SANTA FE – The lights shone bright again for Johnny Tapia at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
The late world boxing champion, who won five titles in three weight classes, was celebrated with the documentary “Tapia.”
The sold-out screening at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival was the New Mexico premiere of the documentary. It will air on Showtime early next year.
Tapia’s father, Jerry Padilla Sr., arrived early in his 1957 Chevy Bel-Air and showed off the mural on the trunk, which features a portrait of Tapia.
Padilla said he was looking forward to finally seeing the film premiere in New Mexico.
“Johnny was a New Mexican all the way,” he said. “He loved New Mexico and Albuquerque. He would be very proud of this film.”
The documentary was directed and completed just after Tapia’s death in May 2012 of heart disease. Its profile is on the rise thanks to rapper, actor and producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who acquired the rights to the documentary along with promoter Lou DiBella.
“Tapia” chronicles the Albuquerque boxer’s very public struggle with drug addiction and the perpetual trauma caused by the brutal rape and murder of his mother when he was 8 years old. Her death became the catalyst for both his unprecedented boxing career as well as his volatile drug addiction.
It also features interviews with Mike Tyson, trainer Freddie Roach and Tapia’s widow Teresa.
“I saw the film when it premiered in Los Angeles, and it brought tears to my eyes. Johnny had a feeling that something bad was going to happen while the documentary was being made,” Padilla said. “It was harder for Teresa to watch, and the film brings out a lot of fond memories for all of us.”
Jacques Paisner, co-founder of the festival, was thrilled that the screening sold out Wednesday.
“This is a Chicano film, and we have a diverse audience for this one,” Paisner said. “This type of documentary shows how independent film is bringing in a new audience. Plus, there’s not many stories that scream New Mexico like Johnny Tapia does.”
Though the screening was sold out, it didn’t stop Santa Fe resident Frank Baca from participating in the excitement.
Baca wasn’t able to buy a ticket in time, but arrived at the Lensic to purchase T-shirts and stickers with Tapia’s image emblazoned on them.
“His personality is what drew me to liking him,” Baca said. “He was an amazing fighter and lived la vida loca.”
Padilla said he’s looking forward to seeing how a wider audience will react to the documentary.
“There’s part of the film that a lot of people have never seen,” he said. “I’m sure Johnny is smiling down on us right now and celebrating with us.”