I read with mixed feelings about the return to the ring of boxer/recovering drug addict and five time world champion Johnny Tapia. On March 6, Tapia 56-5-2 is scheduled to make his return to the ring to fight Jorge Alberto Reyes 21-27-3. I know fellow New Mexican and Albuquerque native Johnny Tapia. No I have never met him personally and besides watching him fight Danny Romero on TV in 1997, a fight no one in New Mexico did not watch, I have only seen him in news clips over the years. So why am I so pretentious as to say I know him? Because I grew up with kids just like him as a young child growing up on Hopewell Street In Santa Fe. Hopewell Street was just down the road from 1801 Espinocitas in Santa Fe. 1801 is better known in Santa Fe as Sangre De Christo Apartments. The Projects as we called them growing up.
All us kids in the area went to Salazar Elementary and De Vargas Junior high back then and even though gang life did not proliferate our generation at that time, there was pretty much stoners, smokers, jocks, good kids and then there were always those who just didn't quite fit in. Drugs never did anything for me but they were all around me. The kids I hung out with all at least did pot, all got in trouble, whether it was stealing, ditching school or fighting and most did it all. I grew up the oldest kid in a family of four, and my single mother always worked two or three jobs and I had to stay home, be in charge and be responsible. By the time I was 15, I stopped doing any of that and began running away from home, hanging with the friends and getting into trouble. All those friends I hung out with are in prison or dead now. This brings me to Johnny Tapia.
Like any convicted felon or drug addict, he has a story to tell. At eight years old as he watched from the barrio he lived in, his mother Virginia was kidnapped, raped, hung, stabbed 22 times with scissors and a screwdriver, and left for dead by her assailant. Because no one believed him family members never called police and the body was found a few days later. Like me Johnny grew up around drugs but unlike me he partakes as well. The term "roller coaster ride" describes Johnny's life to a tee. His boxing nickname is also "mi vida loca" which translated means my crazy life. My mother once told me that there are always people whose life is worse than ours so we should be happy for what we have. I guess Johnny is one of those people.
As I read Geoff Grammer's story of Johnny's release from prison and upcoming fight I can't help wonder why the story glossed over his tribulations and went straight to his triumphs and upcoming fight. Maybe Geoff was trying to give Johnny a second chance and focus on the positive. The only problem is this is not Johnny's second chance, it is his fourth or fifth and maybe even more than that. Johnny has taken his family and fans on a wild ride from boxing to jails, to hospitals, to death and back again. The most amazing thing is the fact that his body has not only stayed living but has managed to stay somewhat fit through all it has been through. Boxing is probably one of the last sports you can do drugs time and time again and still go back for another shot in the arena.
I have long been a proponent of keeping drugs, even pot illegal. I was one of the few sheriff's in all of New Mexico to support medical marijuana but you can read about that in one of my past blog posts. And my stance on drug legalization is based on the fact that as I grew up just about everyone I knew who started with pot went on to other drugs and are in prison or dead today. The few who kicked the habit did so because they were arrested and forced into treatment. I have no doubt what so ever that they would not have stopped otherwise. It is my true belief that treatment rather than incarceration is the answer, but without law enforcement making those arrests most would never see any treatment at all. To those who turned their lives around I give kudos and my prayers of continued success. But when is enough, enough? At what point do you say to Johnny that you cannot do the things you do and still be licensed to fight in New Mexico or any other state for that matter? Tapia tested positive for cocaine three times between 1990 and 1991which lead to a three year suspension from boxing. During the three years he served his suspension it was reported he nearly died three times from drug overdoses. Is he really physically fit to fight? And if he were to die in the ring how many lawsuits will incur and how many people or insurance companies will pay because no one had the foresight to say this man should not be fighting?
If he does not fight how does this man who knows no other career make a living? I understand his wife is an saint for putting up with him, sticking with him in good times and bad and trying to save his life and his career as his manager. As a husband and father he needs to provide for his family and if Johnny really is going to turn his life around and make a new start maybe a complete new start away from his "vida loca" life style that got him here is the way to do it. It always seems that every time he gets out of jail he fights again, makes some money and then returns to the drug scene. I hope that is not the case this time, and while the loosely regulated New Mexico Boxing scene has allowed him back, I do think the sport needs to rethink its rules on drug use and boxing both on and off the canvass.
I don't know if Johnny Tapia will ever read this blog but if you do "demuestre que estoy equivocado".