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Mi Vida Loca: The legacy of Johnny Tapia

Courtesy of West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame (Painting by Jun Aquino).

Fremont, California -

Johnny Tapia was a trailblazer, a shooting star. His misadventures outside the ring often overshadowed his brilliant achievements inside of it. Since 1892, he is one of only seven fighters in the history of boxing who won the bantamweight and featherweight crowns. Mike Tyson looked up to Tapia and considers him one of the greatest fighters of all time. Freddie Roach referred to Tapia as one of the classiest, bravest fighters who ever lived. Who are we, mere mortals, to disagree?

For the record, Johnny Lee Anthony Tapia was born on February 13, 1967, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

His life outside the roped square was a matter of life and death, literally and figuratively---drugs, violence, and brushes with the law, you name it.

Mi Vida Loca, My Crazy Life, was his mantra if not his persona.

In 2002, Tapia revealed on an HBO documentary the cause of his hurt and anger, one he traces back to his mother’s death back in late May 27, 1975, when Tapia was just eight years old.

“My mom was stabbed twenty-six times, raped and left for dead. When I am using drugs and when I drink, I do not think of what happened to her… I never got to say goodbye… I never got to say I love you,” said Tapia… "I think of my opponents as my mother’s killer,” Tapia told James Brown of HBO, his wife Teresa by his side.

He was never at peace that his mother was gone, and her absence fueled his hate and aggression.

The angst and anger ate him inside, but they served him well inside the ring as he captured three titles in as many divisions---super-flyweight, bantamweight, and featherweight.

Paradoxically, he found peace and serenity in all his 66 official fights.

He died on the anniversary of his mother Virginia’s death on May 27, 2012, thirty-seven years later.

Amateur Career

Tapia was an excellent amateur boxer who amassed 150 wins and 12 losses. His titles in the unpaid ranks include the 1983 New Mexico State, the 1983 USA Golden Gloves light-flyweight, and the 1985 Golden Gloves flyweight championships. He qualified to be in the 1984 Olympics along with Mike Tyson.

Professional Ranks

Super-Flyweight Championship

He had an unpromising professional debut drawing with Efren Chavez on March 25, 1988. Subsequently, he rattled off 7 straight wins that year with the likes of James Dean (UD 6), Norberto Ayala (KO 4), Martin Perez Ramirez (TKO 1), Miguel Martinez (KO 1), Manuel Martinez (KO1), Jorge Salinas (TKO 1) and Simon Contreras (UD 8). In 1990, Tapia won 7 times beating Jesus Chong (UD 8), Abraham Garcia (TKO 1), Roland Gomez (TKO 11 for the USBA super-flyweight title), Pablo Valenzuela (KO5), Jose Montiel (TKO 9), Luigi Camputaro (UD 12) and Santiago Caballero (TD 7).

From 1991 to early 1994 and for 3½ years Tapia’s boxing career was derailed by testing positive for cocaine use. The boxing commissions suspended his license.

He returned with a vengeance on March 27, 1994, by knocking out Jaime Olvera (KO 4). Six wins followed over Arturo Estrada (TKO2), Antonio Ruiz (UD 10), Rafael Granillo (TKO 9), Oscar Aguilar (TKO 3).Tapia beat Henry Martinez (TKO 11) and won his first WBO super-flyweight title.

He knocked out Filipino great Rolando Bohol (KO 2) at the Convention Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to cap off the year.

In three defenses after obtaining the 115-pound title, he retained the title when he beat Jose Rafael Sosa (UD 12), drew with Ricardo Vargas (TD 8/Draw), and triumphed over Arthur Johnson (MD 12). Non-title wins against Jesse Miranda (UD 10, Raul Rios (UD 10) followed.

Another 10 successful defenses against Willy Salazar (RTD 9), Giovanni Andrade (TKO 2), Ivan Alvarez (TKO8), Hugo Rafael Soto (UD 12), Sammy Stewart (TKO 7), Adonis Cruz (UD 12), Jorge Barrera (TKO3), Danny Romero (UD 12), Andy Agosto (UD 12) and Rodolfo Blanco (UD 12). He also beat Jesus Miranda (UD 10), Raul Rios (UD 10) and Ramon Gonzales (TKO 2) in non-title fights.
After an amazing 13 defenses, it was time to go up in weight.

Bantamweight Championship

On December 5, 1998, Johnny Tapia beat Nana Konadu for his 47th win, and captured the WBA bantamweight crown in the process via majority decision in twelve rounds. Tapia got a non-title win against Alberto Martinez (KO 1) to improve his record to 46-0-2.
His undefeated record was erased with a loss to Paulie Ayala who took his WBA bantamweight title on June 26, 1999.

He beat Jorge Eliecer Julio (UD 12) for the WBO bantamweight title and retained it with a win over Pedro Javier Torres (UD 12).

In their rematch, on October 7, 2000, and without any titles on the line, Johnny Tapia again lost to Paulie Ayala by a unanimous verdict (UD 12) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Many observers thought Johnny Tapia put on a clinic but lost to Ayala in the score cards. He climbed in weight besting Cuauhtemoc Gomez (RTD 6).

Tapia passed his toughest test at the 126-pound division by knocking out former WBC featherweight champion Cesar Soto in 3 rounds. Of note, Cesar Soto once beat and was gifted Luisito Espinosa’s WBC featherweight crown by a highly questionable decision in El Paso, Texas back on May 15, 1999. Next for Tapia was a crisp win against Eduardo Enrique Alvarez (TKO1).

Featherweight Championship

Johnny Tapia’s inaugural fight in the featherweight ranks netted him the IBF featherweight title. He earned a disputed (MD 12) decision over Manuel “Mantecas” Medina---the same Mexican champion who bowed twice to legendary Filipino boxer Luisito Espinosa.

Tapia relinquished the IBF featherweight title and opted to fight for the Lineal and The Ring Featherweight Title. On November 2, 2002, at the MGM Grand Arena, Marco Antonio Barrera, the other Baby-faced Assassin, beat him decisively via unanimous decision (UD 12).

Comeback Attempts

In 2003, like many faded fighters before him, Johnny Tapia attempted one last comeback. He won against Carlos Contreras (UD 10) at Tingley Coliseum near his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In 2004, he lost to Frankie Archuleta (SD 10) this time in Highlands University, Las Vegas, New Mexico.

In his next few fights, he beat Nicky Betz (SD 10), rematched, and beat Frankie Archuleta (UD 10) for the 61st win of his career, this time more convincingly.

But the writing was on the wall for Johnny Tapia as he was knocked out (the only time in his career) by unheralded Sandro Marcos (KO2) who fired a left hook to the liver that crumpled Tapia.

From 2007-2011, Johnny Tapia beat his last 4 opponents, Evaristo Primero (MD 10), Jorge Alberto Reyes (TKO4), Jose Alonzo (TKO 4) and, lastly, Mauricio Pastrana (UD 8).

He retired from the roped arena with a winning record of 59 Wins (30 KO), 5 Losses, and 2 Draws.

Johnny Tapia found peace inside the roped square but lived a tragic life outside of it.

Despite all his flaws and troubled past, he gave it his all.
His place in boxing history is secure as one of the best in the fight game.

We remember Johnny Tapia with his honesty, enthusiasm, and lasting message of hope.

“I’m Johnny Tapia, and I’m a fighter. I have been to hell and back. I was born and raised in Albuquerque, and I love it there. When I was seven, my mom was stabbed twenty-one times with an ice pick and raped. They found a chain my mom used and that is how they found out in the hospital that it was my mom… I was raised with no love, and it is hard to get it now. Growing as a kid I did all wrong. All I needed was for someone to tell me that I was ok, that I would be all right.”

“If you have never tried drugs, don’t do it. First time is a mistake. Second time is a habit. Please, don’t do it.”

Teresa Tapia is the guiding light and the force that kept their family together. In these photos and captions, one can see that her love for Johnny Tapia continues.

“All I ever wanted was to grow old with you and watch out children and grandchildren become the center of our lives. I wanted you by my side on this journey called life. I wanted you to be beside me during all the milestones, tragedies, births, and new memories being created.”

“I miss our ‘pillow talk’ and dreaming of the future and what we wanted to build. I miss your strength and protectiveness. I miss how you made me feel safe no matter what was happening. I miss the laughter. Bottom line is, I MISS US. When you left, you took most of me along with you. When you were here, I lived life looking forward to the future. Since you have been gone, I feel out of place, nowhere, no one and nothing feels like home you used to tell me that you didn’t know where you belonged after your mom was taken. I never understood that until you were gone.” (Teresa Tapia)

“I have faith that you have finally found peace and for that I am happy even if it causes me pain to be without you. You deserve peace and happiness, a beautiful heavenly life, carefree, stress free and full of love. You gave all of us so much joy and love and you deserve to rest easy—TILL WE MEET AGAIN. RIP JOHNNY MI VIDA LOCA TAPIA---1967-2012” (Teresa Tapia)

Johnny and Teresa Tapia’s children are aspiring fighters---Johnny Lorenzo is entering the professional ranks as a junior-welterweight and Johnny Nico is an amateur. Both young men are carrying the torch from their beloved father.

First, thank you for taking the time to publish and recognize Johnny as one of the Magnificent 7---champions since 1892 who won the bantamweight and featherweight crowns.
Second, I would like to thank the fans for always supporting Mi Vida Loca, " My Crazy Life" brand.

Johnny continues to live through our brand and always encourages everyone no matter how hard life gets, always stick your chin out and let life give it its best shot.

Tapia promotions is ending the year strong with its final card of the year---La Ultima Batalla featuring Marco Antonio Barrera vs Daniel Ponce de Leon on Nov 20, 2021.

Thank you so much from the Tapia family.
Teresa Tapia


Further Reading

Mi Vida Loca: The Crazy Life of Johnny Tapia
By Bettina Gilois and Johnny Tapia Published by Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006 ISBN 10: 1566252717 / ISBN 13: 9781566252713

The Ghost of Johnny Tapia (Hamilcar Noir) by Paul Zanon with Teresa Tapia Published by Hamilcar Publications, 2019 ISBN 10: 1949590151ISBN 13: 9781949590159


Notes: Our biggest thanks to Mrs. Teresa Tapia for sharing the attached photographs and thoughts about her late husband. We are grateful for Mr. Jun Aquino’s generosity in sharing his wonderful painting of Mi Vida Loca. More power and thanks to Mr. Rick Farris, Mr. Dan Hanley, and the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame for remembering Johnny Tapia.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT.

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