Police: Boxing legend Johnny Tapia dead at 45

Posted at: 05/27/2012 9:31 PM
Updated at: 05/28/2012 9:23 AM
By: Tracy Dingmann, KOB.com

Johnny Tapia
Johnny Tapia

Albuquerque Police tell KOB that boxing legend Johnny Tapia has been found dead inside his Albuquerque home.

He was 45.

Police tell us a a family member came home Sunday and found Tapia dead inside the house on the city's northwest side.

Police tell us they don't know how Tapia died, but say they don't suspect foul play.

Former sportswriter and longtime Tapia friend Dennis Latta told KOB on Sunday that the Tapia's family is" just distraught."

"He's come so close so often to death, so it's hard to believe that it's finally happened," Latta told KOB.

"I remember in Vegas one time he was in a coma for days and they didn't think he was going to make it, he was in critical condition. To realize that now he's gone, it's really a surprise, I thought he was just invulnerable, it was water off a duck's back every time he came close to death."

For most of his life, the five-time boxing champ kept Albuquerque spellbound with his spirited and gutsy performances in the ring.

But Tapia's story couldn't be told without mentioning his hard-luck upbringing in Albuquerque's Wells Park neighborhood and his struggles with drugs, his suicide attempts and his frequent arrests.

Tapia began his amateur career in the 80's and was the National Golden Gloves light flyweight champion in 1983 and the National Golden Gloves flyweight champion in 1985.

He began his professional career in March of 1988.

Tapia won eight fights that year, five by knockout, of which four were in the first round. In 1989, he won seven more fights.

In 1990, Tapia won seven bouts and captured the United States Junior Bantamweight title. However, later that year he was suspended from boxing after testing positive for cocaine.

He returned to boxing in 1994 and gained a string of wins.

However, later that year he faced an embarrassing arrest when Albuquerque Police claimed they found cocaine in a bag he was carrying.

Tapia claimed what the police found was only a soap bar, and the charges were eventually dropped.

Tapia was also known for his contentious rivalry with fellow Albuquerque-bred boxer Danny Romero. The two faced off in a highly-publicized bout in 1997, which Tapia won by decision.

Away from the ring, Tapia's personal life was dramatic and often sad.

His father was reportedly murdered before he was born, and his mother was murdered when he was a small child. He was raised by his grandparents and struggled with addiction and depression throughout his life.

His first known suicide attempt came in 1999, when he attempted to overdose on drugs after a loss in the ring. Tapia also overdosed on drugs in 2007 and came very close to death.

He was arrested many times for drug possession, with the last one coming in 2009, when he was taken into custody in Albuquerque for a violation of parole related to cocaine use.

Tapia's last fight was in 2011 at the Hard Rock Casino near Albuquerque.

Stay with KOB Eyewitness News for more on this developing story.
>Johnny Tapia's professional boxing record