Continuing our introduction of new staff members here at Bad Left Hook, Matt Mosley (formerly known as Matt (Yorkshire) on the site) takes a look at Johnny Tapia's book Mi Vida Loca: The Crazy Life of Johnny Tapia.
* * * * *
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.
But I have lived and had it all.
I have been wealthy and lost it all.
I have been famous and infamous.
Five times I was world champion.
You tell me. Am I lucky or unlucky?
And so starts the story of Johnny Tapia. A fan favourite with most and an inspirational figure to many.
This book is shocking and inspiring in equal measure and, to be honest, quite depressing in parts. Don't let that put you off though, as this is an extremely rewarding read.
I'm sure you would be hard pressed to find a man who has been to the heights he has and yet has sunk as low. The thought that stuck with me more than anything after reading this book was how lucky most of us are to have relatively normal lives and loving families around us.
In between losing his mother and meeting his extraordinary wife, Johnny never really had that.
From the very first page Johnny talks of the love he has for his deceased mother. She meant more than anything in the world to him and yet was brutally taken away from him when he was only a child. Worse still, he actually saw it happen from his front porch in the middle of the night, her struggling on the back of someone's pick-up truck, chained up and fighting for her life.
He was eight years old when that happened.
As a sign of just how hard Tapia's family life was and how harsh his grandad and uncles were towards him, for some reason they never let him attend his own mother's funeral, no matter how much he begged.
He never got to say goodbye or see her laid to rest.
* * * * *
You get the distinct impression from reading the book that Johnny's own family have been some of his worst enemies in life, and yet he still talks about how much he loves them.
Not long before his mother's death a young Johnny had been on a bus trip from his Albuquerque, New Mexico local youth centre to Los Alamos. He and his coach party went hiking in the mountains. He's sat next to a pregnant woman on the bus and becomes friendly with her and the other people on the trip. He's having a great time.
On the way home the bus is winding down the mountainside when suddenly they hit a rock and head 80 feet over the edge. People are flying through the air and Johnny gets knocked out by the door pole as the bus hits a tree.
At the same time the pregnant woman goes flying past Johnny, through the front window, hits the tree before the bus does. The bus then hits her, killing the woman.
Johnny says he should have died along with the woman and that he was lucky. Turns out the bus driver had been drinking.
As a seven year old he's terrified in the ambulance on the way from the scene, and in the hospital.
The parents of all the other kids who are in the hospital after the accident come to see their kids and comfort them.
Not Johnny's. No one comes to see him. Not even his mother. He doesn't know if they even know where he is.
All alone overnight, he's scared to death:
"Hurts me worse than my head. Hurts more than anything else I ever remember," he says.
* * * * *
Tapia starts boxing at age nine through his grandad who takes him to his local boxing club to use up some of his boundless energy and after hearing from Johnny's uncles about his success in street fights.
The beatings he has taken from his grandad and uncles as a kid mean he's used to pain. They abused him both physically and mentally.
Tapia excels in the boxing ring and builds a 150-12(65) record as an amateur. He turns pro at 21 in March 1988 and draws his first fight with Efren Chavez over four rounds. He wins his next twenty nine fights, picks up the vacant WBO super flyweight title along the way, beating Henry Martinez by TKO, and then draws with Ricardo Vargas in his second defence of the belt.
He makes ten defences of the WBO belt before unifying by beating Danny Romero on points (UD) for the IBF strap.
He moves up in weight and wins the WBA bantamweight title from Ghanaian Nana Konadu before losing for the first time in his career to Paulie Ayala in his first defence of the belt. The Ayala fight was a great one and quite controversial. It is one of my personal favourites, and the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year for 1999.
But there's something else: Tapia tells us he had been in a deep depression and was suicidal after finding out who had killed his mother only days before fighting Ayala.
* * * * *
Johnny Tapia continues to fight to this day, at 44 years old and 23 years into his career. The ring seems to be one of the few places where he can find happiness in his life.
This book, for me, is more about Johnny Tapia‘s life outside the ropes than what went on in the ring, though you get a good insight into both.
Most will have heard about his frequent drug escapades, overdosing and then being brought back to life on numerous occasions, etc, but when you read about all the things that this man has had to endure, you kind of understand why and how his life has turned out the way it has.
The drugs were often used to combat the depression he felt from, among other things, losing his mother in such horrible circumstances and never getting to say goodbye.
At times in the book I did sometimes think that, as he got older and became a man, he didn't help himself at times by hanging around with the wrong people and that his wife Teresa deserves a massive amount of credit for sticking with him when most women would have walked out.
She really is like his guardian angel and the one person he can count on when everything else seems to be against him.
He owes her a lot, and he knows it.
I always liked Johnny Tapia the boxer, and from reading this book I like him even more as a man.
He truly is an inspiration and if you are ever feeling a bit down about the little things in life that get us all down, reading this book makes you realise that often it really isn't that big a deal.
Book Rating: 8.5/10