Tapia : For the Love of the Sport

By Paul Upham
Five-time world champion Johnny Tapia is returning to the ring in August in his home town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not because he needs the money or because he feels that he has too, Tapia will continue his career because boxing is a sincere love of his, only surpassed in priority these days by the love for his family.

Nobody worked it out with me. I wanted to, said 36 year-old Tapia, of his decision to fight on. It's me. My wife told me to retire. My wife said let it go. I thought about retirement, but I've still got a lot in me. I just want to fight until it's over. I want to go out like a champ. I want a couple of more fights.

Ask Tapia about the sport which has been so important to him and you get an insight into how it has helped him develop into the man he is today.

I love it, he says with passion in his voice. I never did it for the money. That came with it, but I love that challenge. I love that one on one combat where nobody else can jump in. I love boxing. I've been doing it since 1979.

After surviving a drug related near death experience in January, which saw him in hospital in a coma for 36 hours, Tapia sounds fine. A ripple of determination in his voice suggests that he has a point to prove in making it back, again,

Oh, I'm doing great, thank God, he said. I'm feeling really good.

There is a transitional phase in Tapia's and his lovely wife Teresa's life now as they prepare for his future without an in the ring career. Johnny Tapia is putting together a plan for his retirement that will see him as busy as ever in the world of business.

I have got a lot of things going on now in my life, he says. I'm getting involved with a restaurant and a sports bar. We are trying to hook that up right now. I have a lot more to offer after boxing. Who knows? Maybe I'll become a trainer. I should give some fighters the knowledge that I have. Let them know that I will be there for them. I have been doing it for years. I have got my own gym in the house and whoever comes over, I put them in the gym. If I can give knowledge to all the kids that really want to learn, that would be just great.

Tapia is building a new 10,000 square foot gym in Alburque, I want to be one of the few fighters to have some money for my kids, he says, of his burgeoning business plans.

But while his future business and family plans are important, so is giving back to the community, by helping children who are having a tough time in their lives such as he once did.

I have been through a lot. I have already died and come back. My purpose in life, if I am able, is to let these kids know, he says.

If I can get one out of a hundred to listen, I have done my job. I am not a teacher or a preacher, but I just want to let them know that for people who say they are not able to make it or they don't think they can make it, they are able to struggle and fight to keep their human life.

Those who know something of the life of Johnny Tapia find it hard to believe at times that he has survived and overcome the obstacles placed in front of him. The whole world will now be able to see for themselves with Tapia's plans for a book and movie on his life.

People are really going to be shocked and surprised, he says.

You know what, it is going to be a blessing. It's me trying to keep myself clean one day at a time and I have been good since January. I've turned everything all the way around after that last incident. I've turned everything around because I want bigger and better things for my kids (11 and 3). Now I have got to walk the walk. I want to give them a good example.

While he doesn't try to find a reason for everything in his life, Tapia has the answer why he has been able to survive.

You know what it is? It is the grace of God, he says. I have got the power and the strength that he has given me. I won't give up. I have got such a beautiful wife and kids and I'm living life the right way now. I went into a program for a while. I did it because I wanted to do it, not because the State took me. Ever since then, I'm OK today.

A champion of the people, Tapia loves mixing with boxing fans wherever he goes.

They always know that I am a humble fighter, he says. They always know that I was at their level. I am no better than nobody else. When I go to fights, I talk to the people, I stay with the people, I sit with the people. I am the people's champ. I am the people's person.

At the Marco Antonio Barrera-Kevin Kelley fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in April, Tapia was mobbed by well wishers.

I had to get the cops to get me out of there, he says with a smile. I didn't want to leave because I really love my people. It's not racial. It's not black or white. I love anybody and everybody.

Looking forward to his return to the ring, Tapia wants to set an example for others that no matter what is weighing a person down in their life, there is always a way to rise above it.

The main reason I am doing this, he says, is to prove to so many people in this world that are hurting, that are unable to get to that next level. It is to prove to them that no matter how many times you fall you can still pick yourself up and be successful. I have made a lot of bad press. I have made a lot of terrific press. I have always been in the press, good or bad, but I have reached out to grab that rope to take me to the next level.

There are wonderful things that are happening to me now after boxing, but I don't want nobody to idolise me. My idol is God. I want to let them know what I have been through. My only real defeat in the ring was against (Marco Antonio) Barrera. Everybody knows that. But I respect Barrera. He is a beautiful man.

I have had a wonderful amateur career. I have had a beautiful boxing career, but I am hungry. I love to fight. I love it when someone says they are going to beat Johnny Tapia and knock him out. That's the way a lot of the fighters talk. That made me go undefeated for 13 years in a row. I love what I do. But if I feel there is something that I couldn't do that I should do just like that, I would say 'honey, it's time' and leave. Once I get a good ass kicking, whenever I get whipped, I will say 'baby, I really love this game, but it's time to walk out.'

Looking around the boxing landscape between 126 and 122lbs, Tapia still feels that he can match it with the best, I have got too much experience under my belt for these kids, he says.

There are no short cuts for Tapia 52-3-2 (28) in his preparation, returning to training camp in Big Bear, California for his August ring return. Former WBO junior featherweight champion Agapito Sanchez has been mentioned as a possible opponent.

We are looking at him and a couple of others, said Tapia. Agapito has been wanting me for years and he is a very dirty fighter. It will make for a good fight because I won't let that happen.

Sanchez 33-7-2 (19) is probably best known for his foul filled unification war with IBF junior featherweight champion Manny Pacquiao in November 2001, which ended in a six round technical draw.

I seen how dirty he was, said Tapia. But I don't play that shit. If he is going to hit me with a low blow, he is not going to make it out of the stadium. That I will guarantee you.

Paul Upham
Contributing Editor
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