Johnny Tapia’s life certainly matched his nickname, “Mi Vida Loca.” We’re talking about someone who never knew his father, because he was supposedly murdered when Johnny was still turning in his mother’s womb. Then poor Virginia, Tapia’s mother, was stabbed to death 26 times by a screwdriver, after being raped and dragged from a pickup truck by chains.
Young Johnny was awakened the night his mother was taken when her blood-curdling screams filled the house. He witnessed her being dragged off, and his life was never the same. His fighter’s heart and verve certainly came through from Virginia, who somehow managed to pull her weakened, ravaged body to a road, where she was found by police and four days later died.
Welcome to your life Johnny Tapia. He was a walking reality show director’s dream. Orphaned at eight, eventually raised by a caring grandmother and plagued by demons throughout his life, Tapia was declared clinically dead six times.
Mi Vida Loca couldn’t survive number seven late Sunday night when TMZ broke the news that Tapia “was found dead Sunday in New Mexico, this according to local police. Family members say Albuquerque police were summoned to Tapia's house at 7:45 PM Sunday by a family member who discovered the body” at the age of 45.
The five-time world champion possessed a soft, yet course voice. In a way, a lot like Johnny himself, a rugged, hardcore exterior that hid a well-intentioned, good-hearted man inside. Beset throughout his life by shadowy villains, mostly cocaine, which he admitted to in his autobiography, “Mi Vida Loca,” Tapia was a fight-fan’s fighter. A blood-and-guts, go-for-broke, give-it-all, all-the-time warrior whose classic wars against Danny Romero and Paulie Ayala will always be remembered by everyone who saw them.
Aside from his sometimes chaotic life outside the ring, Tapia was a genial, fun-loving man when he was focused and preparing for a fight.
“Boxing keeps me alive and clean, because hell knows all of the things I’ve been through, and everything I put my family and friends through,” Tapia once told me in 2002. “If it wasn’t for boxing, I don’t know if I’d be alive today. I have demons I fight every day, and I mean every day. But when I have a fight, I throw all my focus and determination into that. I’m lucky to have this career, and do something I’ve always loved to do.
“I still do like to party, though, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. I don’t party as hard I used to, I’ll admit, because I’ve seen the pain and stress it’s caused my family. I can say it, boxing saved my life. I'd be dead already without it.”
You hoped Tapia would survive his addictions. You hoped Tapia would live a full life, and be around for his three children. You hoped against hope the demons that entered his young life would be exhausted through his fury and relentless style in the ring.
He gave so much joy to the many that saw his fights, you hoped Tapia would realize the time for him to put his shadows in the closet would come.
Then the news broke late Sunday night about Tapia’s death, and it’s difficult to fathom, regardless of everything Mi Vida Loca had been through.
Now, finally, Tapia and his demons can rest in peace.
Joseph Santoliquito is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.