Tapia found dead at 45; fighter had troubled life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Johnny Tapia, a five-time boxing champion whose turbulent career was marked by cocaine addiction, alcohol, depression and run-ins with the law, was found dead Sunday at his Albuquerque home. He was 45.

Authorities were called to the house about 7:45 p.m. Sunday, spokesman Robert Gibbs said. The death didn’t appear to be suspicious, he said.

Tapia won five championships in three weight classes, winning the WBA bantamweight title, the IBF and WBO junior bantamweight titles and the IBF featherweight belt.

Tapia was regarded as the consummate underdog by his fans. The more trouble he found outside the ring – including several stints in jail – the more they rallied around him.

During a 1990s-era feud with fellow Albuquerque boxer and former world champion Danny Romero, Tapia’s fans anointed him with the slang Spanish title of “Burque’s Best.”

But his life also was marked by tragedy. Tapia was orphaned at 8, his mother stabbed 26 times with a screwdriver and left to die.

In 2007, Tapia was hospitalized after an apparent cocaine overdose. Several days later, his brother-in-law and his nephew were killed in car accident on their way to Albuquerque to see the ailing boxer.

Tapia was banned from boxing for 3½ years in the early 1990s because of his cocaine addiction. But he knocked out Henry Martinez to capture the WBO bantamweight championship in 1994, and won four more titles over the next eight years.

Tapia last fought in June, outpointing Mauricio Pastrana in an eight-round decision. He finished with a 59-5-2 record.

Gibbs said an autopsy will be performed in the next few days.

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