Johnny Tapia | 'Mi Vida Loca' Dead at 45

Lee Cleveland Updated
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Johnny Tapia (59-5-2), a three division, five-time world champion and one of boxing's most colorful and intriguing fighters in and out of the ring in recent memory, had died.

The longtime Albuquerque, New Mexico native was pronounced dead yesterday after being found in his home. At this moment, there's no reason to believe foul play occurred.

Johnny Tapia was 45.

A legendary figure and fight favorite among boxing enthusiasts, Tapia's resilient life and career were marked by successes and setbacks, peaks and valleys, and ultimately triumph and tragedy. 

Johnny Tapia wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Mi Vida Loca:

"My name is Johnny Lee Tapia. I was born on Friday the 13th. A Friday in February of 1967. To this day I don't know if that makes me lucky or unlucky. When I was eight I saw my mother murdered. I never knew my father. He was murdered before I was born. I was raised as a pit bull. Raised to fight to the death. Four times I was declared dead. Four times they wanted to pull life support. And many more times I came close to dying."

A well-tattooed Mexican-American whose nickname was 'Mi Vida Loca' (My Crazy Life), Tapia started boxing at nine and had an impressive amateur career, winning the National Golden Gloves titles in 1983 and 1985 in the light flyweight and flyweight divisions, respectively.

Pictured: Johnny Tapia's Mi Vida Loca autobiography cover


His professional career launched in 1988 and by 1991 young Johnny Tapia was 20-0-1 and seemingly on the rise to super-stardom when he was suspended from prizefighting for 3 1/2 years after testing positive for drugs.

Down but not out, Johnny Tapia orchestrated perhaps one of the most heartfelt comebacks ever, returning to the ring after a long, serious battle with drugs to win the WBO super flyweight title with an 11th Round TKO over Henry Ramirez in 1994 in front of his adoring fans in Albuquerque.

By 1996, a heated rivalry had developed between then WBO super flyweight champion Johnny Tapia and fellow IBF world champion Danny Romero, who also resided in Albuquerque. Tapia vs Romero took place in 1997 with 'Mi Vida Loca' earning a unanimous twelve round decision, unifying the IBF and WBO world super flyweight titles.

Pictured: A young Johnny Tapia sports his two super flyweight belts


Post Romero
After his career-defining win over Romero, Tapia would win five consecutive championship bouts before suffering his first loss in 48 fights to Paulie Ayala in 1999 in The RING's Fight of the Year. Later that year, Tapia was hospitalized after he tried to commit suicide by overdosing on drugs. 

But refusing to be derailed by his first defeat and the outside-the-ring many demons that accompanied it, a revived Johnny Tapia once again rallied back. He fought onward to collect world titles at bantamweight and featherweight and remained a force in boxing until dropping a unanimous decision to Marco Antonio Barrera in 2002.

From 2003-2011, Tapia fought sporadically, winning 7 of 9 bouts against lesser opposition but his reputation as one of the most good-natured, crowd-pleasing fighters in the sport had already been burnished in the hearts and minds of fans.

Swan Song
On June 4th, 2011, the 44 year old Tapia, who had once trained under Freddie Roach, outpointed Colombian opponent Mauricio Pastrana over eight rounds. The victory, ultimately his last, was Tapia's third straight since returning from a three-year lay-off. 

A victim of a questionable knockdown in the sixth, a still-resilient Tapia rallied to floor Pastrana in the eighth. After all the years, Johnny Tapia showed he was still a crowd-pleaser in the ring.

A Hard, Crazy Life
A warrior and skilled technician in the ring, the amiable Johnny Tapia led a very hard and 'crazy life' outside of it. Tapia is reported to have never known his father. And at 8 years old, his mother was kidnapped, raped, hanged, repeatedly stabbed, and left for dead by her assailant. She died four days after the attack leaving Johnny to be raised solely by his grandmother for the remainder of his childhood.

In March 2007, Tapia was found unconscious in a hotel room and was later hospitalized from an apparent and very serious cocaine overdose. Tragically, Tapia's brother-in-law and nephew were killed in a car accident apparently en route to the hospital the following day.

And in February 2009, Tapia was taken into custody for a parole-related violation involving cocaine use.

Ultra-talented in the ring but severely troubled outside it, Johnny Tapia witnessed friends being murdered, was sometimes in trouble with the law and fought serious on-and-off drug addictions for most of his adult life - Nevertheless, the exciting and charismatic Johnny Tapia remained one of the most charming and respected figures in boxing.

So long Johnny!

Johnny Tapia Highlights


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