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Johnny Tapia death of a champion

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Flowers and other items left at the grave site of Johnny Tapia. Photo from Roger Rael.
The death of five-time boxing world champion Johnny Tapia hit fans like he were a close family member. To many, Johnny will always be a friend, homie and primo.

As the summer afternoon sun beat down in Albuquerque’s west side an infamous sadness fell upon me. My thoughts ranged from empathy for another peer caught in the web of drugs, to anger for someone who had the world in the palm of their hands and let it slip away. These same emotions prompted me to take that drive to the champ’s grave sight.

Living in Albuquerque can leave a person with the brutal reality of how the way, things really are. “You live by the gun you die by the gun,” is a quote used quite often, which has chilling effects when someone experiences it first hand.

A mural, hand painted with the Stations of the Cross artistically arranged in a row says just that. Some portions of the mural have significant discoloration because of weather elements and add to the rustic texture of the San Jose de Armijo Cemetery.

Johnny’s story involved a local kid who made something of his life with a talent that initially intended to be a life skill needed for survival. Johnny fought wars in the ring and battled with his addictions in addition the constant watchful eyes of fans, the news media and law enforcement.

A tragic childhood forced him to deal with the murder of his mother, any way he had to. Johnny’s fight ended with his death while many of us laid him to rest in our own personal ways.

As you looked down at the grave of Tapia, you will not see an over abundance of flowers. You will not see a statue resurrected by fans or any sign of gratitude from the boxing commissioners for all his hard work. Hard work that successfully attributed to the commissioner’s years of employment.

What you will see is a simple arrangement of candle’s, flowers, a rosary and a pocket version of the King James Bible. A whisper in the wind sets a reminder of the last words uttered during a funeral service, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”

Tapia’s death is far more than just a story of a young man, labeled street thug who became a boxing world champ, he died way before his time. His death should be looked upon, as a lesson as to why careful decisions must be made for future generations to succeed.

His death should motivate followers to fight the good fight and slay the paper tigers in our classrooms on our quest for knowledge. It is vital to respect everyone regardless of where they are from because we all are fighting the same fight.

Albino Garcia, founder of Las Placitas de Albuquerque, an organization that specializes in intervention methods for at risk youth said, “Johnny was very sincere and one of the most humble people I have had the opportunity of meeting.

Regardless of his reputation for being aggressive in the ring and his run ins with the law Johnny was over all a down to earth person.”

Garcia believes that when an individual acts out in an aggressive manner, it is usually an indication of serious pain. His belief sets a trail for others to demonize a person without first getting to know them.

“It’s hard to believe that Johnny was only remembered for his arrest record and his athletic abilities, while I will always remember him as a respectful and humble man,” Garcia said.

As many people know, a lie will travel twice around the world before the truth has an opportunity to put its boots on and head for the door. Johnny’s “Mi Vida Loca” lifestyle was a cry out for help many believe there just seemed to be no cure for what was hurting Tapia personally.

Tapia touched the lives of everyone he met. Although considered a sports celebrity he remained humble to everyone he met. Johnny Tapia will always be remembered as a humble man that faced many demons we all face.

Johnny Tapia will be greatly missed by all those who knew him inside and outside of the ring.