THE FRINGE: Johnny Tapia steps back between the slamming strands of fate Friday evening, to find a place in the negative space, back somewhere between glory and disaster.

As a main event, it could be more of a vanity affair, but Tapia’s raw emotional history as a star boxer keeps his fan base loyal and wishing him well throughout pugilistic highs and lows or self destructive missteps.

“I know I’ve made too many mistakes,” said a progressively stoic Tapia. “I messed myself up but I didn’t care. The thing I regret the most is hurting people I loved that loved me.”

Tapia will be on recently imposed probation when he steps into the ring at the El Paso County Coliseum, after a coke induced coma and subsequent bust. Tapia keeps the chin up.

“The way I feel now is stronger than I’ve felt I years because I’ve been living right, training right, eating right,” claimed Tapia. “Some people are going to be surprised at how much I’ve got left. Not that I’m proud of what happened, but you’ve got to be pretty strong to be pronounced dead and come back. I’ve done it more than once.”

Tapia’s match is a smaller, southwestern version of Oscar de la Hoya’s feel-good fight outside LA the next evening, hundreds of miles across the great divide. But de la Hoya seems a much more probable victor, although it’s been quite a while since Tapia’s latest listed foe was on the winning side of a scorecard.

If the result provides star-crossed hero Tapia the kind of personal fortitude he’ll need to get through the next stages of no loco vida without tumbling back down into a Sisyphus substance stone, that’s justification enough for another “farewell” fight after February 2007’s long goodbye left Tapia unfulfilled.

But after that it gets scary, if reports are true. For the immediate future, Tapia seems to be proposing both the tragic and the absurd.

Tapia says he’s looking toward another tune up type appearance in Colorado, which seems feasible enough.

After that, Tapia proposes that he’ll be ready for a title fight. A legitimate title fight.

Unfortunately, reality insists otherwise. Even worse, the opponent Tapia reportedly mentioned during New Mexico media gatherings was none other than Isreal Vasquez, coming off the epic trilogy against Rafael Marquez.

Vasquez, separated from Tapia by a couple fistic generations, is this year’s Iron Man model of the action standard. That’s as much as Tapia and Vasquez currently have in common, and it’s nowhere near enough of a reason for them to face off.

It’s seems doubtful there’s a realistic scenario where Vasquez would pounce on such a mismatch. We’d set the odds on such a match ever happening as around 50-1.

Marco Antonio Barrera was merciful as could be, and still made Tapia look ancient. That was a hundred years ago.

Tapia will always be proud, brave and willing enough to give his all from the first to last bell. That’s why his fans love him, but it doesn’t make him a legitimate title contender.

Hopefully Tapia hasn’t missed the point he seems to have lost in the past regarding his series of so-called second chances.

When I spoke to Tapia a couple months back he was accompanied by a gentleman named Art Romero, who seemed like the no BS kind of guy Tapia needs for help correcting previous life or freedom threatening failures.

Logic has to make Tapia a considerable candidate to relapse, especially based on previous form. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and Tapia obviously has mental toughness.

Last time the stakes were life and death. You can’t get any higher than that. If Tapia falls for the bottomless chase of that high again, he might just keep falling for good, until the final splat.

That tragedy wouldn’t be the first in his life, but hopefully he’s seen the last of the desperate, doom dominated days.

He may never be able to return to the white hot days in the Pit at the University of New Mexico or fights like against Albuquerque hometown, then international rival Danny Romero in Las Vegas, but at least Tapia was really at the center of that universe.

Tapia always wears his heart on his boxing robe sleeve.

“I’d be dead if it wasn’t for my wife,” said Tapia. “I owe her everything. My life. Sometimes I couldn’t believe that she put up with me. That’s why I’ll always love her.”

“To all my fans, I just want to say thank you and I’m taking it one day at a time. One day at a time. If I can keep doing that I’ll be ok. I’ve still got a little bit of boxing left in me. I’m just trying to get another chance. Again.”

Let’s hope Tapia’s blessings outnumber his curses.

Tapia’s undeniable guts and glory always seemed to be a beautiful mess in a pick’em spread of “Vida Loco” life.

God bless Johnny Tapia, devils and all.