By A.J. Llewellyn
The boxing world lost a legend this week. Johnny “Mi Vida Loca” Tapia, seems to have finally surrendered to his demons and left this life too soon at the age of 45.
I knew Johnny, not well, but well enough from interviews I did with him whenever he was in town at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, or in Las Vegas for his fights. He had a strong presence and a rough-and-tumble persona, but what always touched me deeply about Johnny was the mad, passionate, insane love he had for his wife, Teresa.
I first witnessed this amazing romance on the streets of Las Vegas several years ago. A bunch of us arrived a couple of days early for his fight at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Vegas. We got talking to Johnny and Teresa Tapia and we all walked down Las Vegas Boulevard to check out some of the new hotel construction. A guy walking past glanced at us.
For those of us with the Tapias, it was obvious the guy was looking at Johnny and recognized the champion…the legend.
But Johnny flew into a rage, thinking the guy was looking at Teresa. He and this total stranger soon got into a fight. I soon learned this was Johnny.
At the post-fight press conference at the hotel two days later after he knocked out Cesar Soto in the third round, Johnny spoke on stage. He was in good spirits after his victory and promoter Don King stood beside him, also pleased about the solid show.
Teresa was standing right beside me in the small audience when a man approached her. It was a benign conversation. The man just wanted the champ’s autograph and asked Teresa if she would get it.
Out of nowhere, a violent altercation ensued when Johnny almost flew off the podium mid-sentence to race to her side.
“Is everything okay?” Don King called, peering out into the audience as a melee erupted on the sidelines.
Things could have turned ugly, but security intervened and smoothed over hurt feelings.
Johnny was aggressive, in the ring and out of it. Particularly when it involved Teresa. Having witnessed his mother being murdered when he was eight, I understood his concern and over-protectiveness. And I have always admired Teresa. She guided her talented, hot-headed husband’s career as his manager and wife. She is a smart, wonderful woman who never gets ruffled.
Johnny was a family man who could not live without her, so it makes sense to me that his sixth or was it seventh suicide attempt was final. He would never have wanted a life without her, but she stayed to the end. Johnny and Teresa. Teresa and Johnny. I cannot imagine one without the other.
My heart breaks for her and her family.
Their love has inspired me. His integrity, his passion have influenced my work. I was so taken by Johnny’s concern for all the illegal weapons floating around his tometown of Albuquerque, NM. A concern that led him to organizing a boxing match that required the turning in of guns to attend. I was impressed that Johnny did that and borrowed this storyline for my book, “The Bouncer”.
When I think of Johnny Tapia, I don’t picture the man in the ring, though let me make it clear, he was a firecracker to watch.
I think of Johnny, always calling, “Teresa!” even when she was right beside him. She loved him. And he loved her.
I hope his beloved mother was in Heaven, waiting right at the door for him, to ease all his pain. I hope he knows at last that she is in a good place. I don’t think he ever meant to leave Teresa, he just wanted his own agony to stop.
For his family and closest friends, I grieve your loss. For those of us who were fans, friends, boxing colleagues, I grieve too. We’ve lost a true original. An American heart. The world is just a little less bright, a lot more crazy without ‘Burque’s Best in it.
Vail, Johnny, champion, hero, husband.