A Tribute to Johnny Tapia

By Austin Killeen

Joe Chavez & Arthur Bueno

Albuquerque’s native son Johnny Tapia (59-5-2, 30 KO’s) was a gift to the “Duke City.” Mi Vida Loca” spun a web of magic from 1988 to 2011, leaving little doubt he was a very special talent. He was a true boxer/puncher who could dominate a contest either inside or at long distance. On Saturday at the Civic Plaza in the Heart of Downtown Albuquerque, an amateur boxing card will honor the late great Tapia. No admission will be charged. Approximately twenty-three bouts, involving boxers from four states, have been scheduled to take place from 1 pm to 5 pm that afternoon. Joe Chavez is the promoter for the card and Arthur Bueno is the matchmaker. I was fortunate to have known Johnny Tapia myself, but only briefly. When we were introduced, he treated me like I was royalty. The next time we met he came up behind me, calling me by name. I couldn’t believe he remembered who I was. He had a way of making you feel special. However “The Land of Enchantment” is populated with individuals who have loving, funny and personal memories of this great champion. So why not reach out to them and pan for  gold.

Pat Holmes & friend

Pat Holmes, Promoter, Manager: “We were playing basketball three on three. Johnny’s teammates were Freddie Roach and Brian Garcia against me, Steven Tapia and Johnny’s brother-in-law. Johnny was very competitive in anything he did, this game was no different. He was all over Freddie Roach about not catching his passes. He was trash talking our team before the game even started. But once the game was over, he was a very nice person. Our basketball game took place after Johnny had trained for four hours in preparation for a fight. He was very competitive even if you were playing a game of checkers. But once the competition was over he was a kind, loving person who put his friends first.”


Chris Linson

Chris Linson, Professional Boxer: “I remember Johnny as a little boy; he was quite a bit younger than me. He probably weighed less than 90 pounds. He was fighting some pretty tough guys around Albuquerque and Santa Fe. When you have good competition, sparring and training and combine it with God given talent you have a top fighter. He use to fight tough guys like Roy Molina and Conrad Mays, with that type of competition it made him a great fighter. He learned to push himself to the limit, starting as a youngster. He came out of Wells Park, fighting for that team against the Police Athletic League, which I fought for. He mostly controlled the lower weights and I felt sorry for the other guys because they couldn’t beat him. They were great fighters and could beat just about everybody else. Funny thing is his grandfather and my wife’s grandfather were brothers, which I didn’t even know for years. I just enjoyed knowing him and think boxing kept him safe for many years.”

Lenny Fresquez

Lenny Fresquez, Promoter: “I met Johnny when he was in the 7th grade at Welles Park, which is appropriate that his sculpture would be displayed there.  He was just a young kid wanting to play with the big boys; shooting the basketball from half-court. I had the privilege to promote several of his fights. Johnny will go down in history as the best male fighter to come out of New Mexico.”



Rick Wright

Rick Wright, Journalist: “I was in Phoenix, Arizona with Johnny for an NABF Title Fight when he said, you know Rick, like Rodney King, I have a dream. I spit out my coffee when Johnny realized he meant to say Martin Luther King. Johnny was laughing out loud himself. The other story took place before he fought Nana Yaw Konadu in Atlantic City. He was living and training in Ruidoso, New Mexico and his wife Teresa asked me if I would like to stay for dinner. It was dark outside and I had to drive two and a half hours to Albuquerque; so I declined. When I got to my house the phone rang, it was Johnny, wanting to make sure I got home safe. That was the kind of person he was; always thinking about the welfare of others first.”


Ester Lopez, Boxing Judge: “Years ago I was Chief of Officials for Boxing (that would make Ester twelve years old at the time) and Johnny had a team of fighters. This was after his pro career was over. We were at a show in Farmington and this was the first time he had been working a corner. My responsibility was to be sure he was registered with USA Boxing. I said Johnny you can’t be in the corner because you’re not registered. He was cute about it and tried to talk me out of enforcing the rules. He was a hoot, he begged me, and he was the cutest thing. He got on one knee, he was hilarious. I said I love you Johnny Tapia, I love your fighters and their welcome to be in the ring as long as they’re registered. But you can’t be in the corner. He said ‘ok Miss’ and he walked away with his head hanging down. But what he did was pretty smart, he went and sat two rows behind the corner and gave instructions. At the end of the show I said you understand I’m not being mean, I just have to follow the rules because of liability. Of course he was forgivable, hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek.”

Anthony Aragon

Anthony Aragon, Boxer, Patron: “I have known Johnny Tapia since the year of 1982. He used to come and watch me workout and spar at Joe Louis Murphy’s Gym up on Bridge Street. We’ve always been friends, never been competitive in anyway, manner or fashion. We’ve always respected each other as fighters and as men. I’ve had personal experiences with Johnny as a friend. We’ve helped each other through thick and thin. We always had an agreement should we ever fight in any way, manner or fashion that we always would remain friends. What he taught me ‘anytime we disagree in the ring or in a sparring match he’d come up to me and say I love you monk and I always will.’ What he taught me is what I’m trying to do in today’s boxing for our youth and our amateur and professional sports in the state of New Mexico. I’ll never forget him, I’ll always love him and I’ll always be with him.”

Jacob Maes

Jacob Maes, Manager: “It was the last time I really spent some quality time with him. We were out in LA and they were working on a documentary on Johnny. We were in a trailer on the studio lot and Johnny comes in with a camera, bigger than life and starts interviewing everybody. He was going to be a commentator on Showtime the following week and wanted the practice. He was going around the whole room interviewing everybody, making everyone laugh. He was the life of the party, only it wasn’t a party. He just touched hearts everywhere he went. It was an honor to be part of that day with him and share that moment. One other thing I want to add that has nothing to do with the story I just told. Whenever he saw young kids he always told them to stay away from drugs and honor their God. I miss him very much.”

Rocky Burke

Rocky Burke: Referee, Professional Boxer: “I walked into the fighter’s dressing room to go over the rules and what I expect of the boxers that evening. Johnny Tapia jumps off the table and gives me a big hug while asking how’s my mother doing. The other boxers are all staring at us, wondering what the hell’s going on. I whisper to Johnny, you’re embarrassing both of us; you got to sit down and cool it. That was vintage Johnny, unfiltered. He was a great person who went out of his way to make everyone feel special.”



Doris Robinson with her husband and granddaughter

Doris Robinson, Lenny Fresquez’s Girl Friday: “We were promoting what was supposed to be Johnny’s retirement fight. I made the mistake of bringing his opponent from Florida without his blood work done. We had planned to do it here. Unfortunately, Johnny’s opponent’s blood work failed and I had to find another opponent. I called everyone I knew and even people I didn’t know to find a suitable opponent to no avail. Al Garcia (the trainer from El Paso) had a fighter on our card and brought several fighters with him, luckily for me. We asked two of the fighters he brought if they’d fight Johnny and realizing the privilege it was, they both accepted. Johnny picked the one he wanted and the fight went on. We were literally signing contracts at the venue on fight night. The fight was entertaining and went the ten rounds. I thanked my lucky stars that night that we were able to put on a show that the fight fans appreciated.”


Joaquin Zamora

Joaquin Zamora, Professional Boxer: “I was a supervisor at the city (Santa Fe) and Johnny called me. How’s it going Carnalito? (Carnalito means Little Brother, of the same flesh in Spanish, it’s kind of an affectionate word you’d call one of your close friends and family.) I replied ‘I’m in a meeting with one of my workers’ who I referred to as a Mono. (In Spanish, Mono has multiple meanings. It could mean little figure like a toy solder or someone who’s a chump. So Johnny jokingly replies, ‘Want me to knock him out for you? I’ll do it for a Dr Pepper.’ I’m a half of foot taller than Johnny, but he thinks he’s looking out for his little brother.”


Jerry Martinez, Professional Boxer: “I met Johnny at the PAL Gym near the old Albuquerque High School. He was still fighting golden gloves and I had fought fifteen pro bouts. My baby daughter was with me that day. He had qualified for the national golden gloves. I had just finished sparring and was getting out of the ring. Johnny told me I looked pretty good in there. I put my arm around him and said if you keep it up you’ll become a national golden gloves champion.”