Boxing’s Johnny Tapia Looks to the Future

BY Matthew Aguilar ON January 13, 2005
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Johnny Tapia's future is simple, really.

"The plan is to stay married and have a lot of babies," Tapia quipped Wednesday during a press conference at New Mexico State University.

And while maintaining his unique relationship with wife Teresa and creating more Tapias may be personal goals, the five-time world champion hasn't abandoned his professional boxing career. He'll meet Mexican slugger Nicky Bentz on January 22 in Hidalgo, Texas, then shoot for IBF junior featherweight champion Israel Vasquez this summer.

"We want to win our sixth world title and ride off into the sunset," Teresa Tapia, Johnny's wife, said.

That may be easier said than done. The effects of a 17-year boxing career are becoming obvious in the ring performances of the soon-to-be 38-year-old Albuquerque hero. And when you factor in his well-documented substance abuse problems, another world title - or even a shot at another world title - becomes less likely.

In his last fight Tapia lost a decision to Frankie Archuleta in Las Vegas, NM. It was the first time in 59 fights that the man known as "Mi Vida Loca" lost to anyone other than an elite champion. His previous losses were to Paulie Ayala (twice) and Marco Antonio Barrera.

But, Tapia says, after a career that produced a record of 53-4-2 (28 knockouts) and included championships at junior bantamweight, bantamweight and featherweight, he doesn't view the ring as a proving ground.

And he insists Archuleta caught him on an off-night.

"I hope and pray he shits and gets off the pot and comes and fights me again," Tapia said. "And really do it the way we're supposed to, instead of going out and saying, 'I beat Johnny Tapia' - when (Johnny Tapia) really wasn't at his best. I'll even put an extra $200 (for him) to fight me."

Whether he fights Archuleta again or not, Tapia certainly expects to be better prepared under new trainer Oscar Suarez. Suarez, who previously trained "Prince" Naseem Hamed and Acelino Freitas, was handpicked by Tapia after the release of previous trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.

"We were watching one of his fights and I told my wife 'I want this trainer'," Tapia said. "Before we started training, we became friends. And after that he became my trainer. And I want to retire with him. What better way can you go out, with someone that cares for you, and not just for the money? You don't see that too often in a lot of trainers. I speak because I've had a lot of them."

Suarez said Tapia is a remarkably fresh and, perhaps more importantly, still willing to put in the work.

"I have a Latin American style; Johnny's got a Mexican-American style," Suarez said. "A little bit of each will mold a better Johnny. Johnny has great experience. But, above that, he loves to learn everyday. And I'm thrilled about it. Here I am working with a five-time world champion. And yet, he still wants to learn. And he is learning."

Suarez seemed to poke fun at the recently inactive Hamed in his praise of Tapia.

"You don't see many 37-year-olds motivated like (Tapia)," he said. "You don't see many 25-year-olds motivated like that. The hunger he's got, I wish some of my fighters - and I'm not going to mention names - would have. Honestly."

But, now, Tapia knows he has to produce in the boxing ring if he has any hope of that sixth title.

Bentz, at 36-3-2 (29 knockouts), is no pushover. He was 30-0 with 25 knockouts in 1997 and '98 before leaving Mexico and losing a pair in the United States.

"I have to watch this guy's right hand," Tapia said. "He hits real solid with is right hand. He's going to freak out when he hits me and I laugh. And then we're going to go to war."

Then he pauses. And the newer, calmer Johnny Tapia intervenes.

"I don't have to do that no more," he said. "We're working on a lot of sticking and moving. Counterpunching. That's really the Johnny Tapia people want to see. I have to be calm, pick my shots, catch him at the end of my shots. I want to hurt him right off the bat. But I can't afford to let him catch me, either. And how many people will go to somebody's backyard after a loss?"

Tapia has been training for six weeks and weighs 130 pounds. The contract weight for the Bentz fight is 126 pounds - give or take a pound.

Johnny says he's done fighting bigger men. He lost to Barrera at 126 pounds. Barrera recently won a title at 130 pounds.

"(Barrera) challenged me," Tapia said, "and he wanted to, but 130 pounds is too big for me . . . Look, I was born at night, but not last night. I'm not as dumb as I look. 130? Uh-uh. I wouldn't do it. Money's not my god. (Barrera) could call me tomorrow and say, 'Hey, we'll make $2 million.' I'd say no."

Recently moved from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, in the southern part of his home state, Tapia said he is more clearheaded than ever before, because he is surrounded by family and friends.

"I love Las Cruces," he said. "When I won here in 2000, they opened their arms to me. And I wanted to give back. I really want to retire (in Las Cruces). People are just so friendly."

When he does finally retire, Tapia says he may follow Suarez into the training profession.

"As a trainer, I'm pretty strict myself," he said. "Because I want them to be better than I was. And I probably will get a lot of fighters. Some make it, some don't. But they can still come to the gym and be happy. It's all about having fun."

His current training camp is loose like that. For Tapia, that is important.

"It's not a training camp where you go in all serious," he said. "We go and we have fun. I just love it."

What is serious is the length of Tapia's career - a career that has included victories over Henry Martinez (his first world title and fondest memory in 1994), Albuquerque rival Danny Romero in 1997 and Manuel Medina in 2002.

Wife Teresa, who also serves as his manager, knows that her husband can't climb into the ring much longer.

"I would have liked to have seen him retire years ago," she said. "But if I see that any of his talent has diminished - his speed, reflexes, legs - I'll pull him out. You're only as good as your last fight."

Teresa Tapia knows what she is talking about. And Johnny Tapia knows it. During Wednesday's press conference, he constantly looked to her for the right words. Sometimes he clasped her hand.

Sometimes he just gazed at her.

Has Johnny Tapia - the man who witnessed his mother's kidnapping at age eight and who turned to drugs to cope with her grisly murder - finally found some peace?

"I have everything I want in life," he said. "Give me 18 months and I'm done. If we get the world title, if God's willing, we'll go for it. If we don't, we'll just put money in the bank and let it go."

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