Former five-belt, three-division titlewinner Johnny Tapia, whose career was plagued by cocaine abuse, depression, suicide attempts and arrests, was found dead inside of his Albuquerque, N.M., home on Sunday, according to Albuquerque Police, the Associated Press and a report by local television station KOB.
Poice were called to Tapia’s home at about 7:45 p.m. on Sunday, spokesman Robert Gibbs told The Associated Press, adding that his death did not appear to be the result of foul play and that an autopsy is expected to be performed within the next few days.
Tapia, 45, compiled a mark of 59-5-2, with 30 knockouts, earned major world titles in the junior bantamweight, bantamweight and featherweight divisions, and won his last four fights — two of them by knockout — culminating with an eight-round decision over Mauricio Pastrana in June of 2011.
A survivor of a tough upbringing in Albuquerque’s Wells Park neighborhood, Tapia was known for his spirited performances as well as his struggles with drugs, suicide attempts and arrests.
Tapia’s father was reportedly murdered before he was born and his mother was murdered when he was a small child, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents as he struggled with depression throughout much of his life.
“My name is Johnny Lee Tapia. I was born on Friday the 13th. A Friday in February of 1967. To this day I don’t know if that makes me lucky or unlucky,” wrote Tapia, in his 2010 autobiography, “Mi Vida Loca,” or, “My Crazy Life.”
“When I was eight I saw my mother murderedI never knew my father. He was murdered before I was born. I was raised as a pit bull. Raised to fight to the death. Four times I was declared dead. Four times they wanted to pull life support. And many more times I came close to dying.”
Tapia made it apparent to those who knew him, including former manager, Cameron Dunkin, that boxing sustained him and kept him alive, if not, out of trouble.
“What he said about how he wouldn’t know what he would be doing if it wasn’t for boxing, Johnny Tapia used to say that a lot also,” said Dunkin, during a recent interview with RingTV.com in which he compared the abilities of unbeaten lightweight fighter Brandon Rios to those of Tapia.
“It’s the passion and the love. Johnny went undefeated for so long and beat so many great fighters. Johnny was very hyper, and just wanted to fight, just like Brandon.”
In 1990, Tapia was suspended from boxing until 1994 following a positive drug test for cocaine, and was arrested by Albuquerque Police a year later for suspicion of cocaine possession although the charges were eventually dropped.
Tapia attempted to overdose on drugs in 1999, and also overdosed in 2007, nearly losing his life the second time.
Tapia’s final arrest for drug possession was in 2009, when he was taken into custody in Albuquerque for a violation of parole related to cocaine use.
Photo by Chris Cozzone, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]