There are many great people in boxing, but there are few that leave you walking away from a interview with a smile and good thoughts about the future for yourself and the man you just interviewed.... Johnny Tapia is one of those few guys. At times I thought he was happier about being interviewed than I was about being able to talk with a future Hall of Fame boxer. 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 has led an incredibly interesting...and at times tragic...life. A three- 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 also 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 is still haunted by these memories to this day. 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 pro in March of 1988 and streaked to a 21-0-1 (12 KOs) record and the United States Boxing Association (USBA) junior bantamweight title. His early success in boxing led to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, it also led to an addiction to cocaine. Johnny's reckless behavior eventually led to several DWI convictions and an arrest record that grew to 125 pages, resulting in repeated stays in the Bernalillo County Detention Center. 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. Still heavily immersed in drugs, it took Teresa's tough love to help Johnny kick his habit. Now faced with the real threat of losing the woman he loved, Johnny reluctantly agreed to try and put his life back together. Teresa locked the door and the two of them stayed in their apartment for more than a month without leaving. Her mother passed them food through the security bars on the windows. With Teresa's love and support, Johnny overcame his drug addiction. Clean and sober for the first time in years, Johnny rededicated himself to boxing. His suspension was lifted in 1994, allowing "The Baby Faced Assassin" to re-enter the ring. Picking up right where 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. Tapia's incredible speed, defensive skills and ring generalship led to ten successful WBO title defenses and Johnny was soon considered by most boxing media (and by his many fans) to be one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. 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 junior bantamweight crowns, but arguably more importantly, the victor would secure bragging rights in their hometown. 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. The victory helped further establish Tapia as a folk hero in his hometown of Albuquerque. Moving up in weight Tapia challenged 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. The usually reckless Tapia used his improved head movement and balance to frustrate and punish the champion with his sharp jab and effective movement. In control throughout the bout, Tapia earned his third world title, totally dominating Konadu to a majority decision victory. Johnny Tapia has risen from the tragic loss of his mother, his reckless, self- destructive, checkered past and is now tirelessly devoted to preventing others from following in his footsteps. He has become a true champion...inside and out side of the ring. A biography of his life is in production and Team Tapia is in the process of creating the Virginia Tapia Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those less fortunate. You can visit his website at JohnnyTapia.com
BW: Let's start with what I think all your fans want to know most. Who will you fight next and when. Tapia: I'm fighting January 8th on Showtime, against Jorge Elicier Julio the WBO champion from Colombia. BW: Do you know the location yet? I have heard El Paso or Albuquerque. Tapia: I think it will be in Albuquerque at "The Pit" (The University of New Mexico's arena). They are expecting 20,000 thousand people. We were hoping for El Paso but the arena was not available. BW: That is no easy fight for what some would say is a comeback fight since you lost on a close decision to Paulie Ayala. Did you ask for such a difficult opponent instead of a tune up bout before another title crack. Tapia: You know the problem with me is I don't like tune up fights or nothing like that. Everyone knows I am a true warrior. A true champion who has been there for 11 years. I wanted to go after a belt right away. I got the opportunity so I took advantage of it. BW: At this stage in your career I guess you have to be thinking of big fights only, what is your goal now before retirement. Tapia: Just keeping God in my life and having a beautiful family, you know God gave me the talent to get hit to support my family (laughter). BW: I heard you also have a book and maybe a movie based your life coming up here soon. Can you fill us in on that? Tapia: Yes. They are starting a script about my life story and all the tragedy that I have been through and overcome. If there are a hundred people who see this and I get one to listen, than I will have done my job. There is also a book coming out, I think they are going to start out with the book and then do the movie. I don't know if they are going to go big screen with the movie or directly to VHS. Showtime are putting it all together. BW: Do you have a contract with Showtime boxing or is this fight with Julio a one time deal. Tapia: It's coming. BW: You are now with Frank Warren the great English promoter, what was it that he had or offered that made you decide to go with him. Tapia: I am going to be with Frank Warren for two fights. He got me Jorge Eliecer Julio and to fight the champion I signed a contract with him. BW: We just mentioned he is English, have you given any thoughts to fighting overseas? I know the English fans seem to more accepting of boxers than American fans who seem to go more for the knock out artists. Tapia: You know I had 122 fights in the amateurs and I fought in Ireland, London, Finland and Canada so that is no problem. BW: O.K let's talk about your amateur career. You seem to have the perfect style for an amateur, did you ever participate in the Olympic trials. Tapia: I had 101 wins, 22 loses and 65 knockouts. I was rated number 1 in the world for 6 years, a two-time National Golden Gloves champion. I was in the 1984 Olympic trials in Colorado Springs but lost to Arthur "flash" Johnson. But I beat him in the pros in our championship fight, plus I beat him in the amateurs twice. BW: Do you remember much or anything about that loss at the Olympic trials? Tapia: No, to tell you the truth. 1984 was a long time ago and I get hit for a living (laughs). BW: Also you fought almost exclusively on the West Coast and have only had one fight in the East Coast, would you like to fight in Madison Square Garden or some other famous arena before your career is over? Tapia: Yes. It was the home of the greats. I had a fight lined up for Madison Square Garden last year but that fell through when the headliner Henry Akiwande who was supposed to fight Evander Holyfield got sick and the card was cancelled. But wherever the greats fight, that is where I want to be. I want to be known in boxing as one of them. God has given me a blessing and I want to take advantage of it. BW: What about some of the West Coast venues, like the old Olympic or The Forum. Tapia: I don't want to make myself any bigger than people think I am. I have fought at the Forum and I got a knockout. It was against Adonis Cruz, but wherever they put me I am ready to go! BW: You can too it all in the ring, is there anyone you based your style on or tried to imitate when you first began to box. Tapia: You know what, I have always been a fighter growing up. I love every champion out there. I respect fighter's period, because I know what you have to go through. BW: You have achieved so much in boxing, is there anything you still feel that you need to do to complete your career. Tapia: I have done everything. I had 49 fights before I got my lone loss. Coming out of the streets, the way my life was I am just glad to be here today. If I didn't have my wife I wouldn't be here today and also having Jesus in my life. BW: Religion is obviously part of your life and your success. Have you always been religious? Tapia: I have always had Jesus in my life, but living "La Vida Loca" (my crazy life) is a different story you know. Jesus never left me.... I left him, and it put me through bad things. Now I am just trying to be good and live day by day. BW: I guess it is a calming influence. You really kept your cool in that Romero fight and out boxed him for the entire 12 rounds. Was it hard keeping your emotions under control for what was a neighborhood rivalry fight for the hearts of Albuquerque. Tapia: They (the promoters and HBO) made it pretty big but as a matter of fact me and Danny Romero hang out now. He comes to my gym and if there is anything I can do for him I do it. I let the past go. But it was tough keeping my cool, it really was. But to overcome an obstacle you have to do stuff like that. BW: So you and Romero patched things up out of the ring. Tapia: It is over. All that is over, we are friends. BW: Is there any chance of a rematch between you two. Tapia: Me and Romero will never fight again. BW: Do you train in Albuquerque for your fights? Tapia: I live and train at my new ranch in Rio Dozo (outside of Albuquerque) now. We are at 8,000 feet altitude. Me and my trainer Freddie Roach just got in yesterday and put up the gym. I like coming here it is niece and peaceful. I have a house in Big Bear California (a favorite training site for many champions) still but this is like Big Bear and my family is closer. BW: Everyone knows what you are like once you get into the ring. But what is a day like for you on the day of the fight from time you wake up until you step into the ring. Tapia: I am not to good of a person the day of the fight (laughs). I try to keep my cool as much as I can. My wife and trainer keep me in a room and I try to psyche myself up. I eat breakfast then lunch and maybe go for a long walk and think about what I am going to do. Try to go over the game plan. This guy I am fighting next is real cocky but he is a great champion at 46-1. But I think I have something to prove after the last fight. BW: Yes Julio is pretty good and he has only lost to Junior Jones back when Jones was thought to be near unbeatable. I saw him fight out at The Forum 2 months ago..... Tapia: What did you think about him? BW: He is one of those physically strong fighters who tries to overpower his opponents with brute force more than outbox them. He tries to establish his will on the opponent. If you try to get inside on him I think he will try to tie you up alot. Two fights ago when he fought Julio Gamboa I thought he was beaten to the punch a lot because he was loading up on punches. But he came on strong late when he began to wear his opponent down and started to land more punches. Tapia: Yeah but he headbutts you, he cuts you. So to be safe I will have to counter punch him. There will be a lot of things my trainer will prepare me for. I am bringing a lot of sparring partners in and get busy. BW: So what do you think of Julio? Tapia: He is my next victim. Julio is a hell of a warrior and a hell of a champion. I have seen him on tape and Freddie is going to get a game plan together. I get up early and do everything I need to do. I am in tip top shape. I want to look good. I get up in the morning and run, come home eat my break- fast and then go train in the afternoon. I still swim after training. You know I have been off for 4 months and I went up to 142 pounds, so I had to bring it down. My trainer didn't even look at my stomach because of my stretch marks (laughs). BW: Who are you going to bring in to spar with? Tapia: Willie Jorrin and Carlos Martinez, I will have three or four of them in all. I am trying to get some sluggers in. BW: Let's go back in time a bit. After the Romero fight you became the man to beat in and around your weight class, which meant a lot of other fighters have called you out. In particular Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson which I and many others thought would make a great fight. Why didn't that fight happen? Tapia: Yeah but the money wasn't right. With all due respect, I was like a Oscar DeLaHoya or Mike Tyson at that weight. I had been at my weight for 11 years and it was time to move up. I went up to 118 and we were never really in the same weight class. But now God willing we will win the belt and probably move up again. BW: What about Tim Austin. Tapia: I know Tim very well because Don King also had him. But they (promoters and Showtime) have never even mentioned him. Plus with the IBF I don't know what is going on with them now? BW: You talk about moving up again already. Is Naseem Hamed in your future plans? Tapia: You know he ask me and he wanted to fight me. I told him yeah and they didn't sign the contract. I am basically just looking at my next fight and when that happens I will move on. I have a lot of things I have to prove for this Julio fight. BW: Let's talk about Paulie Ayala then who won a close decision over you in your most recent fight. Would you like a rematch once you get the WBO belt? Tapia: You know what, it doesn't really matter because I got bigger and better things besides Ayala. Everybody knows what happened in that fight, with that situation (Tapia claims he lost the decision because it was the last fight in his contract with Top Rank and Ayala was given the decision over Tapia because he was still under contract with Top Rank). But I would really like to get him again. It's not on my conscience, but I don't need him. He needs me. BW: We mentioned earlier that you are with Frank Warren now. Earlier you were with Top Rank and Don King. What the differences in those 3 promoters or their organizations. Tapia: It was like growing up and learning a new business. You keep your friends close and your enemies closer (laughs). I really like Don King. Don King is a personal friend for me. We talk, he is a hell of a business man. You have to give him a lot of respect for what he does and how he came out and made all of his money. A persons riches are held against him you know. It is all about money now for me. So I can put my wife on a retirement plan and build a trust fund for my son. I want to make sure my family is O.K. BW: Now I mentioned you boxed the entire 12 rounds in your fight with Romero. I am not sure if you saw the Oscar vs. Felix fight but Oscar obviously took the last 3 rounds off. Did you see that fight and what was your reaction and the reaction among other boxers you talked with on Oscar's strategy for the last 3 rounds where he pretty much ran. Tapia: You just never take a round off! Boxing is too close, the judges all think differently. You just do what you have to do to keep that lead. You can't be the judge on that evening. You really have to take it to the champion. BW: Do you watch any fights on T.V, buy any of the magazines. Tapia: All the time! I enjoy the fight game. But my favorite sport is basketball. I have a full court at my house. BW: I guess you have to play point guard at your size. Tapia: Once you throw the ball in, I am going to get it (laughs). I kind of like the Phoenix Suns but I was always a 76'ers fan all of my life. BW: Maurice Cheeks from the old 76'ers teams was a favorite of mine. Tapia: Yeah he was my boy! But "Doctor J" was my boy too (laughs), he was sweet. BW: You are starting to get to retirement age for bantamweights, how many fights do you feel your body has left in it? Tapia: I guess when they really beat the heck out of me my trainer will tell me to retire. BW: Do you have anyone beside your trainer, who basically makes money off you that will tell you when it is time to retire. Tapia: This is something that is true. I told my wife when I did something very, very stupid or did not look very good for them to put me in the corner with my family and tell me it is time. It is hard to leave boxing! Especially when you have been doing this for 24 years. BW: Your family is also part of your boxing career since your wife is also your manager, how has that worked out? Is it hard to separate the family life from boxing life? Tapia: You know me and the wife hang out together 24 hours a day. We have a good, good relationship. We just built a big home together and everything is beautiful. We thank God for it. What kind of manager would you want to have? I have a manager who takes care of me and lives with me (laughs). BW: We just mentioned your trainer and his role. Freddie Roach is your trainer now, how long have you been with him now. Tapia: I really love Freddie, he is a good guy with me. I used to look at Freddie at home when he was fighting. Besides him being my trainer we are also good friends and that is a wonderful thing. He doesn't teach me the way he fought, you know Freddie was a hell of a warrior. But he doesn't teach me that, he teaches me a game plan and that is something nobody has ever taught me. I have had every trainer in the world and they want me to fight the way they used to. They want to try and change my style and I wouldn't let that happen, so I switched. BW: You are a future hall of famer but in Albuquerque do you get recognized when you walk down the street most cities. Tapia: Well they already put my robe up in the hall of fame (The IBHOF has a display case featuring the robe of Tapia). I can't really go anywhere anymore. It's hard, but I am the type that goes out every day you know. I got two hands and two feet like everybody else and I want to be treated the same way. The only celebrity I look up to is Jesus. Everyone is a superstar in my eyes. If the fans don't talk to me I will go and talk to them (laughs). BW: What did you think of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastoga when you were there? Tapia: It was beautiful, going down there was great. BW: Was there any display that you looked at more than others or were interested in seeing before you got there. Tapia: I went through the whole thing but it was hard to get around because there were a lot of people there. It was induction weekend. Plus I left early because I had a fight coming up and I could not stay too long. My idols are Salvador Sanchez and Julio Cesar Chavez, he is my boy! BW: That had to be sad to see his last fight, I know as a fan I did not like to see this version of Chavez. Tapia: Yeah, I was there and I didn't like that. It is sad to see a good man go out like that. Roberto Duran was also my favorite and I want to get out before I end up like that. BW: I know all fans wish that for you and for all of their favorite boxers for that matter. Chavez and Duran are two of the last fighters of the old guard who fought in the 15 round fights. What do you think of 15 round fights? I heard some analysts call for a return of 15 round fights to lessen the chances of a draw. Tapia: You know what happens with stuff like that? You get hurt by taking a lot of extra blows. No I wouldn't like to see that come back, 12 rounds is good enough. BW: When you get done with boxing in the ring, do you want to step away from the sport entirely or maybe do some other work in boxing. Tapia: I would like to stay with Freddie Roach (Tapia's trainer) and I was going to try and help train other fighters. Or I might train my own fighters because I got two gyms and I want to help kids. BW: You have a kid of your own, would you want him to follow your footsteps into boxing? Tapia: I want him to play golf (laughs). I have a 7 year old son, Jonathan. You know whatever he wants to do...... it is kind of hard to see your son get hit. I would probably want to jump in there. I want my son to do whatever he wants to do, I want to be part of what he does. BW: That is what I hope you were going to say since you have so much boxing knowledge that you can pass on to others. Tapia: I have been doing this for 24 years and I want to be able to give back. BW: Anything you want to tell your fans? Tapia: Just tell them to keep me in their prayers, that is all I need. I will do the rest in the ring.