Fight Legends: Johnny Tapia

Johnny Tapia

One of his tattoos bore the legend “Mi Vida Loca,” (my crazy life) and it was an apt description of the tragic life of one of the greatest fighters ever to enter the ring, John Lee “Johnny” Tapia, five-time boxing world champion from Albuquerque, New Mexico. His father was in the state penitentiary while his mother was pregnant with him. His mother was stabbed to death when he was eight. Johnny remembered a truck passing by the house where he lived, with his mother in the back, wrapped in chains, and screaming for help. He saw, and he heard, but was not believed by the adults he frantically appealed to. There was the horror and helplessness of an eight year old, pleading for help for the one person he cared most for, his mother, and he was not believed. She was raped, hanged, and stabbed repeatedly with a screw driver. Police found her later on the side of the road, to which she had crawled, traversing over a hundred yards to get there. She lapsed into a coma, from which she never regained consciousness.

Not surprisingly, he was fueled by an inner rage which he carried into the ring. The effects of his mother’s brutal killing followed him to the end of his days. His uncles put that rage to work immediately after his mother’s death. At the age of nine, they’d match him up against bigger boys and bet on him. If he lost, they beat him. It was then that Johnny began picking up pugilistic skills from his grandfather, Miguel, an amateur boxing champion. He eventually turned to Golden Gloves boxing, and to an outstanding amateur career, becoming the National Golden Gloves National Golden Gloves Light Flyweight Champion in 1983, and the 1985 National Golden Gloves Flyweight Champion.

Moxey? Johnny had moxey to spare. He was utterly fearless in the ring, brassy in each and every fight. Smack talk? Johnny didn’t need to talk it, he personified it. With such an attitude, and an inclination to drug use, as well as rumors of past connection to a gang, it was no surprise that he would draw the attention of law enforcement. Albuquerque cops hounded him, and he saw jail time for drug possession. After winning his first 22 professional fights, he tested positive for cocaine in 1990, and was suspended from boxing for three and a half years.

Outside the ring, his problems were legion. Safety for Johnny Tapia, and an escape from the demons which incessantly pursued him, was to be found only inside the ring, where, as he saw it, he was untouchable! Inside the ring he was king. Inside the ring , he was brassy, and pure genius. He was utterly fearless, and in virtually every fight, he demonstrated his mastery of the sweet science. For the observant student of fighting and ring warfare, there is much to be gained by viewing his fights. If one enjoys watching a warrior do what he does best, ya gotta love Johnny Tapia!

Have I described him as brassy? He took that brass into the ring, and fought for the sheer love of fighting! Turbulent though his life may have been on the outside, in the ring Johnny was in complete control; in control of the fight, and of himself. Even in the rare instances when he was losing, one finds himself in deep admiration of Johnny Tapia’s ability to keep his cool. The smile. The smile appeared more often when he was in trouble, than when not. Here was a ring general if ever there was one! Machine gun like punches; beautiful hooks, uppercuts and crosses; pause, dance back, and bounce off the ropes; smile, bob, weave, evade, and boom! Repeat the process! No less a fighter than Mike Tyson called him one of the greatest boxers who ever lived.

Johnny Tapia
Johnny Tapia courtesy of cozzone.com

One of his finest matches was one he lost, after a 46 fight winning streak, when he faced Paulie Ayala, the youngest of the fighting Ayala brothers of San Antonio, Texas. It was a war from fight to finish, and it began with a pre fight shove, Tapia to Ayala. Brassy, I called him? Was there ever any fighter with more brass than Johnny Tapia? He took that brass into the ring to face an equally talented warrior in the person of the southpaw, Paulie Ayala. He lost this fight, breaking his 46 fight winning streak, but it is a classic, because we get to see Tapia fighting an equally gifted fighter, and a southpaw at that.
How does a champion and consummate warrior deal with adversity in the ring? How does one counter a gifted southpaw? How does one keep his wits when being out fought? How does one regain the initiative? That, and much more, is in this fight, and though the fight began with a shove, his sportsmanship at the conclusion of the fight is rarely paralleled. Brassy he may have been, but in the ring, at the conclusion of a fight, Johnny Tapia was also a genuine class act.

Johnny Tapia, a survivor of five drug over doses, finally passed from this life on May 27, 2012. His wife, (and manager) Teresa, had earlier remarked, “I don’t know how this story is going to end. I’d love to think that in 30 years we’ll be old together and surrounded by family. But when I ask Johnny how he sees himself in the future, he says he’s not even sure he’ll wake up tomorrow.” Johnny Tapia was 45 at the time of his death. His funeral was attended by thousands who came to view his casket, situated in the middle of a boxing ring, an appropriate setting for a man who had lived to fight, winning world titles at 115, 118, and 126 pounds over the course of 23 years.

Johnny Tapia was freed at last from his struggles with bipolar disorder, and his lifelong battle with cocaine addiction and alcoholism. The revolving door which conducted him to jail and drug rehabilitation programs had closed at last.

One is, and ought be, reluctant to judge the life of John Lee Tapia. His childhood experiences were horrific, especially so at a time when a boy is most attached to his mother. He was not spared the awful agony of seeing with his own eyes her terrible plight, and hearing with his own ears her piteous cries for help. He saw, and heard, and was left alone. His birth father did not appear until the last years of Johnny’s life. John accepted him and forgave him. Just like that.

For all his trials, and his numerous mistakes notwithstanding, Johnny Tapia loved people, and people loved him. His fight against Paulie Ayala began with a push, but ended with an embrace and heartfelt congratulations to Ayala for defeating him. He’d lost, he admitted with a shrug of his shoulders. So what? Life goes on. And immediately after that fight, a contentious reporter tried to draw out of Johnny words critical of the decision. Johnny refused to take the bait. He said simply, “the best man won.”

A loving and merciful God will take into account the grief of a little boy grown into a man. He will look at the slips and the flaws, some of them grievous, but in His tender mercies will give an abnormal amount of credit to Johnny’s good deeds, exacerbating the good in Johnny’s behalf. He will be mindful of Johnny’s love for his wife Teresa, who never abandoned him. Of her he remarked, “the wife that I have is unbelievable, she loved me when I was nothing, and she still loves me now that I am nothing.” Their love for each other will count for much in the Lord’s eyes. And He will be mindful of Johnny’s ability to be a much, much, better father than the one he never had. He will also take into account the many simple and unassuming people who loved Johnny, because in their eyes he was a good man. Indeed, the Lord’s tender mercies will be much evident in behalf of John Lee Tapia, whose earthly travails are no more.

Leroy Martinez, Analysis of a Texas Fighter – Post Pride of the Valley II

Leroy Martinez
Leroy Martinez – courtesy of Role’s Photos

I like Matt Mooney, I like his intensity. I even wrote an article about him.  But I was a bit disturbed about him calling out Leroy Martinez.  When I suggested he ought wait a bit before taking on Leroy, he countered with, “Do you think I can’t take him?”  Well, I’d crossed a line, it seemed. What do I know?

Learn something, if you will, from an old fellow who has been around the block a few times. In fighting, there is conditioning, and there is mastery of technique. There is also the battle of the will and the psyche, which play a tremendous part of any contest. We’ll address the latter.

We had in the March “Pride of the Valley” event, the grudge match between Rick Palacios and Leroy Martinez, which engaged both camps. Matt Mooney was training with Rick Palacios. Ricky won the event, via a second round knockout of Leroy, after some pretty exciting exchanges, to say nothing of a hard first round for Rick as he struggled to escape Leroy’s ground game. The fight was over, Rick Palacios had won.

Now Matt Mooney calls out Leroy Martinez. Not good. There is the experience factor.  Matt is 1-0 as a pro.  Leroy has got some wins and some losses, but win or lose, it amounts to experience, lots more than Matt has.  “Wait,” I hinted to Matt. But the fight was set, to take place during the second of J C Promotion’s “Pride of the Valley” event.

More trash talk. Matt is going to break Leroy’s arm. (And he would have, if he could have set it up.)  I used to train cops and often gave the following advice: “Don’t put a man in a corner where the only way out is through you.”  For instance, don’t embarrass a man in front of his wife, girl friend, or children, if you can possibly avoid it. You will get more than you bargained for. Some men will die rather than be humiliated in front of their woman.

Matt put Leroy in the corner I’m talking about. Leroy had just lost to Rick Palacios, and now Rick’s understudy, with a 1-0 record, was going to whip him too? Think about that a bit. You can suppose that Leroy’s psyche upped somewhat on that note. He couldn’t wait to get into the ring with Matt. The moral imperative was on his side.  Spectator empathy was behind him, as would be demonstrated on fight night by calls in unison of, “Leroy! Leroy! Leroy!” Matt would have had to break his arm to submit him, as he had threatened to do.

Come the evening of the fight, Matt wanted the fight to come to him, on the canvas.  Leroy did not oblige, but rather made it a stand up game which he dominated. He did not oblige until the last couple of minutes in the third round, when the war of wills was in his favor. Then he descended to the canvas with a vengeance.

Matt has tremendous potential. He’s tough. He’ll be OK. He’s learning, and this is one of those times when much is to be learned from a loss.  When experience is a factor, it may be best not to threaten up; that is from the position of little experience to a position of much more experience.  In a sense it amounts to telegraphing a punch.  And, my advice to cops is good advice anywhere: “Don’t put a man in a corner, where his only way out is through you.”

Fighter Spotlight: ‘Jose Ceja’

Jose Ceja – Photo via Jose Ceja’s FB

Port Arthur’s Jose Ceja, a tough young man with a penchant for deep thought, made his professional boxing debut this past Saturday night at the South Padre Convention Center, fighting a four round Welterweight bout against Ramiro Balli. It was a fight which saw Ceja work the body well. Nor did he neglect the head in a bout which saw Balli in trouble in the second round, and against the ropes much of the time, under the barrage of punches Ceja rained down on him. In the end, the judges voted Ceja a unanimous win in this, his pro boxing debut. Ceja won his pro MMA debut this past March in JC Production’s “El Orgullo del Valle” in a mostly s standup brawl against Mission’s Rene Gonzalez. Ceja also won that bout by unanimous decision. Both Balli and Gonzalez will aver to the fact that Southpaws, and Ceja in particular, can be difficult to fight. As in his boxing debut this past Saturday, the MMA judges gave the fight to Ceja, unanimously. Ceja, who fights with the intent of receiving his young sons approval, trains in Los Fresnos at the Green Ghost Academy with Jeff Bonugli and at United MMA whenever he is in Port Arthur.

On June 21st, Ceja will be on the MMA card for the second of four MMA events this year promoted by JC Production’s“El Orgullo del Valle” to be held at the Pharr Events Center. Cody Williams will be the main event of the night at that “Pride of the Valley, ” MMA event June 21st, and he will be pitted against D’Angelo de Souza Vieira. Ricky “El Gallero” Palacios will meet Jay Dee Martinez in the co main event. A lot is at stake, as fighters are vying for the $50,000 contracts to be issued in March 2014 .

El Orgullo del Valle Post Fight Analysis

jeff bonugli
[Photo courtesy of SouthTexasContender.com]
Fight promoter Jeff Bonugli was looking for fighters, and he got them. Ryan Spann out of Beaumont opened last Saturday night’s “El Orgullo del Valle” fight event with hands and feet blazing. Although his opponent, Robert Zamora, outweighed him by 26 pounds, it was a mismatch from the beginning, but in Spann’s favor. Spann is the kind of fighter one hates to fight; a towering 6’5 inches tall, with not an ounce to spare on his lean frame of 183 pounds. You take into account also his 82 inch reach, and it spells trouble. Spann, who trains with American Top Team in Beaumont came into this fight 1-0 as a pro, determined to extend his win record. A game Zamora (training out of Mission with Robert Torres) initiated the fray by moving in on Spann with a front kick. After a brief exchange Spann connected with a blistering round house kick to Zamora’s rib cage, which visibly hurt him. The fight went to the ground, and at 2:25 of the first round Spann applied a rear naked choke to end the match.

Julio Villarreal, (McAllen) got into the fight game to lose weight. To that end, he’s been successful, losing over one hundred pounds since taking up mixed martial arts. It wasn’t enough against Christopher Lopez out of San Antonio, though. Lopez quickly got down to business in his match with Villarreal, causing ref Jake Montalvo to stop the match at 1:39 of the first round, when Villarreal was unable to defend himself against the pounding Lopez was doling out. Coming into the match at 1-0, the very humble Lopez voiced no unreasonable expectations about his future. “I’ll take this game as far as it takes me. I’ll be happy with the results, what ever they are.” His immediate short range goal? “I want to meet again the guy I lost to as an amateur. I want to beat him.” He sports 5 wins and one loss as an amateur, and the fight he lost took place in January 2011, in a fight against Jared Perez that went the distance. The 28 year old Lopez, a marathon runner, fights out of Rangel Vale Tudo, and at age 28 is a veteran of the United States Marines. He’s a recent graduate from UTSA. Not exactly sure why, but this writer is partial to him.

You have to hand it to Gabe Reynaga. At 40 years old he took on 24 year old Jordan Morgan. Twice he attempted a spin back kick on Morgan, and each time Morgan walked on him. To Reynaga’s credit, he stayed in the fight, going the distance with Morgan, who won by unanimous decision.

One has difficulty not liking Ray Rodriguez out of New Braunfel’s “Warrior’s Edge. The kid exudes optimism. He was facing a tough Jean Cartagena Maldonado, fighting out of Seguin MMA, just 15 minutes down the road from where Rodriguez trains. The fact that Maldonado holds a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu did not faze Ray. Given his record, Maldonado is no pushover. He came into this fight 1-1 as a pro, with 6 straight wins as an amateur. Strange as this may seem, I felt he should have stuck to his standup in this fight. He has good standup, with very strong kicks and good hands, which, for the little I saw, I rated superior to Ray’s. Yeah, but his strength is in jiu jitsu, and that’s where he continued to go. Explain that to Ray Rodriguez, who put him in a guillotine hold in 54 seconds of the third round!

Alex Hernandez of Ohana quickly overwhelmed Mission’s David Salazar to end the fight in 34 seconds of the first round. Salazar had taken the fight on two weeks notice. One may be physically prepared, but it is the mental game which is tasked.

Jorge Cortez out of Ultra Fit MMA in Harlingen also took this fight on very short notice, but what a fight this was between him and Cory Bellino out of Full Contact Fight Academy in Corpus Christi! Bellino bloodied Cortez in the first round, but Cortez was landing punches as well, in an exciting round of stand up. In the second and third rounds, Bellino took Cortez to the mat, where he had the advantage, as Cortez seemed to be enjoying the stand up game. A close, exciting fight with all judges scoring it 28-29 in favor of Bellino.

Up to this point, every fight has been exciting! One would think the action would slow down. Not so. Next up was Matt Mooney of El Gallero Den in Mission, versus Juan Chapa, also out of Mission. This was probably the most evenly matched fight of the night, with both fighters debuting as pros with an amateur record of 1-0, with both fighters winning their match by submission. So you ask, if the fight only lasted 35 seconds, what was so exciting about it? Those were 35 seconds of great stand up, pure toe to toe confrontation. And then Matthew goes and stops it all by submitting Chapa with an arm bar, which Chapa admits he walked right in to, by thinking he could take Matt out with his hands. Chapa, who lost, will also be on the June Orgullo del Valle card.

Jose Ceja, making his pro debut, represented promoter Bonugli’s Green Ghost Academy in a match against jiu jitsu purple belt Rene Gonzalez, also out of Mission. Ceja landed a hard shot over Gonzalez’ left eye early on, and continued to put on the pressure for three rounds. This fight began with a bang and finished in like manner; action packed, with Ceja taking the fight by unanimous decision.

Up to this point, it had been a night of continuous action, seemingly one exciting fight after another, with each succeeding fight seemingly better than the last. Could it get any better? The best was yet to come. The much ballyhooed co main event between Leroy Martinez and Ricky Palacios was in the offing. There had been much smack talk and insults traded between the two men and their camps, situated only miles apart in Mission. Ricardo “El Gallero” Palacios was coming into this event 4 pounds over weight at 139 pounds, versus Leroy “El Guapo” Martinez at the required 135. Ricky was sporting a record of 1-0 as a pro, and 6-0 as an amateur, all by KO, something which surely did not escape Martinez, whose pro record was 1-1, with an amateur record of 2-2. No one was disappointed at the effort expended by the two. There had been the attempted psyche and shoving between the two at the weigh ins, and this continued into the ring. Palacio’s fight skills are evident in his record to this point; nonetheless, one danger in over confidence can be that training may be allowed to lag. In the first round, Martinez did every thing right. When going up against a striker of the caliber of Palacios, one takes the game to the ground, and Martinez was doing a good job with this. His attempts to get Palacios into a submission hold in the first round failed, but in this writer’s view, the first round went to Martinez. The second round, Palacios got into his game, eluding attempts to be taken to the ground, tagging Martinez at least a couple of times with hard shots to the face, softening him for a clean knockout at 1:22 of the second round.

The much anticipated duel between two good fighters is over, for the time being at least. One writer calls it a total win for the Palacios camp, citing this and two other wins. I don’t agree with his analysis. The first round was too close, and it gets tougher from here, with each fight getting progressively tougher as opponents study his style. Rick’s ground game needs work. Why is this important? You have in Rick Palacios a genuine knockout artist. Consider this: 6 -0 as an amateur, all six wins by KO. 1-0 as a pro boxer, this also by knock out. 2-0 as a pro, both by knock out. Nine fights, 9 KO’s. Future opponents would be foolish not to study his game, as did Leroy Martinez. Nullifying his standup is essential, as Martinez almost did. My advice would be to heal the breach between camps. Sparring partners like Leroy Martinez who can help with the ground game can be a blessing. Both fighters will benefit from each other’s experience. Heal the breach.

We come to the main event, Aaron Rosa versus Tony Melton. Tony Melton entered the fight a solid 264 pounds, the kind of opponent who will pose a threat to any unprepared fighter. He entered this event sporting a 7-3 pro record, and 1-0 as a pro K-1 kickboxer. All his MMA bouts have been almost exclusively stand up. And yes, Aaron Rosa came into the fight, by his own standards, less prepared than desired, and well over his fighting weight. His employment, entailing long hours, has eaten into his training time, and he had been able to train only sporadically. Predictably, the fight evolved into a boxing match, with Rosa having to fight Melton’s game. In a closely fought stand up game, Rosa won by decision, by virtue of landing more punches.

El Orgullo del Norte, first event is now in the past. It has all the markings of a first class event. If Jeff Bonugli has his way, it will come one day to match the UFC in drawing power and excellence.

“The Pride of The Valley” Coming to Pharr Events Center March 16th

EL ORGULLO DEL VALLE
At 6’3, 205 pounds, 29 year old Aaron Rosa is in his prime. Fighting out of Rodrigo Pinheiro’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Rosa has the benefit of working on his ground game with one of the best jiu jitsu practitioners in the world. Here Rosa can also count on excellent sparring partners, one of them being Muay Thai specialist, Pete Spratt.

At the very beginning of his professional mixed martial arts career, Rosa racked up ten straight wins, fighting for various promotions. He is currently 17-5 and is a veteran of UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce, and EliteXC. His wins include six KO’s, four submissions, and seven by decision.

Rosa will be facing Tony Melton in the premier fight for the “Orgullo del Valle” MMA event in Pharr, Texas on March 16. The 31 year old Melton is currently 7-3. Six of those wins came by KO, and one by decision. While Melton appears to be the underdog in this event, Rosa is experienced enough to know that Melton, with at least a thirty pound weight advantage, and six KO’s under his belt can be dangerous.

Immediately before the main event, Cody “Wolverine” Williams, 4-4, fighting out of the Texas Karate Academy in Beaumont, Texas will meet the Valley’s (McAllen) Randy “the Hurricane” Fuentes, who is currently 5-3. Fuentes has been augmenting his training by throwing his hat into the boxing ring, where he won his first pro fight by unanimous decision in the Valley’s “Border Brawl” in September of 2011, and at this date is 4-0 as a professional boxer.

Although not a main event fight, the grudge match between Ricardo “El Gallero” Palacios and Leroy “Guapo” Martinez, promises to be a scorcher. Palacios and Martinez own schools separated by only a few miles in Mission, and each has a substantial following. In the weeks leading up to March 16, there have been insults and substantial “smack” talk traded between the two camps. If there is a war in the offing, we can expect it between these two fighters. Seven prelim matches will come prior to those listed above, with plenty of action promised.

After 8 shows put on by JC Productions over a two year period, promoter Jeff Bonugli, with the support of Valley Nissan dealer Charlie Clark, will be signing 5 fighters onto contracts worth $50,000. Yes sir, the fight game is coming to the Rio Grande Valley in a very big way.

Ricky “El Gallero” Palacios is no fluke


Ricky “El Gallero” Palacios is no fluke, and he definitely loves to fight. He took up boxing ten months ago, and in a tough Rio Grande Valley, where there is no lack of tough fighters of Mexican descent, took the Valley’s Golden Gloves Championship in his weight class.  “El Gallero” (Palacios) is a class fighter, and with a large following. Some hundred and fifty folks drove up from the Valley to see him fight in his Pro MMA debut, in his new role as “El Orgullo del Valle,” (“The Pride of the Valley”).

I was sitting ringside with Charlie Clark  to watch Rickey take on an improved Gerardo Botello in this main event contest.  The first round clearly went to Ricky, but it was obvious he was scoping out, and testing, his opponent. His buzz saw nature emerged in the second round, which he clearly dominated. I was impressed by his utter confidence. Palacios is exciting to watch; you quickly gather he enjoys what he’s doing, and he’s good at his game, controlling the ring and the fight, and handling his opponent seemingly with ease. He moves with fluid grace and power, like a cat, and although Botello appeared physically larger than Palacios, at no time was he able to control him.  One understands Botello taking him to the mat; Ricky’s  stand up game, between bobbing and weaving, is a flurry of devastating punches and damaging round house kicks.  Nonetheless, when on the mat, Ricky employed alligator rolls at will, and in what ever position he found himself, he was fighting, punching, and from what should have been difficult angles, driving punishing knee strikes. He didn’t punch his opponent’s rib cage, he pummeled it, with such power that the impact could be loudly heard at ring side. As Bottello tried desperately to cover his ribs, it was obvious the pummeling was taking its toll. Prior to the fight Ricky had announced to his stand up fight coach and mentor, Jeff Bonugli, that he would end the fight by knockout or tap out. The fight was called as a TKO at 1:47 of the third round.

Nor does one seek to denigrate Gerardo Botello, a courageous scrapper. After all, his opponent was the best fighter in the house. While there was at least one other better than average fighter in the matches prior to the main event, (there was one, and inevitably there will be an exciting match up);  he too would have fallen to Palacios.  Bias? We shall see. Pound for pound, my money is on Palacios, for whom the sky is the limit.  Yes, if I were to bet on any of the fighters in the arena bridging the gap between now, and a future in the UFC, my money would be on Ricky Palacios, “El Gallero.”

Ricky Palacios