Johnny Tapia's life has been crazy. In fact, his motto for years has been "Mi Vida Loca," Spanish for My Crazy Life. For those not familiar with this charismatic athlete, Johnny Tapia has led an incredibly interesting--and at times tragic--life. The FIVE-TIME WORLD CHAMPION boxer from Albuquerque, New Mexico is one of the most intense characters in the sport. He has honed his overwhelming emotion and boundless energy throughout his career to overcome every obstacle in his way. The incredible story below is a chronicle of the fall and rise of Johnny Tapia.
Johnny Tapia's life began with tragedy. When Johnny entered the world on February 13, 1967 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his father had reportedly already been murdered. At the age of seven, Johnny was riding on a bus that drove off a 100-foot cliff, hurling a pregnant woman seated next to him out the window to her death. Tapia was also thrown through the window, but luckily escaped with only a concussion.
When Johnny was only eight years old, his mother Virginia was kidnapped, raped, hung, stabbed 22 times with scissors and a screwdriver, and left for dead by her assailant. Johnny recalls being awakened in the middle of the night by a noise that he was certain was his mother's screams. He looked out the window and saw her chained in the back of a pick-up truck. He woke up his grandparents to tell them what he had seen, but they thought it was just the overactive imagination of a little boy and sent him back to bed. He is still haunted by these memories to this day.
After crawling 100 yards through a gravel pit to a road following her brutal encounter, Johnny's mother was found by the police and taken to the hospital. Because she was found with no identification, she remained in a hospital bed as a "Jane Doe" for two days. Finally, after a story and photo ran in the paper, Virginia's sister ran to the hospital and sadly confirmed her identity. Johnny's aunts and uncles went to visit his mother over the next few days to make their peace, but would not allow Virginia's 8-year-old son to visit. Though Johnny desperately pleaded with his family for the opportunity to say good-bye to his mother, he was denied. She died four days after the attack without regaining consciousness. No one was charged with the murder.
Raised thereafter by his grandmother, Johnny turned to boxing at the age of nine and the future appeared to be brighter. He enjoyed a 101-21 (65 KOs) amateur career that included two National Golden Gloves titles. He turned professional in March of 1988 and streaked to a 21-0-1 (12 KOs) record and the United States Boxing Association (USBA) junior bantamweight title.
With a world title shot on the horizon, Tapia tested positive for cocaine three times in 1990 and 1991. The positive drug tests led to a suspension from the sport he loved and he would not re-enter the ring for more than three years. During that time, Tapia's life nearly ended three times from drug overdoses.
With his life in utter chaos, some calm would come to him in the form of Teresa Chavez, his future wife and manager. For Johnny, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, Teresa wanted nothing to do with the hyperactive young boxer. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Johnny pestered her until she agreed to go out with him. After numerous marriage requests, Teresa finally said yes. Showing that his blinding speed was not confined to the ring, Tapia returned two hours later with a wedding dress and an announcement that he had booked a judge and building for three days later.
With Teresa's love and support, Johnny overcame his drug addiction. "I'm clean for today," said Tapia. "I never think about yesterday because it's gone and I never worry about tomorrow because it may never come."
Clean and sober for the first time in years, Johnny rededicated himself to boxing. His suspension was lifted in 1994, allowing him to re-enter the ring. Picking up right re he left off, Tapia would reel off five straight wins, including a victory for the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) title over Oscar Aguilar on July 15, 1994.
Tapia's impressive defeat of Aguilar set the stage for Tapia's first crack at a world title; the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior bantamweight crown held by Henry Martinez. On October 12, 1994, Tapia would realize his dream in front of more than 8,000 screaming fans in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico...posting a thrilling 11th round TKO victory over Martinez.
One of Tapia's greatest victories inside the ring was against arch-rival, fellow junior bantamweight world champion and Albuquerque native, Danny Romero. The fight would ultimately unify the WBO and IBF The Tapia - Romero fight was billed as a grudge match and, in every sense of the word, it was one.
On July 18, 1997, the showdown between Tapia and Romero took center stage in the world of boxing. Although a war was anticipated, Tapia's combination of blinding speed, defense and accuracy were too much for his opponent. In the end, the power punching Romero couldn't connect solidly against his arch rival and Tapia's superior boxing skills earned a well deserved unanimous decision victory in front of more than 8,000 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On February 13, 1998, the evening of Tapia's 31st birthday, Albuquerque's conquering hero returned home to defend his titles against the WBO's No. 9 world rated contender Rodolfo Blanco.
Having fought at 115 pounds since his amateur days, Tapia decided after the Blanco fight to move up to bantamweight. After winning a 10-round decision in a tune-up against Carlos Hernandez in Las Vegas on August 28, 1998, Tapia challenged hard hitting WBA champion Nana Konadu. Konadu, a three-time world champion from Ghana, entered the ring having scored 32 knockouts in his 43 fights. Prior to the fight, Tapia added firepower to his arsenal, hiring venerable trainer Freddie Roach to help him refine his defensive skills. Johnny had total respect for Roach, who had trained several world champions, including Michael Moorer, Frankie Liles and Steve Collins.On January 8, 2000 two of the most talented boxers collided when World Boxing Organization (WBO) Bantamweight Champion Jorge Eliecer Julio attempted to defend his title against former three-time world champion Johnny Tapia on Showtime Championship Boxing from The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tapia, (47-1-2, 26 KOs), went the distance with Julio and took his WBO title in a unanimous 12-round decision.
Fighting before a raucous hometown crowd of 11,153 that spent much of the night chanting "Johnny, Johnny," Tapia used a steady and punishing left jab and an occasional overhand right to hand Julio only the second loss of his career and snap the Columbian's 16-fight winning streak. Prior to the fight, Tapia joined forces with the Albuquerque Metropolitan Crime Stoppers to help get guns off the streets. A "Guns for Tickets" program was created, offering individuals who turned in guns two $30-tickets to the fight. A total of 57 guns were turned in on the two days the exchange program was held. "It's great that there are 57 less guns on our streets. I also hope that this program got our youth to think about the ways they could live less violent lives," said Tapia. Tapia regained his dominance inside the ring, winning his fourth world title.
Outside the ring Johnny Tapia is focused on letting the world know that you must NEVER GIVE UP! The inner peace he has finally found has ignited a humanitarian crusade to educate children about the destructive and addictive nature of drugs and alcohol, the importance of education and the need to take responsibility for your actions.