On June 26, 1999, Johnny Tapia lost his WBA bantamweight title, his first loss in 49 fights since his professional debut.
Two judges scored the fight 113-116, and the remaining judge scored it 113-115. Paulie Ayala, the new champion, recalls.
“At the end of the third round, Johnny’s trainer, Freddie Roach, said, ‘You’ve regained your composure. At the end of the third round, Johnny’s trainer, Freddie Roach, told him, ‘You’ve regained your composure, use your footwork. Johnny could have used his feet to gain an advantage, but he chose to beat me. Fighting is my forte. It was a hard match, but I was able to get some good shots in.
Teresa also reflected on the match.
“The arena could not have been more exciting. As a wife and manager of a professional boxer, I feel that a draw would have been fine. Or it could have been a 1-2 loss for Johnny. If we hadn’t known about the death of his mother’s killer, I think Johnny would have won.
“Johnny always ate SNICKERS after the weigh-in and before the fight. He always ate SNICKERS after the weigh-in and before the fight, saying, ‘I get my power from my mother. That’s what he did against Paulie. He wasn’t ready to get in the ring, but he fought with all his heart and soul. That’s who he is.
But after the Paulie fight, he started repeating, “I don’t want to live anymore,” and “I don’t want to outlive my mother. And then he disappeared for two and a half months. She went back to living a drug-soaked life with the inhabitants of the underworld.
When he came home, he attempted suicide, the first time at his home in Las Vegas with a gun in his hand, and the second time at his house in Albuquerque, trying to stab himself with a steak knife. I was on the verge, I realized. I can’t even begin to count the times he’s tried to take his own life. ……”
Theresa, who was close to Tapia, also had to fight.
“Johnny was suffering from severe PTSD. He wanted to get over the death of his mother. I want to erase the painful past. But I just can’t do it! He was grieving. I always felt that if I didn’t support my husband, he would die.
She saw a psychologist and went to a psychotherapist, but to no avail.
It was about five months after the battle of Paulie,” she said. About five months after the Paulie fight, his face suddenly changed. I’m going to fight,” he said. I’m going to fight, I’m going to rematch and I’m going to pay Paulie back. He became more motivated to go to training.
Johnny was a devout Christian. He went to church three times a week, on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. With his bible as his support, he decided to get into the ring again. I knew I had to do everything I could to support him.
On January 8, 2000, Tapia won the WBO bantamweight title in his second fight. It was the fourth world belt he had won in his career. He made his first defense of the same title without any problems, and on October 7, 2000, he fought Paulie Ayala again. Both fighters moved up two weight classes from bantam to face each other at featherweight.
Tapia, who had learned from the first fight, used his footwork to his advantage and, as is the rule against southpaws, landed several clean straight right hands. He seemed to be in control of the fight, but once again, Tapia lost by decision, 0-3 (112-116, 113-115, 113-115).
As the SHOWTIME announcers and commentators who televised the fight disagreed, “Johnny won that fight. I told them, ‘Everyone who saw it knows you won. I’ve never seen such a puzzling decision in boxing myself.
But while both Tapia and Ayala shined at bantamweight, they were too small for the featherweight division. Nevertheless, Tapia won the IBF featherweight title in April 2002 and went on to win five world titles and three weight classes.
The Last Big Match
On November 2 of the same year, Tapia had a big match with Marco Antonio Barrera, a popular Mexican champion.
“Johnny had great respect for Barrera. Johnny really respected Barrera, and he was also an important friend. It was a business decision, but he didn’t want to fight. It was the most painful fight of his career.
Before the fight, Johnny said to Barrera, “Why would you want to fight in the ring when you have a nice family and you’re well educated? But I’m sure he meant it.
Tapia’s performance against Barrera was lackluster. He was thin and small for a featherweight, and at the age of 35, he was showing signs of decline.
Barrera also recalls that he was surprised by the lack of punches, saying that Johnny is a real family member to him. For Tapia, this fight was his last big performance. Realizing that he was on the way down, Tapia became even more addicted to drugs. He used cocaine most of the time, but he also dabbled in heroin.
“I did everything I could to get him into counseling, not to mention the hospital, and to take him to a rehab center, but there was nothing I could do. …… The only time Johnny didn’t do drugs was the seven months he spent in a studio room with me after his boxer’s license was revoked.
Tapia’s darker side came into focus when he was hospitalized for a cocaine overdose that put him in a coma, and when the police raided his home and arrested him, putting him away for 18 months.
“Now that I think about it, after Barrera, Johnny was as good as dead…”
May 27, 2012 was the day after the 12th birthday of my oldest son, Johnny Tapia Jr. The family had celebrated their beloved son the day before and had planned to go to the movies with Teresa’s sister that day. But at the last minute, Tapia said, “I’m tired, so I’m not going. I want to stay home and sleep. Teresa, her two sons, and her sister went to the movie theater, but for some reason, Teresa couldn’t stop her heart from racing.
She said, “Johnny was the one who would call every five minutes when he was home and we were out, even if he said he was ‘tired’ or ‘going to sleep. But that day was the only time he didn’t. I left the kids with my sister, left the theater and went home. I had a bad feeling.
As I was running upstairs to my bedroom, I saw Johnny’s legs lying on the floor. Normally, he always wore tennis shoes, even indoors. He usually wore tennis shoes indoors, “so that I can protect my family if bandits come in,” he said. But he was wearing socks and black basketball shorts.
Tapia was unconscious. She was still warm when Teresa kissed her husband on the cheek.
“‘Wake up, Johnny! “Wake up, Johnny! I yelled. I called an ambulance right away, but I was too upset to give them the exact address. We waited outside the house for a few minutes for the ambulance to arrive. It felt like a very long time. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting, Johnny! I still feel so ashamed.
There had been many times in the past when Johnny had been in this state. But each time, he regained consciousness, so I had faith that he would come back this time, and that he would smile again. ……
Tears spilled from Teresa’s eyes. Nine years had passed since her death, but she could still feel how much she loved her late husband.
Johnny Tapia never woke up. He was forty-five years old, the day after his son’s twelfth birthday and one day before his mother’s thirty-seventh. It was later revealed that Tapia died of a drug overdose.
“I said to Johnny, who couldn’t get clean, ‘Doesn’t the presence of me and the kids bring happiness to your life? Are we not enough? I asked him over and over again. He didn’t answer that question, but I guess it wasn’t enough. …… He left us, and he went far away.
When I told her that much, she sobbed. My interview with her took place in a room decorated with Tapia’s trunks, gowns, shoes, gloves, and belts that he had worn during his career.
“This bed used to be ours, too.
Although the house where Tapia died has been given away, their bedroom has been recreated as it was, Teresa said. She lived with the memories so as not to erase the breath of her late husband.
On the wall of the room hung numerous trunks that Tapia had loved to wear during his working days. I remembered that the trunks he wore in the 1999 match of the year against Paulie Ayala and the one he wore in the rematch the following year were embroidered with “MAMA 1942-1975” or “Virginia,” his mother’s name, on the right thigh.
After the interview, I went with Teresa and Johnny Tapia Jr. to Tapia’s grave. The former champion was laid to rest on a tombstone shaped like a ring. I offered two bottles of SNICKERS. It seemed more appropriate than offering flowers.
It was a 25-minute drive from the Tapia house to the grave. I asked Junior, who was 21 years old and holding the steering wheel.
What is the most beautiful memory of your father that is engraved on your heart?
“He took me to his training sessions every day. I was very young, so I don’t remember the details of the techniques. I was very young, so I don’t remember the details of the techniques, but I do remember that my father was very kind to me.
You are also a boxer, aren’t you?
“My father taught me from the age of six, and I had my first fight when I was eight. I learned a lot from my father, but I don’t remember any specific advice. However, there is no doubt that my father’s DNA flows through me, so I want to work until I am satisfied.
What have you learned from your father’s life?
“What did you learn from your father’s life? Nothing is impossible. My father told me, “Take care of your family. Help the weak. Life is short. Many people die every day. Anyway, don’t spend your time in vain. I feel my father in every second of my life.
Johnny Tapia lived 45 years of his life with suffering. The weight of his sorrow can only be understood by him. But I can tell you this. As a father, he has left something invaluable to his beloved son.
The next day, I observed the junior training session. After completing the entire menu, he did a backflip, something his father was very good at, and smiled at me.
“Your son has grown up to be a very nice young man.
I called out to the picture of Johnny Tapia on the wall of the gym.
Reporting and writing by： Soichi Hayashi