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He Wasn't Ready

BY Steve Kim ON January 27, 2003
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Some fighters routinely brush off knockdowns and continue fighting. Johnny Tapia routinely cheats death and goes on with his life. You see, Tapia never does anything halfway. It's all or nothing for this guy.

Last weekend was just another chapter in the crazy life of Johnny Tapia, who is appropriately nicknamed 'Mi Vida Loca' ('My Crazy Life'). He was engaged in a standoff with police, with two other men who were wanted on drug charges. Tapia was cited for possession of drug paraphernalia. The following morning he suddenly lost consciousness and collapsed in his Las Vegas home. His wife Teresa frantically called 911. Tapia was in intensive care and hooked up to a life support system throughout the weekend. At that point Tapia was hanging onto life by a thread. The man who had been pronounced clinically dead three times prior, seemingly had cheated the grim reaper for the last time.

Well, hold on with the obits. By early this week, not only had Johnny regained consciousness, he was able to walk out of the hospital and yes, there was talk of him resuming his career. The fact he made it out of the weekend in itself, was a huge upset.

" I was there for five hours that first night," said his trainer Freddie Roach, who's in Las Vegas training Mike Tyson." And I thought he was dead. I didn't think he was coming back. He was in a complete coma and didn't move a muscle. But in the sixth hour when I was there, I told Teresa to just take a break and get something to eat. He opened his eyes, he had no idea where he was, and he didn't know who I was either. But at least he opened his eyes, I was happy about that. And the following day he asked for a cheeseburger, so I got him a cheeseburger." 

" It seems he doesn't know what happened because he tells me he was in a car accident and I said,' Johnny, there was no car accident' I asked him if he took something and so forth and the doctors haven't got the blood work back in when I was talking to him."

Tapia has battled substance abuse problems his whole adult life. His career was put on hiatus in the early 90's when he tested positive for cocaine. His addiction is something he fights everyday like any other addict. But the fact that he had drug paraphernalia the night before his sudden collapse is suspicious. It's obvious that drugs need to be eliminated from his life but according to Roach, boxing is badly needed.

" I'm glad he's ok," says Roach." And if it's drug related, which I think it is - he needs help. The thing is, if he gets suspended three years - then his careers over. And you know what will happen," asked Roach rhetorically. He'll kill himself.

Because he still loves boxing and he can still fight a little bit. There's probably a couple of fights out there for him but if he doesn't get help, he's gonna end up dead."

There has been no word on if drugs were in Tapia's system. But according to Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, all boxing licenses expired on December 31st and Tapia had not reapplied for a new license. But he notes that if and when he does, he, like any other fighter will be subject to drug tests and perhaps even a mental evaluation.

While Roach may be correct in his theory that boxing is a positive diversion for his fighter, the bottom line is that he is approaching the sunset of a very distinguished career and pretty soon he will be living life without boxing. It's a tough adjustment for any athlete that retires from the glory of their playing fields to a regular private civilian life. For Tapia, you figure it will be that much more difficult.

" The thing is, after Johnny's last fight, it was probably the first fight where he took a lot of shots and maybe took a beating because Barrera was too big for him," Roach says." I wouldn't like to see that happen to him again with some of the bigger featherweights. They were talking about him and Hamed fighting and y'know what? I was thinking in my mind that if he fights Hamed, win or lose, maybe he should retire."

" Because maybe it's just time, but I know as a fighter, no fighter's going to retire until there ready to retire because I did the same thing. Eddie Futch told me to retire, I made the comeback and maybe if I didn't, I wouldn't have the problems I have today," he says of his battle with Parkinsons syndrome that he controls with medication." But I'm a grown person and I chose it but Johnny's getting towards the end of his career and he needs boxing to occupy his time and that's when he gets in trouble when he's not boxing. So I'd rather see him in the ring than laid out on a stretcher like he was the other night."

In theory I agree with Roach, but to me this is like putting a band-aid on a fractured leg. Unless he gets help with his addictions- and even more importantly psychologically- the minute he moves on with the rest of his life- he may not have that much of a life to live.

GRAND REOPENING

It was a successful debut for Oscar De La Hoya's 'Boxeo De Oro' series on HBO Latino at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles this past Thursday night.

Top to bottom, the card put together by Golden Boy Promotions was action packed, highlighted by Oscar Larios' hard-fought ten round decision over Marcos Lincona and Jose Navarro's impressive second round blowout of Carlos Madrigal.

But what was really impressive was that over 4,500 people actually bought tickets to the event. No, it's not a huge number and it does pale in comparison to some of the crowds that used to regularly flock to the Olympic back in it's heydays, but considering that the event was televised (always a killer for the gate), the relatively early start time of 5:30 (and trust me, LA traffic is no treat at that hour off the adjacent freeways) and that the Olympic hadn't had a boxing event in over four years because of diminishing crowds-this night can be considered a huge success.

And I tell you what, there's not a bad seat in the house. And when you get a few fannies in the seats, it does provide quite an atmosphere for the fighters.

It's doubtful that this arena can ever have a regular schedule of boxing again, but if you have a well- promoted event once in a while, it can work.

BARRERA BOUT

If Lennox Lewis bypasses an April date on pay-per-view against Vitaly Klitschko, that pay-per-view slot will be taken by Marco Antonio Barrera.

Now, here's the funny part in all this, it seems Barrera and his people are somewhat reluctant to face another Mexican national. Guys, I hate to break it to you, but in that division, you really don't have that much of a choice. That would be like a heavyweight saying he doesn't want to face an African-American.

Now, names like Kevin Kelley are being mentioned. A Barrera-Kelley fight would be HBO's reply to Showtime's mismatch featuring Acelino Freitas and Gabe Ruelas.

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