Gone but unforgettable, Albuquerque boxing legends Johnny Tapia and Bob Foster are being remembered in separate, yet similar and special ways this week.
Teresa Tapia, the late five-time world champion’s widow, is staging the grand opening on Sunday of a multi-use facility, “Tapiaville,” at 3094 San Mateo NE.
And Ben Wilson, an Albuquerque attorney and a longtime friend of Foster, the late world light heavyweight champion, has added an artistic touch to his ever-expanding Bob Foster Boxing Museum.
For years before his death in May 2012 at age 45, Johnny Tapia had a gym on San Mateo, a few blocks south of the new site, as he transitioned from boxer to trainer. After his death from heart disease, Teresa Tapia said in an interview at the new facility, “it was too hard” going back to the old gym.
“I couldn’t go back there constantly, too many reminders,” she said. “So I got away from it. Now a couple of years later, here we are again. (Actually) 10 years later.”
Two of the couple’s sons, Lorenzo and Nicco, have taken up the sport as amateurs. Teresa Tapia initially wanted to establish a place for them to train, but then took the project and expanded it dramatically.
In addition to a boxing ring, punching bags, etc., the multi-room facility is planned to include office space, a massage room, a podcast room, a medical facility and a barber shop.
Barber shop? Teresa Tapia said Johnny and her late brother, Robert “Gordy” Gutierrez, a close friend of her husband’s, had talked of having a barber shop where “they could sit around, talk and gossip with all the guys. So I’m putting it in for them.”
For Teresa Tapia, the medical facility is particularly important.
“Another thing Johnny had problems with when he was a fighter, which most people do, is they can’t get Medicaid and then no one will insure them. So what can they do? They’re stuck.
“… We just decided to have a medical side, so we can fit it in the budget so they can get proper medical care as well.”
This is a business venture as well as a memorial to Johnny Tapia. Boxing instruction and fitness training, Teresa Tapia said, are intended to pay the bills.
Sunday’s grand opening is scheduled to include a car show, food vendors, a Mariachi band and a “jumper,’ a kids’ mini-playground.
The grand opening is also a fund-raiser, she said, with some of the proceeds earmarked for Las Vegas, New Mexico residents affected by a recent wildfire.
For Wilson, the Foster Museum is both a labor of love and a work in progress. He’s been collecting Foster memorabilia since long before the legendary boxer’s death in 2015 at age 76.
Initially, Wilson said, the trove was housed in his law office and that of attorney Tim Padilla, a colleague and professional neighbor.
Since then, Wilson has moved the collection to his home.
“I have a little, what you might call, a bonus room in my backyard,” he said. “That’s where the museum is, such as it is. I don’t want to build it up too much.”
Nonetheless, Wilson believes his collection is well worth seeing for not just Foster fans, not just for New Mexico boxing fans, but for boxing fans in general.
“It’s pretty much all original stuff that I bought off eBay,” he said. “… Newspapers, posters, tickets, magazines. Probably 95 percent of it has been autographed by Bob.”
He asked that anyone interested in seeing the collection contact him on Facebook.
Wilson also has acquired collectibles featuring other New Mexico boxers – Tapia, world champion Danny Romero and others.
The latest addition is a door design created by Albuquerque artist Al Torres – father and trainer of popular welterweight boxer Josh Torres.
“The inside of the door we just painted blank yellow,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have fighters come out, hopefully, to just see the museum, pay their respects a little bit and sign that door.”
Of Foster’s legacy, he said, “I just wanted to keep the flame going.”