Tapia In His Last Fight In June 2011

San Francisco, CA– In a life that was marred with violence early in life, the murder of his mother, living to cope with life on the streets, and his biggest demon, drug addiction, boxer Johnny Tapia was found dead Sunday night abound 7:45 PM CT in his Albuquerque, NM home. Although he won titles in various weight classes, Johnny was for all intents and purposes a very good fighter, but he was a nut! Suffering from mental ailments, getting bonked on the head professionally, and a thirst for booze, PCP (a smoke able animal tranquilizer) and Cocaine in it’s various forms, either smoking or snorting, the only thing Johnny never copped to, at least to me, was mainlining (shooting up). He’s had treatment at inpatient cocaine rehab centers, but his drug use hounded him to the very end.


I used to attend his fights, early on before his rise to stardom, can remember a stellar amateur career, which if my memory serves me correctly included a National Championship. There are a lot of personal thoughts that I can share with you, but let’s look at his professional life. Banned in the early 90s for drug issues, garnered his first title at 115 lbs. when he took the vacant WBO title via TKO 11 over my former stable mate and Nicaraguan Olympian Henry Martinez in 1994. After nine WBO defenses, Tapia squared off with once-beaten cross-town rival and IBF champ Danny Romero. In what was an “easy” fight, Tapia won going away after 12 rounds in 1997 before a packed house in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Arena.


Winning the WBA bantamweight (118) trinket was nothing special as he outpoined Nana Konadu in 1998. Two fights later, Tapia was matched with Paulie Ayala, whom he fought twice and lost both times to in 1999 and 2000. In between the Ayala fight, Johnny had picked up the WBO 118 lb. belt Jorge Julio that he defended once. Then he was fighting at 126 and got a “hotly” disputed majority Decision 12 over Manuel Medina. While his followers, and there were many, thought he was back, Johnny Tapia was probably done and had peaked before the first Ayala scrap.


In 2002, losing big on points to Marco Antonio Barrera, Tapia’s behavior became even more odd and peculiar that it had been and that alone is a subject we could spend a day on. Incredibly Manic, Tapia could turn from smiles and adulation to sneers and threats in the blink of an eye. What blew me away is that his lovely wife Theresa, stuck by his side in some of Tapia’s darkest moments. Having been the ring announcer for at least three of his fights, the last one, a seemingly undeserved decision against Nick Bentz in 2005 at the Dodge Theatre in El Paso, TX, I watched Tapia throw tantrums before and after the fight. In the post fight interview, Johnny all but took my head off when I reminded him, “You know champ, we’ve been doing this together a long time.”


Fighting twice more in 2005, the first he avenged by out pointing Frankie Archuleta who had bested him by decision prior. Like the Bentz fight, Tapia had no business having his hand raised. The next time out , Johnny lost via KO 2 to journeyman Sandro Marcos. Tapia had but one fight in 2007, two in 2010, this before his walk to the ring in June 2011 against capable but tired and worn ex-flyweight champ Mauricio Pastrana of Colombia. With both men hitting the deck, Tapia would close the door on his boxing career with a UD 8 win. Officially, his record 50-5-2, 30 KOs.


Before I leave you, I can recall the time Tapia and I were in a Miami Hotel circa 1993 for a card at a Jai Lai arena where I did the announcing. Booking agent and former fight-fixer Robert Mittelman said he was covering the drinks. As it turns out, Tapia, his girl and I, Mittelman as well, had a couple of rounds. What I didn’t find until I was checking out the next AM was that Mittelman had charged the food and drinks to my hotel room.


I last saw Tapia circa 2008 and he was more aloof than ever. Although he claimed to be clean at the time, you could never be sure when it came to Tapia who, like most veteran hard drug users, could look you in the eye and lie about things that really bore no need for deceit. I never expected him to make the age of 50, when he died Sunday night he was 45. The “demons” that haunted Johnny Tapia since the screwdriver stabbing (27 times) of his mother at the age of seven, those mental scars never went away. In 2007, while being hospitalized for one of a number of Cocaine overdoses, Tapia’s brother in-law and nephew were killed in an automobile accident in which “drinking” may have been involved while driving to the hospital to see him.


I always thought that through boxing, booze, and drugs that Johnny Tapia could run from that horrific event in his life, the loss of his mother, but he never could. His nickname was, “La Vida Loca” or “My Crazy Life,” which finally came to an end May 27, 2012. An autopsy is pending. May Johnny rest in peace!

Pedro Fernandez


  • My condolonces to the Tapia family…Boxing has lost another warrior..sad day to find out about this and the unfortunate williams bike accident…may u rest in peace champ…

  • Very nice write up, Pedro.

  • Merlin: cool story!

    RIP Johnny Tapia..my condolences to Teresa and his entire family. He is in a better place.

  • One of my favorite fighters, and hard not to root for him (in the ring and in life). Rest In Peace Champ!


  • I don’t believe in fate or destiny. For the most part we create it all our self by the choices and decisions we make in our daily lives. But, then you have those with mental illness and sometimes situations occur that aren’t by choice. I think Tapia falls into that category to a certain degree, but no matter that .. his ending couldn’t be any more perfect. Fits the role, fits the Mi Vida Loca script. Don’t RIP too much in the afterworld, be you , RAISE HELL homey!

    To Teresa, if for a moment you feel a sense relief at his passing then let me reassure you that you’ve earned your right for that feeling. Dealing with a volatile personality isn’t an easy task. Take it from one who knows. Wink Wink.

    So, to Johnny and to all those in the storm of mental illness and the struggle of life I dedicate It Ain’t Easy by Tupac.

    Also, hoping Paul Williams finds a ways to recover from that terrible accident. Get well, Punisher, and do so quickly!

  • No surprise. Maybe that’s why i felt so bad for him when he got robbed by Ayala (twice). Boxing (and his wife) was probably the only normal thing he had going for him.

  • I think I can speak for everyone with a brain here in saying this is not at all a surprise. And while I would never wish death on Tapia, I would never wish the kind of tortured existence he experienced on him either. I just pray to God that he has now finally found peace.

    PLEASE and FINALLY… RIP Champ.

  • I loved this guy. He didn’t have alot of pop. But he was constantly fighting. He had great craft at his best he was great!!!! Heart for days!!! I was a fan and I thought he was robbed in that 2nd ayala fight. I have a father with drug problems. And know first hand seeing these people struggle to stay sober. I’m sorry for his great wife and kids. All men die not Everyman lives!!!! Viva siempre mi vida loca. The crazy life!!!!! Rip

  • Pedro Fernandez

    I was there. His eye swelled shut. 20-1 underdog.

  • one correction. danny romero was not unbeaten when he met tapia. he had one loss – a tko 7 to willy salazar when danny suffered a broken orbital bone…

  • May God rest Johnny’s tortured soul and hold those close that he left behind.

  • Yep, Pedro got this one right. I have to think even Johnny knew his life would not be a long one. I was never a huge fan, but what he accomplished in his career, given all his demons, was impressive.

  • Back in the late 90s I ordered a t-shirt from Mr. Tapia over the internet, I never heard anything from him, I thought for sure that little bastard ripped me off(I new very well about his drug and alcohol struggles) then about three months later I got a package in the mail, it was a sighned t-shirt and a hand written note to me apologizesing for taking so long, I have it framed hanging in my office. He was far from being perfect, hell, so am I.

  • Joseph Blasetti

    Great write up!

  • Was a tortured soul. Brought crowd pleasing style and raw emotion to the ring. RIP. MI VIDA LOCA

  • Pedro Fernandez

    No. 6 reported suicide attempts, nothing nutty about that!

  • “…Johnny was for all intents and purposes a very good fighter, but he was a nut!” – You’re a flipping idiot Pedro.

  • Excellent write up!!!

    RIP Champ!!

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