People often ask me why I love boxing – it’s a brutal sport they say, just two men beating each other senseless for meager rewards. While for every car crash of a life that boxing is caught up in – Edwin Valero’s whirlwind of torment, murder, misery and knockout records, there is also the side of boxing that is all about turning chaos into order, lives into productive examples to everyone that has suffered tragedy and come back fighting. The “vida loca” of Johnny Tapia is an example of all every virtue boxing has. As lives on the wrong side of the tracks go you can’t get much worse than Tapia childhood:
When Tapia was born on 13 February 1967 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his father – whose identity is unclear – had apparently already been murdered.
He was brought up by his mother, Virginia. At the age of seven a bus he was travelling in careered off a 100-foot cliff, killing the pregnant woman who was sitting next to him. The young Johnny was thrown through a window but escaped with only minor injuries.
In 1975 his mother was kidnapped, brutally attacked and left for dead. Virginia Tapia was found and taken to hospital, where she died four days later of her injuries. No one was charged with the murder but the killer’s identity was made public by police in 1999. But the murderer, Richard Espinosa, had been killed in a car crash in 1983.
Tapia has battled serve drug addiction throughout his life “I was clinically dead three times for more than a minute each,” he has said of his many overdoses and relapses. He has been banned for his drug use and failing medicals too, but each time his loyal fans and boxing has provided a route back from the brink..His boxing career is a lesson in tough knocks. His career record boasts 57 wins (29 by KO), 5 loses and 2 draws. In amongst those fights he’s won 5 world titles along the way and knocked up some legendary wars with the likes of Paulie Ayala and Marco Antonio Barerra.
Tapi’s battles inside and out of the ring are the stuff Hollywood films are made of, throughout his incarcerations, overdoses, tragedy and world championships Tapia has lived on the brink. Boxing has remained his saviour – his way back from the worst human nature has to throw at a person. In a sport where there is nowhere to hide when the first bell sounds, Tapia has shown again and again just what it takes to be a fighter and one of life’s survivors.