Five-time world boxing champion Johnny Tapia was found death on Sunday (May 27) at this Albuquerque, NM home. He was just 45.
According to reports, police say a family member came home and found his body, and called. Further details were unknown.
As of press time, foul play is not suspected. Police spokesman Officer Robert Gibbs says an autopsy and toxicology tests will be carried out.
If you were unfamiliar with Tapia’s life, he had one rough upbringing. There’s an 89-word passage from his 2010 autobiography, Mi Vida Loca, that probably best sums up the hardships of the troubled man, who battled drug and alcohol addition, depression and run-ins with the law on a regular basis.
“My name is Johnny Lee Tapia. I was born on Friday the 13th. A Friday in February of 1967. To this day I don’t know if that makes me lucky or unlucky. When I was eight I saw my mother murdered. I never knew my father. He was murdered before I was born. I was raised as a pit bull. Raised to fight to the death. Four times I was declared dead. Four times they wanted to pull life support. And many more times I came close to dying.”
Relatives raised him and he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who had himself been a boxer.
At the age of 9, Tapia’s boxing career started. By 11, he had his first amateur fight, and in 1988, he began is professional career, which was interrupted by bouts with substance abuse outside the ring, followed by treatment in rehab centers.
In 1990, after landing $1 million commercial for Pepsi, and winning his first 22 professional fights, he was suspended from boxing after he “tested dirty” to three drug tests. He lost his boxing license, and his wife/manager, Teresa Tapia, helped him get clean and make a comeback.
“That’s when I met him,” she said. “He was at his lowest, he was living on the streets. He did everything illegal that he could to make money. That was his life.”
With the help of Teresa, he would eventually return to the ring … after three and a half years away. Tapia would win five fights before defeating Henry Martinez to win the world super flyweight title (115-pound limit). After going undefeated after 18 more bouts, he beat Nana Konadu to win the bantamweight title (118 pounds) and become a two-division world champion.
In his first defeat, Tapia lost the bantamweight crown to Paulie Avala in June 1999 in what The Ring magazine called the “fight of the year.” He narrowly defeated Manuel Medina in 2002 to win the featherweight (126 pounds) title.
Mike Tyson called Tapia one of the greatest fighters ever. He won 59 fights, 30 by knockout; lost 5; and drew 2. He was knocked out only once.
He last fought in June 2011, winning a unanimous decision over Mauricio Pastrana.
Tapia is survived by his wife Teresa, and their two children.