Five-time world champion boxer Johnny Tapia, who fought opponents inside and outside the ring, was found dead Sunday, Albuquerque Police report.
Police told KOB Eyewitness News that authorities were called to the house at about 7:45 p.m. after a family member came home Sunday and found the 45-year-old boxing legend dead inside his Albuquerque home.
Police spokesman Robert Gibbs says authorities don't know how Tapia died, but say they don't suspect foul play. Gibbs said an autopsy will be performed in the next few days.
Tapia won five championships in three weight classes, winning the WBA bantamweight title, the IBF and WBO junior bantamweight titles and the IBF featherweight belt, ESPN writes.
In a 1990s-era feud with fellow Albuquerque boxer and former world champion Danny Romero, Tapia's fans anointed him with the slang Spanish title of "Burque's Best."
KOB-TV reports Tapia's last fight was in 2011 at the Hard Rock Casino near Albuquerque, outpointing Mauricio Pastrana in an eight-round decision. He finished with a 59-5-2 record.
Boxing outside the ring
Tapia may have begun 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. And Tapia may have begun his professional career in March of 1988, winning eight fights that year, five by knockout, of which four were in the first round. But his real boxing career, in earnest, began the day he was born.
As KOB-TV notes, Tapia's story of cocaine addiction, alcohol, bipolar depression, suicide attempts, and frequent arrests couldn't be told without mentioning the demons he said he was trying to silence from a childhood that reads like the most tragic fiction.
Father alive from the dead
It was in his 2006 autobiography, Mi Vida Loca: The Crazy Life of Johnny Tapia he explained that his five world titles matched the number of times he had been declared clinically dead - each occasion due to a drug overdose.
Tapia was banned from boxing for 3½ years in the early '90s because of his cocaine addiction, ESPN writes. But he knocked out Henry Martinez to win the WBO bantamweight title in 1994, and won four more championships over the next eight years.
He told Boxing Monthly that he would usually (but not always) manage to stay clean through training camp and fight night. It was immediately after his fights that the battle for his soul would begin to rage.
“It’s the silence,” he said. " The training is over, the focus is ended, and all my demons are calling me.”
Part of the pain he said he was trying to numb was not having a father. He was told that his father was murdered before he was born.
"Forty-three years of crying, saying my father was dead. And they said my father took off and just left. I had a lot of different situations when they said I never had a father," Tapia explained.
But in 2010, the star learned through genetic testing that Jerry Padilla, a man he's known his entire life, was actually his birth father. In other words, Tapia found out his father was never dead.
Tapia told Eyewitness News 4 that the 63-year-old man approached him and said, "I was with your mother in 1966.' And I said, what? You know, he got my attention really quick," Tapia said.
I haven’t known if I should live or die
But majority of his pain, resulted from losing his mother. He writes:
“I lost my mother too soon. She was taken from me. Robbed from me. Murdered. Murdered in the worst way you can imagine."
“The night she died, I saw her taken away. I was eight years old, pounding on the windowpane, yelling for help, but nobody believed what I saw. There was nothing I could do. And so she died.
He told Sports Illustrated in 2002 what he saw:
He doesn't know if it was the headlights or the sound of her screaming that woke him, but what Johnny Tapia does know is what he saw from his room—his mother, bound by chains, in the back of a pickup truck driving past the house. The eight-year-old boy, who never knew his father, was about to lose his mother.
Police in Albuquerque say that Virginia Tapia died on May 28, 1975, five days after leaving a bar with a man—never apprehended—who would stab her 26 times with scissors and a screwdriver, nearly sever one of her breasts and dump her body in a gravel pit.
Told his father was shot dead when his mother was pregnant with him, now orphaned, Tapia was brought up in poverty by uncles who sold him into illegal prize fights.
According to the Daily Mail, he survived a bus crash which killed the woman sitting next to him, escaped a drive-by shooting and almost drowned trying to swim the Rio Grande for a bet - although he could not swim.
He adds: “And I’ve been blue ever since. And ever since, I haven’t known if I should live or die. That’s the honest truth. That’s the only way I can say it. As long as my mother’s in heaven, there’s a calling for me to go.”
Survivor guilt has overwhelmed Tapia, Boxing Monthly writes. As a result, when "he's using drugs and drinking, I don't think of it," he said.
I killed them both
He also felt responsible for the deaths of his brother in law and nephew. In 2007, when he was hospitalized after a cocaine overdose, the next day, his brother-in-law, Robert (Gordy) Gutierrez, 39, and Tapias' nephew Ben Garcia, 23, were killed in car accident while rushing to his bedside.
Teresa Tapia told SI that Johnny should be the one who's dead, and that he's to blame. "I hated him," she says. "I wished it was Johnny because my brother wanted to live and be a father and a part of our lives, where Johnny had always wanted to go, to die. I felt a lot of anger and resentment and guilt—and still do. If I would've been a stronger person or colder and didn't care what happened to Johnny, I would've left him years ago. Then my brother would be here."
"It's my fault," Tapia agreed. "I killed them both."
Marriage forged in hell
"Welcome to the marriage forged in hell," SI writes in 2008. On Teresa's wedding night, she came upon her new husband plunging a needle into his arm. He took the wedding cash, then dumped her in a seedy hotel. The next morning, Teresa says, "they had to jump-start his heart, resuscitate him; he was dead in my car. It was all downhill after that."
One more screwup and we're done, SI reported. She says she'd already be gone were it not for her husband's ultimate snare.
"If she left, I'd end my world," Johnny says. "In a heartbeat."