Five-belt, three-division titlewinner Johnny Tapia, whose career was plagued by cocaine abuse, depression, suicide attempts and arrests, died of heart disease that was exacerbated by prescription drugs, an autopsy revealed on Wednesday.
Tapia, 45, was found dead inside of his Albuquerque, N.M., home on May 27, as described in a report by local television station KOB.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Tapia’s wife, Teresa Tapia, said that the autopsy revealed that the fighter’s death was the accidental result of heart problems and the onset of Hepatitis C, likely from the many tattoos the boxer had.
Teresa Tapia said her husband was taking medication for his bipolar disorder and for his high blood pressure.
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 murdered. I 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 out of trouble, if not alive.
“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,” 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.
CHARLES WHITTAKER MAKES LAST STAND AGAINST GABRIEL ROSADO
Miami’s Charles Whittaker knows that he will be nearing his final shot at glory when he faces Philadelphia’s Gabriel Rosado in an IBF junior middleweight eliminator bout to be televised as part of a Sept. 21 edition of NBC Sports’ Fight Night series from Sand Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa.
The 26-year-old Rosado (20-5, 12 knockouts) has won six straight fights, four of them by knockout, and the 38-year-old Whittaker (38-12-2, 23 KOs), 14 consecutive bouts, eight of them by stoppage.
The winner of Rosado-Whittaker earns the right to face to challenge IBF junior middleweight beltholder Cornelius Bundrage (32-4, 19 KOs).
“This fight means the world to me. I have paid my dues and I’m ready to be number one in the world. After this fight I will challenge for the IBF 154 world title,” said Whittaker, who has lost to fighters such as Mikkel Kessler earlier in his career.
“There are some people who told me I would never make it as a professional boxer and I have proved them wrong. When I step into the ring on September 21, it will be no different. I know Rosado will be game but I have the experience and I am hungry to win.”
The card will be headlined by light heavyweight contender Gabriel Campillo (21-4-1, 8 KOs) taking on Sergey Kovalev (18-0, 16 KOs), and will also feature welterweight Ronald Cruz (17-0, 12 KOs) against Antwone Smith (21-4, 12 KOs).
The 6-foot-3 Campillo is coming off a controversial split-decision loss to IBF beltholder Tavoris Cloud (24-0 19 KOs), whom Campillo appeared to out-box after having been dropped twice in the first round in February.
Kovalev, of Russia, knocked out Darnell Boone in the second round last month. Cruz, of Bethlehem.
UNBEATEN SADAM ALI IS A SELF-PROMOTER
Welterweight prospect Sadam “World Kid” Ali (15-0, 9 KOs), of Brooklyn, will headline an Oct. 27 event from Brooklyn’s Aviator Sports Complex against an opponent to be determined on Integrated Sports pay per view.
Ali’s World Kid Promotions will handle the show, which will also feature Colombian cruiserweight Santander “Acucar” Silgado (22-0, 18 KOs), who is promoted by Havoc Boxing and also fights out of Brooklyn.
“Right now, I’m moving along well and still improving as I gain experience. I decided to promote myself because I wanted and needed to stay busy to enhance my professional boxing career. Plus, I wanted to fight at home in Brooklyn, and not many shows are being promoted in New York City,” said Ali, 23, who, in 2008, may have become the first Arab-American ever to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Games.
“I also wanted to give other fighters here an opportunity to fight but, honestly, I’m doing this primarily to build my career. I won’t sign with a promoter until I have the right contract. I’m not waiting around for a promoter to place me on their card. Fighting on pay per view is going to be amazing. It’s an opportunity for viewers worldwide to watch me box. The more fans who get to know me, the better for my career. No matter where you live, people will be able to watch me fight on the Oct. 27 pay-per-view show.”
Ali opened his own gym in Brooklyn, Bay Ridge Boxing Gym, and promoted his first show this past June, scoring an eighth-round knockout of Franklin Gonzalez in the main event.
“Sadam … has a good fan-base that will tune-in to watch him fight on the Oct. 27 pay per view,” ,” said his father and chief advisor Mahmoud Ali. “He won’t wait around for television dates and we believe that, eventually, HBO and Showtime will be interested in airing his fights.”
At his gym, Sadam Ali says he tries to show the ropes to younger fighters.
“We have a lot of volunteer coaches at the Bay Ridge Boxing Gym,” he said. “I like giving pointers to kids because I remember being in a gym just like them when I was eight years old.”
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]