When Jeff Bonugli came to me in 1974, he was nineteen, fresh out of Canyon High School in New Braunfels, Texas. That took some guts in those days, as he was a White boy coming into what was at the time the rough area of town, into a dojo peopled by some as rough characters. Anyone who could fight in New Braunfels trained in my dojo. In the previous decade, New Braunfels had put out two Heavyweight Texas Golden Gloves champs, Robert Mesa and Cheche Rios. Jeff was very aggressive, and from the beginning was always in the winner’s circle. In between tournaments, he would lead others of my students to make fighting rounds to other schools in the San Antonio area. He, along with others of my future Black Belts took on jobs as bouncers in a local night club, where they could put their skills to work. Even as a Brown Belt, Jeff was entering and winning in the Black Belt Division, but in my mind, one of Jeff’s greatest fights, point or full contact, was at George Minschew’s Karate Olympics in Houston, around 1976. The fight was for the championship of the Heavyweight Green Belt Division, and Jeff was pitted against a powerful, and raw boned, Dino Holmsley out of Beaumont. With Dino as an opponent, Jeff was more than well matched. When I see the up and coming Ryan Spann, fighting in JC Productions “Best of the Best” mixed martial arts event, February 1, 2014, in Harlingen, I am reminded of Dino Holmsley. Ryan is the same kind of powerful fighter. My high estimation of Dino was not only in his versatility of technique, because he had that aplenty, but rather because he was also a skilled street fighter, and without question, very tough. In one of the hardest fought fights of the night Jeff came out on top, and in so doing, cinched my estimation of Jeff’s abilities. Dino was also a bouncer, and while in the performance of that duty, was killed breaking up a bar fight in a Houston nightclub. Dino Holmsley was as tough as they come. Nothing but respect for a true warrior to the end. Jeff applied his aggressiveness to business, eventually becoming General Manager of the largest car dealership in San Antonio, currently a partner of a large dealership in the Valley, and now JC Productions. His search for fighters willing to fight for $50,000 dollar contracts is a true fact. Jeff Bonugli, always a warrior, has shown all along that he truly cares for his fighters. The time of reckoning has arrived and, as any warrior, he plans to go down fighting.
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.
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.
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.”
ARMY veteran and TAEKWONDO Specialist Alex Zaya will be stepping inside the Cage for the 2nd time this year. This will be for Premiere Combat Groups Amateur Mixed Martial Arts event at Cowboys Dance Hall in San Antonio, TX on April 6th. Here’s a few words with the man.
sPidA: Since making your amateur MMA debut in Austin, TX for CAGE WAR earlier this year, how has your training changed if any?
Zaya: Well I took the fight on short notice and just came off of an injury. Only trained for a month. I’ve been mostly a boxer and worked on my stand up but I’ve been training a lot on my ground game with BTT/Texas. I’ve done a lot of strength & conditioning. I am in better shape than my last fight.
sPidA: Will fighting in your hometown add any pressure since friends and family will be in attendance?
Zaya: Yes, fighting in front of family and friends scares the heck out of me. I know I can stand with almost anyone inside the cage. I plan on stopping his ground attack and take him-out standing.
sPidA: This will be your 2nd fight in 2013…you looking to stay busy this year?
Zaya: I honestly don’t know because my children are getting older and they need me more and more. If I can find a balance I will continue to fight. I know my opponents will only get harder with each fight. My skills are decent but will get better as well.
sPidA: Your first fight was a stand up war, are you looking to test your ground game or pretty much taking it where it goes?
Zaya: My ground game is designed to get off the ground and to not get submitted or ground and pounded out but if I have an opportunity I’ll go for a submission.
sPidA: Who’s helping you with your training for this fight? Will they also be coaching you the night of the fight?
Zaya: Well of course Santo Randazzo will be in my corner and my other coach is with BTT and has 3 other fighters competing on the same card, so its just Randazzo but I am used it just being us.
sPidA: Any one you would like to thank before we wrap this up?
Zaya: I would like to thank GOD for my ability, health and children. My Coach Santo Randazzo for always having my back. Thank you Arlene Alveraz for pushing me. Thanks Sergio and Richard from BTT for beating me up in BJJ. My friends and family for supporting me.
XKO 18 OFFICIAL FIGHT CARD (Subject to Change)
170lbs XKO MAIN EVENT – KANO GREGOIRE (ATT) vs HAYWARD “THE HYBRID” CHARLES
115lbs XKO AMBER STAUTZENBERGER (Mohlers) vs ASHLEY ALLEN (Ground King Jiu-Jitsu)
265lbs JEFF TORO (Dallas MMA 300/ Mohlers) vs MARK RASO (Ironside MMA)
145lbs HUMBERTO MARTINEZ (Dallas MMA 300) vs STEPHEN BANASZAK (Chop Shop MMA)
185lbs RASHAD COULTER (Octagon MMA) vs DEREK PERKINS (Phalanx)
145lbs MOISES DIAZ (Alvarez BJJ/ The Gym) vs DAVID ARMAS (Silverback Fight Club)
165lbs JACOB CAPELLI vs WALDRICK BROOKS (Fission MMA)
185lbs TIMOTHY STEPHENSON (The Gym) vs STEVEN CLOUD (Star BJJ)
125lbs JP COLE (Saekson Muay Thai) vs ISAIAH GUTIERREZ (Travis Lutters)