Sadly, another boxing great has cast aside his mortal coil and
moved forever from our sight. My wife told me the news this morning
that Johnny Tapia has passed away. I spent some time reading the many
articles and wishing there were something I could add, something I
could argue as they assessed a life cut short by violence, drugs and
despair. For once, there isn't much I can add. They got it right when
they declared it a miracle he had made it this far in life such were
the troubles he faced outside the ring.
His mother was brutally raped and murdered in front of him when he was 8 years
old. Told his father had been murdered before he was born only to learn 43 years later that he was alive after all. He grew up alone, angry, and filled with a kind of despondent rage that helped make him the boxer he would later become. He once described himself "as a pitbull...raised to fight to the
death." He seemed to live his life as a series of challenges he
hoped he'd lose. Drugs, gangs, violence and his own destructive
tendencies - these were the real life opponents Tapia fought time and
time again. A far cry from the ring where he reigned supreme.
Johnny Tapia was the poster boy for dichotomy. He was an addict
and champion; an uncaring fiend one minute and an earnest and loving
friend the next; he had a gregarious personality that seemed content
only when walking that fine line between exuberant life and the
melancholy depths of despair and death. His inner demons really were
too much to overcome. His upbringing was just too horrifying to
forget. He was a champion in the ring and a troubled soul outside it.
The two halves of his life were never meant to reconcile one with the
other - sadly, I feel that he has finally found the sweet release
from life that he seemed always grasping for.
His achievements in the ring were glorious. His skills as a boxer
were legendary. His life, however, will seem in retrospect the cold
dregs of a tortured soul as it failed in miserable fashion to provide
him with even the semblance of security and love he so desperately
I wish I had had the opportunity to know this man or to have at
least had his confidence as I suspect he had much to say about the
subject of life. I do not know how I would have felt about him as he
was notoriously volatile and prone to wild swings of emotion.
However, as a fan of the sport he was certainly worthy of our respect
as a ring warrior of the highest order, a giant little man who
thrilled sporting fans the world over. Not having had the privilege
of knowing him personally, I choose to remember him this way - arms
raised above his head in victory, an infectious smile upon his
scarred face. The smile always seemed so genuine, as if he were for a
few moments released from the private hell of the rest of his life.
I enjoy hiking and camping in designated wilderness, writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry of all types - especially the work of Robert E. Howard. I also enjoy brewing beer, watching boxing matches and playing with my son.