ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mickey Rooney played a boxer in the 1947 film “Killer McCoy” and a boxing trainer in the 1962 movie “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” It’s no great surprise, then, that the venerable actor, who died Sunday at age 93, was a boxing fan in real life.
Nor is it a huge surprise that Rooney and Albuquerque boxing legend Johnny Tapia were close friends.
According to a June 1996 story in the Journal, the two men met that February when Tapia fought Giovanni Andrade at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. Jerry Buss, who owned the Forum at the time, introduced the two.
There was another, closer connection. Bob Case, Rooney’s agent at the time, had been Tapia’s sponsor in drug rehab.
“We quickly became very dear and good friends,” Rooney told the Journal in ‘ 96. “I’m sort of (Tapia’s) surrogate father.
“He’s family to me. We’re very close. I’m his buddy and confidant.”
Rooney stayed in touch, Teresa Tapia said, throughout the years.
“It was customary to receive a card from Mickey and Jan (Rooney’s wife) every holiday,” Teresa, Tapia’s widow, said via email. “… He also sent condolences at the time of Johnny’s passing.”
Tapia died from heart disease at age 45 in May 2012.
Teresa Tapia said she’s planning to stage a boxing card this spring, on or close to the anniversary of her husband’s death.
GOLDEN GLOVES: Last year in Denver, Colorado’s Golden Gloves amateur state champions gave New Mexico a boxing lesson. Only two New Mexicans, 114-pounder Matthew Griego and 152-pounder Brian Mendoza, managed to beat Colorado opponents in a regional qualifier for Golden Gloves nationals.
The task promises to be no easier this year.
Saturday at Mountain View Community Center, New Mexico state champions will face their Colorado counterparts. The winners will form a Colorado-New Mexico team at nationals, scheduled for May 12-17 in Las Vegas, Nev.
The Colorado team, once again, is loaded. Two of its members, 165-pounder Marquis Moore and 178-pounder Steven Nelson, are defending Golden Gloves national champions.
And this a relatively inexperienced New Mexico team. Neither Griego nor Mendoza is back to defend his regional title.
Even so, Albuquerque’s John Van Sickler, director of operations for the Golden Gloves national organization, likes the team New Mexico is sending to the ring Saturday.
Mario Gonzales of Hobbs (132 pounds) and Las Cruces’ Edwin Acosta (141) performed well at the recent New Mexico state tournament, Van Sickler said. Albuquerque’s Angelo Valencia, last year’s 108-pound state champion, won this year at 114.
Rio Rancho’s Bryant McClain, New Mexico’s 178-pound champion, is the son of former professional boxer Sean McClain. The elder McClain had a 23-8-1 pro record with 21 knockouts.
Van Sickler said he’s interested to see how New Mexico 201-pounder Leonid Grachev of Roswell fares against Colorado’s De’Rae Crane, a 28-year old U.S. Army officer who is among the most experienced amateur boxers in the nation. Crane won a Golden Gloves national title at 178 pounds in 2004.
One New Mexico boxer, heavyweight Zayn Bin-Bilal, already is assured a berth in nationals. Colorado is not sending a heavyweight to Albuquerque. Bin-Bilal is a former UNM offensive lineman (2007-10).
Van Sicker is hoping his predominantly young team will benefit from fighting on its home turf.
“Colorado beat us up (in 2013),” Van Sickler said. “I’m hoping that’s gonna change this year.”