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“TAPIA”: To Hell And Back, And Hell and Back…And Now in a Better Place

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There is a scene in the documentary “Tapia,” which debuts on HBO Tuesday night (11 PM ET), where “Mi Vida Loca,” the New Mexico native who epitomized ‘talented but troubled,’ in a sport no stranger to that type, has just learned he lost a fight.

The fight occurred back near his heyday, toward the tail end of if, and Tapia recalls his thinking as the others guys’ hand was raised. He admits that his thoughts went to his wife, his beloved Teresa, and he said he knew he let her down. It was clear, more than a decade later, the emotions still stung him.

Now, when I saw the video of Tapia reacting to the loss, and saw Teresa’s face, I noted that I saw the same look on her face as was always present, when she was in his presence. I saw a look of love; adoration; concern; a love mixing romantic and maternal yearnings. I saw the look of love that all of us should be so lucky to enjoy.

Teresa Tapia was present at HBO headquarters in new York City on Wednesday evening to view the documentary “Tapia,” which was produced by the ace HBO crew, and multi-media mogul Lou Dibella in concert with rappetrepeneur 50 Cent.

I gravitated to her after paying respects to some of the persons instrumental in the superior finished product, including director Bentley Weiner, who put her stamp and attention on exemplary footage collector by film-maker Eddie Alcazar. After admitting my severe envy of writer Aaron Cohen, whose words were made to sing by Liev Schreiber, I tracked down Mrs. Tapia. She seemed in decent spirits; I didn’t note any teariness, or red eyes signaling a state which would send me away, to give her privacy.

My first question: was it love at first sight when you set eyes on the prizefighter, who comes off as a complex package of turmoil and sweetness who was destined to go from hell and back, and hell and back, as long as his perpetuity would last on this earth. “No, I think it was more of, he was interesting,” she said, her mind drifting back to Albuquerque, where both grew up, and where young Tapia rose in the ranks from the amateurs, into the pro scene, where he won crowns at super fly to feather before retiring in 2011 with a 59-5-2 mark. “And he didn’t give up. Him, he’d say it was love at first sight, but I though, ‘Gosh this person is pushy,’ she said chuckling lightly.

“I think what I loved about Johnny the most was his sense of protecting me,” she said of the man who battled the turbulent stream of thoughts and emotions which clouded his brain after his mom was murdered, when he was a little boy.

Producer DiBella weighed in on Wednesday, and said, “Everyone should watch this. Boxing fans are going to love this, there’s a lot of boxing in it, but this is not a boxing movie. This is a movie about life, about demons, addiction, drug use, mental illness, but it’s also a movie about the enduring nature of the human spirit, to not quit, to keep getting up. That’s one of the things I’ve alway loved about boxing,” the former HBO exec continued, “the metaphor about being knocked down and getting up. As sick as Johnny was, as many times as Johnny died, and was revived, Johnny never gave up on life, and most importantly, Johnny never gave up on love.”

Rick Bernstein, executive producer of HBO Sports, shared his thoughts on the film. “Johnny Tapia’s life story was an incredible journey, and we are eager to celebrate his biggest accomplishments and chronicle the toughest and most difficult moments of his turbulent life,” Bernstein said. “Tapia was so much more than just a world champion, and we want to share this gripping account with our subscribers, many of whom may have seen Johnny in his five fights on HBO, but may not know the amazing story behind the fighter.”

50 Cent, too, said the Tapia tale affected him. “Johnny’s is a story that needed to be told,” he said. “Everyone can relate to some aspect of it, which makes it that much more powerful. Personally, his journey is one that has touched me greatly.”

I shared the notion of that “hell and back and hell and back” phrase with Teresa, because it was she who was there after Johnny would make a foray into the dark zones where cocaine’s crooked finger beckoned him, for days long benders. It was she who’d dust him off, admonish him, and then hug him, when it became clear that the drug was controlling the man, and he was not of his own volition when he was off and running.

That scene when Johnny admitted it stung him to lose, because of how it would disappoint the saintly Teresa, she picked up on it, too. “He didn’t want to disappoint those he loved the most, but when I’m looking at him, I’m looking at him in utter disbelief, and with an almost maternal instinct. You just want to comfort him.”

That could occur, but then the waves would wash over him again. The powerlessness at being unable to stop fate from taking mom, the inability, despite being a man amongst men in the squared circle, to be able to conquer emotions like ring foes. He couldn’t keep them at bay, though boxing being a reason for being gave him respite.

I shared with Teresa, and by the way contemplated not doing so, but decided to do so because I think it’s valuable for many folks to hear, because they might identify with the situation, that my mom was something of a troubled soul.

She didn’t interpret things in a way that would enable her serenity, most of the time. And I really comprehended that back in 1994, which was the year Teresa married Johnny. I’d gotten into a legal scrape, and asked my father for counsel. He and I were chatting, and he then made a phone call to his wife, my mom.

Hey dad, can I say hi to mom?

He asked her, and she spoke for a span. He was silent. He then turned to me, with a grave look in his eyes.

“She doesn’t want to talk to you right now,” he informed me.

Oh that stung. Still does, more mildly now.

But…but…aren’t parents supposed to be there for you through thick and thin, I protested after he’d hung up the phone. He took a moment to compose his thought: “Your mother… is the sort of person who will not ever be truly at peace while on this earth.”

I nodded, and I got it. Not fully…but enough so that when mom died in 2009, and was, to the end, a difficult sort, I didn’t wallow in what ifs, or whys, as in, why was she the way she was. She was what she was, and she tried her best. Some people really aren’t so much built, emotionally, for the coaster ride of life. Stomaches can’t take it. Brains too frazzled to process the daily dose of indignities and slings and arrows and demonic twists fate hands us at times. My mom was one of them…and I think Johnny was too. That’s why you will talk to many folks who knew him well, and they weren’t bowled over, or catastrophically felled when they learned he’d died on May 27, 2012 from a heart attack. In a better place, they’ll say…

“There’s a part of me that, if there’s any bright side, it’s knowing that he’s crossed over to where for so long he’d wanted to be,” Teresa said. “And you feel that he’s still there…but still there’s a huge void in my heart. And nothing can fill it.” Two years on, and the pain lingers, and hasn’t dissipated the way some might expect.

Yes, she said, that man was the love of her life and she could never love that way again. There will be no remarriage in her future, she said. “I think he would be a hard act to follow,” she said, understating furiously.

Three sons, Johnathon, age 22, Johnny Lorenzo, age 14, and Johnny Niccolai, age 9, remain on earth; Teresa will now deal with children left behind, as Johnny was when his mom was taken away. They will know that mom stood by their dad every time he won crowns, did his signature backflip, and when he back-slid, back to the grotesque mistress of his, cocaine. “The addiction, I looked at it like someone who has diabetes, or whatever,” she told me.

That acceptance of a flawed being kept Johnny alive for maybe longer than many would have predicted. There were so many ODs and some suicide attempts…

The thought of seeing him again helps her when the gloom overwhelms. “One of these days,” Teresa Tapia said, “we will see each other again. I believe that that time will come. Where he’s buried, I have a spot right next to him. Not to be morbid, but I know we will be joined again.”

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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A Kaleidoscope of Boxers Guaranteed to Provide Action: Past and Present

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Marvelous Marvin

To set the tone for this article, one needs only to watch the way in which Thomas Hearns came out in the first round against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He was ready to rock and roll as was his fearsome looking opponent. The ensuing unmitigated savagery was the quintessential illustration of full-tilt boogie.

For most boxing fans, the anticipation of an all-out action bout gets the chills running down spines faster than anything else. But not all, as some prefer a tactical or clinical fight that someone like Mikey Garcia can orchestrate and others –but not many—enjoy a defensive gem via a Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, or Pernell Whitaker. A few love a genuine blood fest that a Gabe Rosado-type can provide, and who doesn’t like seeing something special as in Sugar Ray Leonard, Kostya Tszyu, Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko?

Chill-or-be-chilled types like Bob Satterfield and Tommy Morrison were super exciting. In this connection—a certain cadre of warriors, past and present, would come out charging and stalking as soon as the bell rang. Many demonstrated a marked disdain for defense and used a non-stop, no let-up pressure that discouraged their opponents, especially in the late rounds. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable because it sensed some form of destruction was on its way. The cheering would start during the instructions and sometimes did not let up until the concussive end.

This cadre included Rocky Marciano, Tony Ayala, Vicious Victor Galindez, Jeff Fenech, Roberto Duran, and Julio Cesar Chavez (who sapped the spirit of his opponents by ripping away at their mid-section). Also, Carl “The Cat”  Thompson , chill-or-be-chilled Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno (60-12-1 with 59 KOs),  Ron Lyle, the ultra-violent Edwin Valero, the appropriately nicknamed JulianMr KO” Letterlough, James “The Outlaw” Hughes and his mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat, Thai stalking monster Khaosai Galaxy (47-1),  the first version of George Foreman (pictured with the aforementioned Lyle), Ji-Hoon “Volcano” Kim, Ruslan  Provodnikov, Orlando “Siri” Salido, Marcos Maidana, Lenny Z, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and Mickey Roman (the later four are still fighting but past their primes).

Others who presently incite the anticipation of something special include (but are not limited to) Naoya “Monster” Inoue (16-0), Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (24-0), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1), Alex Saucedo (27-0), and, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1) who now has become slightly more tactical like his nemesis, Canelo Alvarez (50-1-1).

These stand out as representative.

Past

A prime Mike Tyson—and the emphasis is on prime– was the epitome of a boxer who guaranteed action. One simply would not leave his or her seat when “Iron Mike” was doing his highlight reel thing, and his blowout of Michael Spinks punctuated his standing at the top of all-action type fighters, even if the action was usually non-mutual.

Joe Frazier came out smokin’ and would not let up until either he or his opponent were done. For the most part, decisions were not in Joe’s DNA and his left hook was as malicious as a hook can be. With Joe, you just sat back and enjoyed the action. Frazier, wrote boxing historian Tracy Callis,  “was a strong, ‘swarmer’ style boxer who applied great pressure on his opponent and dealt out tremendous punishment with a relentless attack of lefts and rights; His left hook was especially stiff and quick when delivered during his bob-and-weave perpetual attack; he fought three minutes per round and never seemed to tire.”

Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon (87-3-9) was a powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine, built like an iron rod. Some said he pushed his punches. Well if he did, he pushed 87 opponents to defeat. He also became only the second man to stop former three-time world champion Emile Griffith, turning the trick in the 14th round. Blessed with great and deceptive stamina and a solid chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force. He was unbeaten over the last 81 bouts of his career, a span of 13 years, and defended his title 14 times. “One would need to write a book in order to do justice to comparing a fighter of Carlos Monzon’s calibre to his fellow all-time greats,” wrote Mike Casey.

Arturo Gatti and Irish Micky Ward were the quintessential action fighters. One is gone amidst controversy, and hopefully the other will not pay a price for his many ring wars. With these two, just count up the Fights-of-the-Year and the rest is history. Suffice it to say that Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

Until his fateful fight with Nigel Benn (another all-action fighter), Gerald McClellan was absolutely, positively, a stalking monster with dynamite in his gloves. It was ferocity and fury at its highest level and it was something to behold. Sadly, his fight with Benn left him permanently disabled; his story remains a dark stain on boxing. As Ian McNeilly notes, “one man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it.”

Michael “The Great” Katsidis’s all-action style made thrilling fights a lock. The Kat” was willing to take three to deliver one. It was blood and guts to the last drop. Whether he too exacted a heavy price for this style remains to be seen.

Lucia Rijker, AKA “The Dutch Destroyer,” lived up to her moniker and destroyed everyone in her path. Again, it wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Christy Martin (49-7-3) put female boxing on the map in the ‘90s and she did it by going undefeated in 36 straight encounters, running roughshod over her opponents as evidenced by her 25 wins by stoppage during this run. She also managed to steal the show from a Mike Tyson main event in 1996 during her memorable and bloody battle with Deirdre Gogarty.

Present

Deontay Wilder, aka “The Bronze Bomber,” has a record of 40-0.  With 39 wins coming by KO—many in spectacular fashion, The “Bomber” brings with him that same sense of anticipation that Tyson did. It’s not if; it’s when and “when” can occur at any time. But unlike Tyson, there is a vulnerability that Luis Ortiz exposed that makes the excitement index go even higher.

Dillian Whyte (24-1) has seldom been in a dull affair. His vulnerability combined with his mode of attack ensures thrilling action and the possibility of a stoppage at any time. Unlike Dereck “Del-Boy” Chisora, Whyte is consistently aggressive and dangerous.

Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2) has slowed down considerably but his recent stoppage win over Lucas Matthysse offers hope that he can still conjure up his exciting whirlwind style of fast in-an-out movements that allowed him to win multiple titles over several future Hall of Fame opponents between 2005 and 2011. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., if rumors are true, would allow Pac Man an opportunity to accomplish a number of extraordinary things including avenging a prior defeat and ruining Mayweather’s undefeated record. Time will tell.

Though he appears to have shot his wad, a prime Antonio Margarito was the classic stalk, stun, and kill fighter. Heck, he belonged on the Discovery Channel. His two blowouts of Kermit Cintron showed the “Tijuana Tornado” at his most brutal. His come-from-behind demolition of Miguel Cotto stands out for its drama and bloodletting—and subsequent speculative controversy.

David Lemieux (39-4) always brings the heat. His fights seldom end as scheduled. With KO power in both hands and a propensity to rehydrate by 20 pounds, he is the essence of danger and attendant excitement. “With the sheer power he carries, Lemieux will always have a shot at beating any middleweight, and he is almost always involved in good action fights,” says James Slater.

Amanda Serrano (35-1-1) is the only women’s boxer to win world titles in six divisions. The “Real Deal” is unique in that she has a high KO percentage (74 percent) which is rare for female boxers. Amanda is 120 seconds of guaranteed action for each round.

                                                         **********

While Iron Mike Tyson is THE MAN, Matthew Saad Muhammad also warrants special billing as he embodied what this article is all about. Steve Farhood summed up the essence of Saad Muhammad with an observation that would be appropriate for his tombstone: “Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad) has a better jab, Marvin Johnson wields more power, James Scott does more sit ups. But, Muhammad’s heart is the size of a turnbuckle, and it anchors his title reign.”

Who did I leave out? Whose name or names would you add to this list?

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