Ten-Count for Johnny Tapia
Former super flyweight, bantamweight, and featherweight champion Johnny Tapia, aka “Mi Vida Loca” (My Crazy Life), was found dead in his Albuquerque home at 7:45 Sunday evening. He was only 45.
The cause of death has not yet been determined. Some suspect foul play, but others believe the cool cat that was Johnny had simply used up the nine lives—and then some—that God had granted him.
Tapia had the hardest of hard luck stories. His father was allegedly murdered while his mother, Virginia, was pregnant with him. Johnny was orphaned when he was eight, after his mother had been kidnapped, raped, hanged, and stabbed 26 times with a screwdriver.
One of Tapia’s recurring ghost stories was remembering being awakened by screams one night and looking out the second floor window to see his mother chained to the back of a pickup truck. Virginia was later found by police, after she had crawled 100 yards from a ditch to the side of a road. She died four days later without regaining consciousness.
Johnny was raised by his grandparents and uncle. A few years ago his wife Teresa told me, to illustrate how Johnny had been raised, that he was such a wild and crazy kid that his family would literally keep him on a leash. Every Friday night, after workingmen had received their weekly paychecks, Tapia’s grandfather and uncle would go into town with their leashed grandson/nephew and challenge them to a fight: “We’ll bet that you can’t beat up this little boy.” Most of the hardened laborers laughed and took up the challenge. When his grandfather and uncle unleashed Johnny, the laughter stopped.
Tapia began his amateur career in the 1980s and won the National Golden Gloves junior flyweight title in 1983 and the National Golden Gloves flyweight title in 1985.
He had his first pro fight on March 28, 1988. Tapia won the WBO super flyweight title in 1995, the IBF super flyweight title in 1997, the WBA bantamweight title in 1998, the WBO bantamweight title in 1999, and the IBF featherweight title in 2002.
Tapia struggled for decades with cocaine and alcohol addiction, as well as bipolar depression. His many run-ins with the law are part of the public record. He had also been declared legally dead on several occasions.
It looked as if Johnny had finally turned things around. But no matter how many dragons he slayed during his short, tumultuous life, there always seemed to be another fire-breathing monster lurking in the shadows.
At the time of his death, Tapia’s record was 59-5-2 (30 KOs). He boxed like a dream, but his life, which was not without its joys, in the end was a nightmare.
God broke the mold when he made Johnny Tapia.
Bless your ever-loving soul, champ.