Some 30 years ago, when Albuquerque boxing legend Johnny Tapia’s pro career was just beginning, a well-meaning (we suppose) promoter or publicist tried to nickname him “Tap Tap.”
No way, said Tapia, not desiring a nickname that might be construed as a commentary on his punching power.
On Nov. 20, when the late Tapia’s longtime friend Marco Antonio Barrera (age 47) steps into a boxing ring with Mexican countryman Daniel Ponce de Leon (41) at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, the two former world champions won’t exactly be throwing bombs at each other.
The bout is billed as an exhibition, after all. They’ll be wearing extra-padded 16-ounce gloves.
Still, both men said during a news conference in Albuquerque on Tuesday, they won’t be exchanging love taps, either.
“It’s two Mexicans in the ring,” Barrera said. “… The Mexican is a warrior.
“I’m ready because maybe it’s a true fight. Ponce de Leon is a warrior.”
The Barrera-Ponce de Leon bout is the headliner of a card promoted by Teresa Tapia, Johnny Tapia’s widow, at the resort in Mescalero. Also scheduled are bouts featuring Albuquerque welterweight Josh Torres (23-7-2, 14 KOs) and unbeaten (30-0, 23-0 KOs) El Paso featherweight Abel Mendoza.
Barrera (67-7, 44 KOs) was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, together with Tapia. The two men fought each other in 2002, Barrera winning by unanimous decision, but they go back further than that.
In February 1996, Barrera, then undefeated, was matched against 1988 Olympic gold medalist Kennedy McKinney at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. Tapia was on the undercard, matched against Brazil’s Giovanni Andrade.
At the pre-fight news conference, Barrera recalled, McKinney was talking trash. Barrera was ready to throw down then and there. But, he said, “Johnny said, ‘No, primo (cousin), no. Take it easy.'”
Though Barrera and Tapia aren’t related by blood, they do share a name – and, once upon a time, a nickname.
The young Tapia rejected “Tap Tap,” in part, because he already had a nickname: “The Baby-Faced Assassin.” Later, in response to events in his life and to advancing age, he became “Mi Vida Loca.”
It then was left to Barrera to keep “The Baby-Faced Assassin” alive. His mother’s maiden name, after all, is Tapia.
“He’s Tapia,” Barrera said. “Me too, Barrera Tapia.”
Barrera throughout his career has worn trunks with “Tapia” sewn on the back. He’ll do so again on Nov. 20.
Thus, when Teresa Tapia called and asked if he’d honor his late friend with an exhibition bout, Barrera did not hesitate.Nor did Ponce de Leon (45-7, 35 KOs), not a Hall of Famer but with a Hall of Fame résumé, a two-time world champion.
He won’t be out to hurt Barrera on Nov. 20, Ponce de Leon said, nor does he expect to be hurt. Even so, he’ll seek to outperform a man for whom he has boundless respect.
“For my part, I’m serious,” he said. “I’m going to do my best.”
Ponce de Leon also is eager to show the New Mexico boxing fans a little of what they missed if they never had the opportunity to see him or Barrera in their prime.
“The boxers of the past, their style, their technique, was different than (today),” he said. “… It’s going to be a good fight and a good exhibition for all the people of New Mexico.”
THE UNDERCARD: Teresa Tapia had hoped to match Torres with Albuquerque MMA legend Diego Sanchez, but Sanchez chose instead to pursue opportunities in bare-knuckle fighting.
Torres’ opponent is to be determined, but he said on Tuesday he’ll be ready for whomever and whatever comes.
“I’ve never been in a boring fight,” he said, “and I don’t plan to anytime soon.”