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Johnny Tapia Died From A Broken Heart

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51OaevSN1NL. BO2204203200 PIsitb-sticker-arrow-clickTopRight35-76 AA278 PIkin4BottomRight-5922 AA300 SH20 OU01 The safest place Johnny Tapia ever found in life was being assaulted inside a boxing ring. That tells you a lot about what he called “Mi Vida Loca,’’ my crazy life. He could have just as easily called it “Mi Vida Triste,’’ my sad life. No one who knew him would have argued either way.

The only thing you would have argued with him about was if he called it “Mi Vida Feliz’’ because a happy life it was not despite winning five world titles in three weight classes and being blessed with a saintly wife more loyal than Lassie and three beautiful children.

None of those successes in boxing or in the larger world could erase how life had started for him. It started at a dead end.

The pain Tapia carried with him all his life after seeing things as a young boy no one should ever see drove him to become a ferocious gladiator in the ring and a hopelessly depressed drug addict outside it. He finally laid down the painful load he carried Sunday night, alone in his home in Albuquerque, where a relative found him dead at the age of 45. No one could really say they were surprised how it had ended.

Tapia was always safer in the ring than in the drugged out, gang-infested streets he grew up in around Albuquerque. He was safer there than in the home where he was raised to be, as he once told me and many others, “a pit bull. You fight or you die.’’

Johnny Tapia did both many times. He was declared dead four times before he finally expired under what Albuquerque police claimed were not suspicious circumstances. For a man who lived his kind of life what circumstances would have been?

Tapia tried suicide more than once. He suffered a number of drug overdoses, some accidental, others not. His car was once riddled with bullets by rival gang members. He had been jailed, suspended 3 ½ years from the sport he often dominated at super flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight, owned a 125-page rap sheet at the Albuquerque Police Department and resurrected himself more times than Lazarus.

Regardless of how low he sunk, Johnny Tapia refused to stay down. Always he fought on, a survival instinct he learned when as an eight year old he was awoken by the screams of his mother, Virginia. When he looked out the window he saw her chained to the back of a pick-up truck as she was being dragged by his house. She had been kidnapped, raped, stabbed 26 times with a screwdriver and scissors and left for dead.

Tapia claimed he went to other family members to tell them of the horror he’d seen out his window but none believed him, thinking he was having a nightmare. He was, one that would stay with him all his life and twist him into a knot of fury and sadness.

His mother died several days later and Tapia had always been told his father was murdered before he was born so he moved in with his grandparents and eight other relatives in a three bedroom house jammed with many things, but not much love.

Within a year his grandfather and uncles were taking him to bars and forcing him to fight all comers as they bet on the outcome. It was a savage way for a nine-year-old to learn a brutal trade.

Eventually Tapia would master it however, winning five New Mexico Golden Gloves titles and two National Golden Gloves championships before turning pro in 1988 at the age of 21. He had found a safe haven in a dangerous business.

Tapia would fight a draw in his pro debut but then won 21 straight and was making a name for himself when he tested positive for cocaine and was suspended from boxing for 3 ½ years. It was during that time that he met and married Teresa Chavez, who at first spurned his advances because she thought she knew just how loco his life was.

When they finally married in 1994, Tapia didn’t take long to give his new wife a taste of what their life together would become. One day after their wedding, one of her cousins told her, “If you want to see what you married, go look in the bathroom.’’

When she did she found her new husband shooting himself up. Tapia then left her at a broken down motel and took off with their wedding money. Barely 24 hours later he had overdosed and was in the hospital, somehow revived after his heart had stopped for a minute and 23 seconds.

That was the first time he was ruled clinically dead only to come back to life. That was Johnny Tapia, a fighter all his days and most of his nights.

Six fights after his return to boxing in 1994, Tapia stopped Henry Martinez to claim the WBO super flyweight title, his first. He was 27-0-1 and a crowd pleasing legend with a bright smile and dark demons lurking all around him no matter how much success he had in boxing. Yet regardless of his losing battles with depression, drugs and life, Tapia remained unbeaten inside the ropes, his biggest win coming on July 18, 1997 when he outpointed his hometown rival and former friend Danny Romero after an acrimonious time in which Romero and his father, who had originally trained them both, heaped insults on Tapia for the wreckage he’d made of his life outside the ring.

That night was his greatest triumph, winning both the IBF and WBO super flyweight titles in a bout RING magazine called Fight of the Year. He would go on to defend those titles 11 times while improving his record to 46-0-2 before he was upset by Paulie Ayala in 1999 after having moved up and won the bantamweight title.

Soon after, Tapia attempted suicide with another drug overdose but again survived and a year later reclaimed a portion of the bantamweight championship before losing to Ayala again by split decision in a rematch.

Less than two years later Tapia, now 35, made another successful comeback however, winning the IBF featherweight title in a disputed decision over Manuel Medina. He would quickly relinquish that belt to face Marco Antonio Barrera, the Mexican legend, for the biggest payday of his life.

Barrera easily outpointed him however and Tapia never again fought for a world title. He boxed nine times in the next nine years, twice facing long breaks as he battled life as hard as he had any opponent in the ring. His final bout came on June 6, 2011 and it was a fitting way to end a remarkable career.

Tapia was dropped in the sixth round by aging, three-time world title challenger Mauricio Pastrana but got off the canvas as he had so many times in life with a fury. He attacked Pastrana with savage desperation, finally dropping him in the eighth and final round to win a convincing decision. Less than a year later he would be found alone – as he so often seemed to feel he was despite a loyal and loving wife and legions of fans – dead at the age of 45.

Two years earlier he had met the man he thought died before he was born when his father confronted him after being released from a federal penitentiary. DNA tests established his paternity but it did not make him the father Johnny Tapia so desperately needed but never had.

Every time I would see him at a fight he would smile, say “Hello Mr. Borges’’ in a formal greeting and then wrap me in a bear hug. He was that way with nearly everyone he knew, a loving guy for whom there was never enough love to fill the hole so deep inside him.

Tapia used to remind you he’d been born on Friday the 13th and then without fail add, “Does that make me lucky or unlucky?’’ Frankly, no one really knew the proper answer.

An autopsy will be completed on Wednesday to establish the official cause of Johnny Tapia’s death but regardless of what they find the results won’t really matter. The sad truth is he died of a broken heart.

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

When it comes to professional boxing down in the Tampa Bay area, Canadian transplant Garry Jonas is a one-man band.

The architect of the Wednesday Night Fights series, Jonas doesn’t have to pay a site fee for the shows that he promotes because he owns the venue. The shows that he stages at his Whitesands Events Center in Plant City air on his live streaming platform ProBoxTV. His series currently has only one sponsor, a bookmaking operation called SportsBetting.Ag., and he owns that too. (A self-styled serial entrepreneur, Jonas continued his assault on the established order last week with his purchase of the respected Boxing Scene website, but that’s a story best saved for another day.)

Jonas promotes high-grade club fights. When he started this venture, he promised entertaining, well-matched fights and tonight he delivered. The “A” side fighters in the co-main events were matched tough.

In the featured bout, lightweight Justin Pauldo (17-2, 1 NC) was upset by Mexico’s Miguel Madueno. Managed by Jolene Mazzone, the former VP and matchmaker for Main Events and trained by Ronnie Shields, Pauldo, a resident or nearby Orlando, was unbeaten in his last 12 heading in.

In his previous start, Madueno turned in a lackluster performance against surging Canadian campaigner Steve Claggett. His showing (he was 30-1 with 28 KOs heading in) was inconsistent with his record. Tonight, he was more pugnacious, out-working the man in front of him, a 4/1 favorite. The decision was split; 97-92 and 95-94 for Madueno, 95-94 for Pauldo. There were no knockdowns, but the Mexican had a point deducted in round 5 for leading with his head.

Co-Feature

The co-main was an entertaining 10-round light heavyweight affair in which Edgar Berlanga stablemate Najee Lopez improved to 10-0 (8) with a hard-earned majority decision over Marcos Escudero (14-3). One of the judges had it a draw (95-95) but he was overruled by his cohorts who had it 97-93 and 99-91.

Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born and raised in the Atlanta area, hadn’t previously gone beyond six rounds. He was the house fighter. Named the 2023 Prospect of the Year by the ProBox team of TV commentators, Lopez was making his eighth appearance at Whitesands. Escudero, a South Florida-based Argentine had won four straight heading in at club shows in Delray Beach, FL after back-to-back setbacks in competitive fights with Joseph George.

Escudero, who did most of the leading, had many good moments. The 99-91 tally against the Argentine was a head-scratcher. (Commentator Paulie Malignaggi said the offending  judge, Alvaro Rodriguez, should have his fee withheld and be forced to serve a one-year suspension.)

Also

In an 8-round lightweight contest, former two-time Olympian Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, a 27-year-old Mongolian southpaw who began his pro career in China and now resides in southern California, improved to 9-0 (4) with a unanimous decision over Guinea-born Mohamed Soumaoro (11-3) who was a willing mixer but was out-classed. The scores were 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

As one would expect from a two-time Olympian, Erdenebat is a good technician who puts his punches together well, but doesn’t have a lot of power. If his name rings a bell, he’s the fellow who purportedly sent Ryan Garcia to the hospital from the effects of a body punch during a sparring session.

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Two Featherweight Title Fights Top a Strong Bill at Turning Stone on Saturday

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When Top Rank announced in December that they would be returning to Turning Stone Resort & Casino for an ESPN+ show on March 2nd featuring two featherweight world title fights they promised a deep action-packed show. Usually such words fall by the wayside as the event ultimately comes together but in this instance the docket is loaded from top to bottom with name attractions, undefeated prospects, local grudge matches and two very well-matched co-headliners.

In the first of the co-headliners, Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) makes the third defense of his IBF featherweight belt against Japan’s Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs). Lopez is a popular brawler whose aggressive style and lack of attention to defense usually makes for entertaining fights. Abe, a southpaw, is a slick boxer who is coming off a career best win against Kiko Martinez last April. Abe has a style similar to that of Ruben Villa who outboxed Lopez to a ten round unanimous decision win in 2019.

The co-headline finale is being contested for the vacant WBA featherweight title between Otabek Kholmatov (12-0, 11 KOs) and Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs). Both fighters were highly touted heading into the pro ranks. Ford has the speed advantage but Kholmatov has a big edge in power. Social media seems split right down the middle on this fight and oddsmakers agree installing Kholmatov as a very slight favorite as of this writing.

Also on this show is the return of the ever popular Nico Ali Walsh (9-1, 5 KOs) who bounced back from his first career defeat on Dec. 16 at a show in Guinea where he defeated a Frenchman with a 9-2-1 record (mysteriously, that fight isn’t yet listed on boxrec). He will face off against Luke Iannuccilli (7-0, 3 KOs). Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, will make his debut at Turning Stone Resort Casino in the same exact arena where his aunt and Boxing Hall of Famer Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in October of 1999 with her legendary father sitting ringside. This will mark the fourth time a member of Muhammad Ali’s family has fought at Turning Stone.

The card also includes several contests featuring up-and-coming undefeated fighters. One match in particular to keep an eye on is an eight-round welterweight bout between a pair of unbeaten fighters in Rohan Polanco (11-0, 7 KOs) and Tarik Zaina (13-0-1, 8 KOs). Zaina opened some eyes last November when he defeated Marcelino Lopez and Polanco is coming off three consecutive wins against opponents who had a cumulative record of 39-3.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t notate the local grudge match on the docket between Gerffred Ngayot (6-1, 5 KOs) of Buffalo and Bryce Mills (14-1, 5 KOs) of Syracuse. They are scheduled to face off in a six-round bout in the 140-pound division. They are on this show because each have solid local fan bases and matching them was a way to help fill the stands. Mills is a sharp accurate counterpuncher with all-around solid skills. Ngayot is an aggressive fighter who is not afraid to be first and fire away to the body. Stylistically this could turn into quite a barnburner and each have plenty of motivation to make a statement on what is a much bigger stage than they are accustomed to.

We are often quick to criticize those in the sport when cards come together that are seemingly either loaded with mismatches or bouts that just don’t pique much interest. This is an instance where those involved need to be applauded for putting together a card from top to bottom that will certainly give fans plenty of bang for their buck.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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