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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 16:50 GMT
Tapia's new beginning
By BBC Sport Online's Sanjeev Shetty
Johnny Tapia's story in and out of the ring is the stuff of Hollywood movies.
Not surprisingly, the former world champion from Albuquerque, New Mexico, may well be the subject of such a biopic in future years.
Tapia was born without a father, lost his mother in horrific and brutal circumstances at the age of eight and was suspended from boxing for three years for drug abuse.
An emotionally charged presence in the ring, he won world titles at two weights and his only two losses to Paulie Ayala - on points - have been the subject of much controversy.
Approaching the age of 35, Tapia attempted suicide last summer following a bout of depression which was accelerated by the death of a close friend.
Now, after beating Argentina's Eduardo Alvarez in 82 seconds, he can look forward to a world title shot, although his opponent is unknown.
For Tapia, the man he fights is never as big an obstacle as his own personal battle.
He freely admits that boxing has saved him from a terrible fate outside the ring and that he does not need to fight for financial reasons.
"I'm okay - God has been good to me but you can always get more," Tapia told BBC Sport Online.
"Basically, it's a third world title I want - I know I can do good with it."
Fighting to pay the bills
Tapia, who fought as an amateur in Britain in 1984, is working with promoter Frank Warren. That should see him fight for the WBO Featherweight title in the near future.
The featherweight limit is at least two classes above the weight that he excelled at and Tapia hinted that making the limit is no longer easy as he approaches veteran status.
"It's not comfortable, but I got no choice - I got to pay the bills you know," said Tapia, whose normal weight is that of a welterweight (147lbs).
Just being able to fight is a big privilege for Tapia, who faced up to one of the lowest situations of his life last summer.
"I lost a very good friend of mine - I found him dead on the street - an overdose - and it just kicked my butt.
"He was a lot younger than me - I don't know why it happened - it just took me to another level and dropped me.
"I fight for myself to put food on the table for my family, but he is always in my prayers and in my thoughts."
That may have been the latest setback for Tapia, but one gets the feeling that the demons that pray on the minds of some fighters seemed to have grouped together in the American's head.
In 1975 his mother was kidnapped, brutally attacked and left for dead.
She was found and taken to hospital, where she died four days later of her injuries.
Former opponent Danny Romero is part of the Tapia camp and he freely admits that his role is one of companionship to Tapia.
Romero said that quite often, the pair just sit down and discuss life and the ups and downs that both have suffered.
"You know - when you're a champion, everyone loves you - the minute you lose, people that you think were there for you are gone," says Tapia.
"It's a lonely world - people don't know what we go through, when we're urinating blood and stuff like that."
Another vital member of the camp is Tapia's wife Teresa, who doubles as his manager.
The couple have been together for nearly a decade and each time Tapia reaches a low point, it is Teresa who tells the fighter to get back in the ring and do what he does best.
The pair have two sons - a nine-year-old and a 17-month old baby.
At his serene home in the mountains in Las Vegas, Tapia confesses that his biggest luxury is taking the eldest boy out for a spin in his selection of cars.
For a man who needs to work hard to survive every day, he has yet to contemplate the future with any degree of certainty.
"If I get a good ass-kicking, then I'm gone," he says about retirement, although he is keen to stay in boxing.
"I would like to help people out - get my own fighters and train them and see what I can do from there."
An extraordinarily polite person - he addresses everyone as Mr or Mrs, he hopes his legacy owes more to popularity than his standing in the boxing firmament.
"A people's person - that's all - someone who was nice to the people."
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