Ten-Count for Johnny Tapia

By Robert Ecksel on May 27, 2012
Ten-Count for Johnny Tapia
He boxed like a dream, but Johnny's life, which was not without its joys, was a nightmare

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.

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  1. Pete The Sneak 04:55am, 05/29/2012

    Probably no other nickname in Boxing so truly captured the person like Johnny (Mi Vida Loca) Tapia. I mean can even the most imaginative of fiction writers have written this story and be able to pawn it off as reality? I don’t believe so. I truly hope Johnny is finally resting from all the demons that were bestowed upon him from birth. My condolences to his wife Teresa and to their entire family. Rest in PEACE.

  2. KingBrian 07:03pm, 05/28/2012

    R.I.P. Mi Vida Loca, I’ll always remember his fights, an incredible heart, and the man had an iron will…in the ring. God Bless Johnny Tapia…

  3. jofre 03:00pm, 05/28/2012

    May he finally rest in peace!

  4. Bodyshots 10:08am, 05/28/2012

    moving (painful) piece and obit for Johnny Tapia. perhaps the real Tapia could be glimpsed immediately after a grueling ringwar and a joyful, grateful, sentimental Johnny would emerge to thank the audience and reflect on his win or loss. that’s the Tapia i’ll remember along with his skills and ferocity in a Fight. this fight-fan is grateful for the memories. finally RIP Johnny Tapia.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 09:21am, 05/28/2012

    Robert Ecksel-Very nicely done…I can see him now in his corner between rounds animated, full of life and scrap…talking more than his cornermen….looking into the camera and sending out greetings to family and friends….then going out and kicking his opponents butt…and capping it all off of course with a back flip when it was all over!

  6. The Thresher 05:13am, 05/28/2012

    Good God. This is terrble news.

  7. Joe 03:30am, 05/28/2012

    I just saw him interviewing Berto on Showtime.  I thought Johnny was doing ok.  God Bless his family.  RIP Champ.  Unbelievable.

  8. David Ball 03:24am, 05/28/2012

    As gritty and tough as they come, Rip Johnny T….the demons are silenced now.

  9. mikecasey 01:32am, 05/28/2012

    Alas, Johnny was always going to go like this.

  10. Saumya 11:41pm, 05/27/2012

    Here’s all that he had in his mind.
    Chuck Nitty interviewing Boxing legend Johnny Tapia at the Andre Ward / Carl Froch Press Conference in NYC at the Edison Ballroom on December 13, 2011.
    RIP Tapia. You were a legend indeed.!

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