LAS CRUCES — A lifetime in boxing was the farthest thing from Teresa Tapia’s mind when she moved back to Albuquerque from California as a teenager.
After moving from Albuquerque at 10 years old, Teresa Tapia returned to her hometown following her father’s death.
She met New Mexico boxing legend Johnny Tapia, who was 24 at the time, at a party at the age of 19, and the couple was married two weeks later.
“I was working as an insurance agent, but my goal in life was to become a Russian interpreter,” said Teresa Tapia, who is now in her 40s. “That was my dream … and I got derailed.”
The couple spent the next 20 years riding the ups and downs of her husband’s Hall of Fame boxing career, as well as the struggles of his drug addiction out of the ring.
Johnny Tapia passed away in 2012 at the age of 45 due to heart disease.
Teresa Tapia has since transitioned from wanting to translate a foreign language to breaking down gender walls as a boxing promoter and manager, starting with her late husband. She is involved in the promotion of this weekend’s “First Annual Johnny Tapia Boxing Invitational” at Vado Speedway Park.
“Me and Johnny looked at each other and kind of laughed,” Teresa Tapia said. “As a woman back then, you couldn’t even go to training camp or watch them train and you want me to manage him?
“Everyone in boxing kind of tried to bully me. They knew I wasn’t going anywhere and they knew what I had in Johnny and if you wanted to deal with him, then you had to learn that you had to deal with me.”
‘We learned everything together’
Following a reported split with former manager Paul Chavez, Teresa Tapia’s first involvement in boxing as a manager was a 1995 fight against Jesse Miranda at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Teresa Tapia said the pair moved to Big Bear, California, to train.
“Everything was in question with his career because they didn’t want him in New Mexico and was facing a huge felony,” Teresa Tapia said.
At the time of her husband’s passing in 2012, Teresa Tapia said she was managing as many as 20 fighters.
Teresa Tapia moved to the promotional side later in Johnny Tapia’s career, promoting his last three fights in 2010 and 2011.
“Little did we know we could have been doing this all along and we did it,” she said. “We learned everything together but I think that is one of the proudest things for me.”
A life in boxing became like breathing
The career of a five-time champion with a career spanning from 1988 to 2011 was highlighted by two bouts, Teresa Tapia said.
The first was when Tapia won his first world title in 1994, the WBO super flyweight belt against Henry Martinez.
The second was for the pride of New Mexico against Danny Romero in 1997 in a unification title fight in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“When Johnny had made his comeback, everything was about Romero at that time and people right away were sizing them up,” Teresa Tapia said. “Danny hated the fact they had to share the limelight, but what he didn’t understand was that Johnny had already been there and done that.
“Johnny was 20-0. He wasn’t some newbie. He was 20-0 and was kicked out of boxing.”
Johnny Tapia defeated Romero by unanimous decision to add Romero’s IBF super fly belt.
The two New Mexico legends were inducted in the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame together in 2013 along with Holly Holm, Bob Foster and Las Cruces boxer Austin Trout.
“I actually managed Danny Romero at one time,” Teresa Tapia said. “I got him a shot at the NABO title and was in line for the WBO title. I had him fighting on Johnny’s cards. Things kind of healed for awhile.”
Teresa Tapia said her first hand in promoting a fight was assisting promoter Frank Warren prior to Johnny Tapia’s 2000 fight at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces against Pedro Javier Torres.
“(Warren) was in the United Kingdom and because he was out there, he kind of just called me up, gave me a budget, sent me money and said go book stuff,” Teresa Tapia said. “I started booking hotels and sponsorships. That was probably my first crack at it.”
Teresa Tapia said during every three-month promotion, she questions her choice to remain in the sport of boxing. But after each show comes off, the satisfaction of successfully promoting a fight card prompts her to move to the next one.
“It just became a part of my life,” she said. “It was like breathing and I just got used to it.”
Keeping Johnny Tapia’s legacy alive
Trout has fought in the area twice, including a 2009 fight at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces.
But professional fights in the area are few and far between. There is no better name to bring the sport back to fight fans than Tapia.
“She is still active and keeping boxing alive in New Mexico,” said Trout, a former 154-pound world champion. “Johnny was always New Mexico boxing and now Teresa is carrying that mantle. Anything that she wants me to be a part of, I’m happy to do it because the Tapia family means New Mexico boxing.”
Vado Speedway owner Royal Jones said this weekend’s fight card is a trial run to bring additional events to the raceway.
Jones said Teresa Tapia approached him about using the speedway for a boxing show.
“She has a big name in boxing and she knows everybody and she knows how to get people to come,” Jones said. “She is very honest and up front and tells you exactly how it’s going to be.”
Placing Johnny Tapia’s name on the event is a way to keep his name fresh in the mind of boxing fans and future boxing fans.
“I have kids with Johnny and for us, it’s about carrying on his legacy,” Teresa Tapia said. “You put his name on there. So people right away start telling you stories. That is what it’s about. We don’t want him to ever be forgotten.”