ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Over the years, we at the Journal have been asked many times why we’ve spilled so much ink on the triumphs and travails of boxer Johnny Tapia. He’s a thug and a druggie, they say. Why do you keep writing about him?
The easy and correct answer has always been that Tapia’s a newsmaker in this town, and has been since 1983. In good times and bad, we write about newsmakers.
But what I wanted to say to those people is, “You don’t know him. If you did, you wouldn’t write him off as a thug and a druggie.”
I do know Johnny — or did; Tapia died on Sunday at age 45 in his home on Albuquerque’s West Side.
I first met Tapia in ’83, when he won the New Mexico state Golden Gloves amateur championship in the 106-pound division at age 16. I was, I believe, the first person to ever get his name in print.
I liked him immediately, and never stopped liking him.
Did he have a dark side? Well, duh. His mother was murdered when he was 8, and he grew up without a father in a tough neighborhood. He was a hyperactive kid, from all accounts, suggesting the bipolar disorder with which he was diagnosed as an adult might have been present even then.
Yet, always, before, after and probably during his repeated battles with cocaine, Tapia had a generosity of spirit that was genuine and inexhaustible.
“People thought we hated each other; no,” Danny Romero, Tapia’s Albuquerque boxing rival, said Sunday night. “After all this time, I’ve finally found out who’s real and who’s not. Johnny was real.”
I’ll have more to say about Tapia in upcoming editions of the Journal.
I’ve spilled as much ink on him as anyone, and I’m not quite ready to stop.
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