.”—I love that line.

  2. Joseph G. (r.i.p. Alexis Arguello) 08:21am, 03/21/2015

    @Eric… Integrity is crucial in every area of life and sometimes it is hard to find in this sport. You may have already read this book but if you get the chance “In This Corner” is an excellent book and I am not going to go into the details of the book but the last of the 42 fighters to give an interview was my favorite boxer of all time. If you get the chance, read that interview and his views of the sport and they are almost spot on 20 years later. I just do not know if there is any way to eliminate all of the filth in the sport. I just try everyday to remind myself of the beauty of it all. Thanks again Eric!

  3. FrankinDallas 07:17am, 03/21/2015

    I recently read a book about Johnny Tapia. His childhood
    was a nightmare….it’s a wonder he survived past 5 years old.
    Obviously led to mental issues and snorting coke and drinking
    were not the medicines he needed. Teresa was an angel dealing with
    him all those years. He was lucky to have her for a long as it lasted.

  4. Emilio Martinez 08:52pm, 03/20/2015

    I recall The Johnny Tapia story. I even wrote a letter to HBO in an effort to reach out to Johnny and try to help him, as I was battling my own addiction. Although I was a total stranger, I’m proud of the effort I made. I never received a response from HBO. Who knows? Maybe I could’ve made a difference. His story gave me strength, as I’m 13 1/2 yrs clean and sober. God Bless the Tapia family.

  5. Kid Blast 01:49pm, 03/20/2015

    I think the second loss to Ayala hurt him deeply and he never really recovered from that. He was stiffed in that one. It was robbery in plain sight and the pain of Johnny’s face was a terrible thing to witness. He had to be helped to the dressing room. It was one on the worse decisions I have ever seen.

  6. Eric 06:42am, 03/20/2015

    @Joseph G….Nice post. Nice to know that there are still some givers left out there in a world full of takers. Negative people and parasitic creatures have infested not only boxing but all other walks of life as well. Keep fighting the good fight.

  7. Kid Blast 06:30am, 03/20/2015

    Jill, a wonderful interview of a very wonderful person.  It gives us a unique peak into some very interesting people.

  8. Joseph G (r.i.p. Alexis Arguello) 06:20am, 03/20/2015

    Thank you so much Jill for this article and your work on sport’s and the philanthropy that comes along with it. It is so important to have women and men like Teresa Tapia involved in this sport. More importantly the world but we will just leave it to boxing.  Just some of the issues that Teresa mentions at the end of the interview have to eventually stop. Boxing is so amazingly beautiful and at the same time it can be the epitome of selfish capitalism at it’s best. This sport saved my life. Period. I am not here if I did not walk into a boxing gym at the age of 17 and more importantly meet my trainer. After some time he became my best friend and the first man I trusted after my father left my mother to take care of me alone. There are so many of these stories in boxing and it is of the utmost importance to me to be there for that 17 year old kid like my trainer was for me. These days I try not to focus on the negative people that have infested this sport since they found out they can make money off another man’s sweat and blood and the negative things said in the media about my true passion in life. I spend a lot of my spare thinking time trying to figure out a way that will make these people just vanish and help this sport flourish to it’s maximum capacity, but that may just be a pipe dream. All I hope for is that someone who truly cares for their boxers well-being and their life as a whole will be there when that 17 year old kid walks in the door on the edge of becoming just another statistic and will still be there for him in life when all of the bright lights go away. Thank you so much again Jill Diamond and look forward to your next article.

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