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2014 NCAA Final Four Set

SportsNation Poll

When UNM was tossed from the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance didn't stop. Last weekend, the tourney was whittled down to the Final Four. The University of Florida Gators, the Wisconsin Badgers, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Connecticut Huskies are the the last four teams left in Division I college basketball. Of these last four teams, there is only one number one seed left: the top team overall, Billy Donovan's crew.

Kentucky has proved the pre-season hype to be justified, defying the odds of an 8 seed. Coach Calipari has coaxed the most out of his powerful, notably Aaron Harrison. Harrison knocked in a 3 ball with 2.3 second left to upset 2-seed Michigan on Sunday night. The Wildcats entered the season with hefty expectations but failed to live up on them for the majority of the slog. With 10 losses, the season could have been seen as a letdown; until March Madness began. After knocking out previously unbeaten Wichita State and intrastate rival Louisville, the team seems to be playing their best ball at the perfect time.

The Connecticut Huskies, on the other hand, may have also been ranked for much of the beginning of the season, but never had the expectations of Big Blue foisted upon them. UConn, content to fly under the radar for much of the season, dominated trendy pre-Tourney pick, Michigan State on Sunday. While the final margin was only six points, UConn seemed to be in control of their destiny for the majority of the game. This has been the case since they needed overtime o take out St. Joe's in the first round of the Tournament. Shabazz Napier, the senior guard from Storrs, has put the team on his back, and his free throws seemed to clinch the game.

The aforementioned, overall number one seed Florida cruised past the previous upset-minded Dayton Flyers. This is nothing new for the Gators, who won it all in 2007 and have been to the Elite Eight for the last three years in a row. Florida's coach, Billy Donovan, has been here before and seems poised – at least mathematically – for a run to the championship.

However, the team that the majority of the nation has rallied around by far is Wisconsin. The Badgers have shown tremendous tenacity and the play of Frank Kaminsky is a big part of their overtime victory against the West Region 1 seed Arizona Wildcats. Although Wisconsin entered the post-season as a 2 seed, most pundits overlooked the team in their predictions of who would be left standing at this time of the year.

The semifinal matches will be played on Saturday night, with both games televised on TBS. The final matchup, for the national championship, will take place on Monday, April 7. If your bracket is busted, take comfort in the knowledge that so is everyone else's and enjoy some quality basketball.

sports

Lobos Win 2014 Mountain West Conference Tournament

Back-to-back-to-back victory earns 7 seed in NCAA tournament

Kendall Williams hits a deep (unadvised) three that pretty much seals the game.
Kendall Williams hits a deep (unadvised) three that pretty much seals the game.

The University of New Mexico men's basketball team is going dancing. There was never any doubt. Not after winning the Mountain West tournament. Not after the automatic bid that comes with that win. The only question was one of seeding. And what of the moment on Sunday afternoon when it was revealed that UNM received a 7 seed and will have to play in the South Region and face a potential match-up with 2-seed Kansas in the second round? Well, it seems like feelings in the land of Cherry and Silver are running high.

New Mexico's first game against 10-seeded Stanford is no walk. And after flaming out against Harvard last year, there's plenty of emotion about facing yet another school known primarily for its academics. Stanford finished their season with a 21-12 record, as opposed to the Lobos' 27-6. The Cardinal plays in the vaunted Pac-12 Conference, where they ended up a pedestrian sixth—but every team that finished ahead of them in their conference wound up in the NCAA Tournament as well.

In fact, spurned Lobos fans, still bitter about many events from last year, are looking way past Stanford. Some are even looking forward to a potential Elite Eight matchup with UCLA—the team that ex-head coach Steve Alford bolted for after New Mexico was bounced in last year's Big Dance.

However, that's putting the cart way before the horse. Stanford will want to make waves by taking out the back-to-back-to-back Mountain West champs. No team goes into a game hoping or expecting to lose. But should the Lobos get past the Harvard of the West, they'll face stiff competition in a Kansas team that many were shocked to see fail to garner a 1 seed. The bit of good news for New Mexico fans is that the Lobos have already played Kansas. The better news is that Kansas was only up 1 point, 39-38, at halftime of that game. The horrible news? The Jayhawks ran away in the second half, finally winning 80-63.

If the Lobos can make it through opening weekend, the tournament doesn't get a lot easier, as they're in the same grouping as overall number one seed, Florida. However, the talent on this team believes they're capable of making a deep run; let's not forget all those #UnfinishedBusiness tweets from the beginning of the year. This is when that follow-through gets to the proving time and first-year head coach Craig Neal continues a proud tradition.

sports

Lobos Keep Winning, Winding Down Regular Season

Win streak now stands at five

The post-game semi-scuffle between UNM and SDSU begins.
Image still from krqe.com
The post-game semi-scuffle between UNM and SDSU begins.

The University of New Mexico Lobos men's basketball team has had a great month. February, with one minor aberration that might come back to haunt the team, was a good time for Coach Neal and his squad. That hiccup—a loss to Boise State University on Feb. 12—was followed up by two quick and easy wins over Mountain West Conference also-rans Nevada and UNLV. However, on Saturday, February 22, things picked up a notch.

San Diego State University—then ranked #6 in the nation—came to visit the Pit, expecting to walk all over the unranked Lobos. The cherry and silver squad, though, quickly ran away with the game. UNM led by as much as 9 in the first half and opened up the second on a 21-2 run that hammered the game out of the Runnin' Rebels' reach. While UNLV did make a run at the end of the game to keep it respectable, it was a huge showing for the Lobos on national television on a Saturday night. The game ended with UNM up by 14, winning the game 58-44.

That win was marred, however, by some pushing in the post-game handshake line, and from there, things got worse. It appears from the video footage that some Lobo fan (or fans) threw something at the UNLV players as they were leaving the court. Coach Neal was unhappy and the Lobos faced plenty of bad press over the ugly incident.

The great game was almost overshadowed by the poor reactions, but on Monday, Feb. 25, the Lobos got the good news they were waiting for: a return to the Top 25. At #25, UNM entered the night's match-up with Utah State heavily favored. The Lobos proceeded to play some terrible first half basketball. When the first 20 minutes expired, Utah State was up one, 27-26. However, in the second half, Coach Neal called upon his son, sometimes-maligned Cullen Neal, ex-Eldorado standout, for a key three pointer. Neal's bucket began a 23-5 run that put the Lobos up for good, stamping out the chances for an upset by the Aggies. The Lobos wound up with a win, 67-58.

inally, as the calendar finally flipped over to March, the Lobos headed up to Nevada on Sunday night. Once again, things looked ugly in the first half. Against a 13-15 Wolf Pack, the Lobos trailed by 4 at half and appeared sloppy at many points. The second half rally got UNM through a middling Nevada squad, but the Lobos have more to worry about than a 72-58 win over a team that is now .500.

In two of the last three games, Cameron Bairstow has scored more than 20 points, but the Lobos have also trailed in two of those last three games at halftime. With a game against Air Force in the Pit as the last regular-season home game, the Lobos need to build some serious momentum on Wednesday night. Why? Their last regular-season game of the season isn't at home emdash it's at San Diego State on Saturday, March 8. The Aztecs, currently sitting at #10, will be sure to have revenge on their minds.

With only those two games left and the Mountain West Conference occurring in Vegas in a mere week and a half, the Lobos are playing great second-half ball, but will need to be able to put together a complete and solid game in order to make the splash that all of Albuquerque wants in the NCAA Tournament.

V.23 No.8 | 2/20/2014

Book Review

(Almost) Never Buy Beforehand

Beating the NBA: Tales From a Frugal Fan

“Frugal Fan” Motez Bishara shares his tips for enjoying the best NBA seats at the best deal possible.

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sports

2014 NFL Playoffs Begin with a Bang

Game-winning touchdown thrown by Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton
NBC via ESPN
Game-winning touchdown thrown by Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton

Look, let's just get this out of the way first: The Cincinnati Bengals had home field advantage, a better record and, at least according to some people, were supposed to win. But in what turned into the only letdown game of the first weekend of the 2014 NFL Playoffs, the San Diego Chargers won at Paul Brown Stadium to set up a rematch with the Broncos next weekend. Faithful supporters of the orange guys up north will remember that the Chargers and Denver split their regular season games, each team winning as the visitor.

Aside from that single blowout, though, the remaining three games in the National Football League's first weekend of Playoffs were decided by a collective six points. Three teams advanced to face the next round of playoffs and three teams are now at home, and will watch those games on TV. All because of only a single touchdown's worth of points. An amazing weekend of football, made better only by the sheer number of points that got it all started.

On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs, who started the season so well by becoming the last unbeaten team in the league in week 10, lost to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts scored 35 points in the second half to mount the second-largest playoff comeback of all time. Luck had three—of his four total—touchdown passes in the second half and put the final points on the board with a beauty of a toss to a wide open T.Y. Hilton. The Chiefs had a chance to win the game after that drive by Indy, but fell short. However, the game was truly decided on the play before, when the Colts fumbled the ball going into the endzone. Luck, thinking quickly, scooped it up and dove in for a touchdown, which made Indy's momentum seem inescapable. The Colts finished the game 45-44 and will move on to play the New England Patriots in the next round.

Just after the Colts finished breaking the hearts of Kansas City fans all across the nation, the Saints took the field in Philadelphia. New Orleans had never won a playoff game on another field, and they had the better record, so there were legitimate concerns. But the Eagles allowed Drew Brees to get into field goal range, where Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal was good for the win. After a snoozer of a first quarter, where neither team scored any points, the Saints and the Eagles went back and forth. In fact, halfway through the third, the game was verging on a Saints blowout over the Eagles, who finally got their mojo back on a TD pass from Nick Foles with just under five minutes left in the game. It wasn't to be, though, as Drew Brees fought to set his kicker up with great position. The Saints will now travel, once again, though this time without that daunting 0-5 record outside their home field in the Playoffs. They've got quite the matchup, though, traveling to Seattle, to play the NFC one seed Seahawks.

Finally, after the Chargers/Browns upset, the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Green Bay for the game that had been talked about all week. With concerns about the extreme cold settling in over the East Coast and parts of the Midwest, there had been inevitable comparisons to the infamous Ice Bowl and constant interview questions directed toward the Californians: How will you deal with the cold? Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for San Francisco, put on a cold-weather show, and then sat back and did his best Drew Brees impression, with kicker Phil Dawson ending the game. As time expired, the three points put the 49ers on top of the Packers, 23-20. San Francisco will journey to Carolina and face the Panthers next week.

So a weekend full of the visitors winning, almost all of the games coming down to the wire and some spectacular performances. What can the NFL do next weekend for a sequel?

sports

Lobos Face George Mason in 2nd Round of NCAA Tournament on Sunday

The University of New Mexico Men's Lobo soccer team will play in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in a home game on Sunday, Nov. 24, at 5pm. The Lobos will host George Mason at home as a result of their 7 seed, which is the second-highest in school history. (In 2005, the Lobos received a 2 seed.)

Despite losing in the C-USA Tournament last week, the Lobos were rewarded by the selection committee for a fantastic season. The Lobos have now made the NCAA post-season 11 in the last 13 seasons.

George Mason advanced to Albuquerque by defeating William & Mary on Thursday night by a final score of 2-2 that had to be decided by penalty kicks. The PKs ended up 4-2 in GMU's favor and the match was in the books. The George Mason Patriots finished up their season with a record of 12-2-5 and were the champions of the Atlantic 10 conference.

When it comes time for the match on Sunday night, the Lobo soccer club will be positively littered with honors, both on and off the field. On Thursday, the Lobos received yet another Team Academic Award, rewarding our student-athletes for posting a cumulative team-wide 3.43 GPA. The academics are impressive, but there's no doubt that the men on the club will be looking to pick up another win to extend their season.

Tickets are available now for the match on Sunday. They can be bought at both the UNM ticket office as well as the UNM Bookstore. In addition, tickets can be purchased through Albertson's Ticket Outlets.

sports

Team USA Qualifies for 2014 World Cup

On Tuesday night, Team America beat Mexico in Columbus, Ohio 2-0 and, later in the evening, when Honduras refused to hold on and beat Panama, tying 2-2 on a goal in stoppage time, ensuring that Team USA secured a qualifying spot in the World Cup.

The Americans had lost their last game, against Costa Rica, on Friday night. They were whooped, 1-3, and they lost the mental edge of having the longest win streak in the world, at 12. Moreover, they lost Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler for the Mexico match due to those players picking up their second yellow cards of the qualification process. Michael Bradley also sat out against Mexico, having suffered a freak injury during warmups when he sprained his left ankle.

Due to those absences—particularly Altidore, whose performance for the team has been impressive, to say the least—and the long-standing disadvantage America has maintained while facing Mexico, there were some who doubted the team's chances despite the home field advantage. However, the Mexican team seems to be in complete disarray, suffering from the endless tailspin that inevitably follows a sudden departure from previously winning ways.

However, when it came time to get things done, the team stepped up as a whole with their depth tested, and the team answered the call. The previous stars were particularly adept, with Eddie Johnson scoring in the 49th minute, once again off a header. He was spelled by Mikkel Diskerud in the 76th minute. Reviled when his plan didn't seem to be taking right away, coach Jurgen Klinsmann now looks like a genius, particularly when it comes to substitutions. Diskerud played a smart ball of a throw in with a deft first touch, putting the ball right in front of the Mexico goal. Clint Dempsey had a brilliant look at the clincher but whiffed his attempt. Luckily, Landon Donovan was there, as he's been for Team USA ever since making his comeback. Donovan put his goal in at the 78th minute.

When Honduras tied Panama nearly an hour after the USA/Mexico game finished, the work of the night was complete. Team USA is now officially qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It's worth noting that, of the 207 nations in the world who compete in the qualification process, only 32 make it. Eight nations have won the World Cup; the United States is not amongst that number. With this qualification, though, the United States becomes only the 13th nation to qualify for the ultimate tournament 10 times.

V.22 No.4 | 1/24/2013
Donald Cerrone “Cowboy”
Will Fox

Sports News

Bruise Brothers

Last Thursday, members of the local media were invited to the Jackson/Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts academy in honor of three team members who will be compete for the UFC on Jan. 26 in Chicago. Jesus-haired Clay “The Carpenter” Guida will make his Featherweight (145 lb) debut against Japanese star Hatsu Hioki. Then, in a lightweight (155 lb) bout with important title implications, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will face Anthony Pettis. Headlining the card will be Albuquerque native John “The Magician” Dodson, who battles Demetrius Johnson for the UFC’s Flyweight (125 lb) title.

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V.21 No.45 | 11/8/2012

Council Watch

Election Eve

Zoo fees and Westland parks at a quiet Council meeting

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news

The Daily Word in hazmat, more Gangnam Style and Penn State prez

People in Santa Teresa, N.M., were told to stay inside and seal windows and vents. Turns out, 200 people got sick, and an unknown hazardous material caused it. The industrial park reopened yesterday.

Gary Johnson's campaign splices him into the presidential debates.

Guy rode his bike through Hurricane Sandy.

Back East, people are lined up for miles to get gas.

Former Penn State president charged with perjury in Sandusky scandal.

Gene Hackman knew the dude he slapped in Santa Fe.

Dr. Kevorkian's paintings.

City councilors lodge an ethics complaint against a pro-minimum wage hike group.

Campaign finance reports filed today. So, how much did those legislative campaigns blow?

Noam Chomsky Gangnam Style

10 election oddities explained. By the British.

Is America ready for a female president?

news

The Daily Word in Bill Clinton, Genesis and Zozobra

I-25 / Paseo overhaul will be on the ballot in November.

Are you going to Zozobra tonight?

Doug Vaughan sentenced to 12 years for Ponzi scheme.

UNM considers making Lobo Village booze-free.

Ex-President Clinton at the DNC, a recap.

Wheelchair rugby players are rock stars.

Does email cause stress?

Freddie Mercury’s private cultural identity.

Prog awards honor Genesis.

Hungarian artist makes a subway stop magical.

Voyager’s getting close to the edge of the solar system.

Sun burp.

NASA’s Sunita Williams fixes the International Space Station with a toothbrush.

Jennifer Aniston’s going to be in a movie shooting in New Mexico soon.

sports

Hangover Sports Roundup

Fresh and unsung U.S. Olympic medalists

Gold-medal wrestler Jordan Burroughs
Photo by Yuri Cortez
Gold-medal wrestler Jordan Burroughs
As always, the Olympic Games provided memorable sporting moments that will be talked about for years to come. Highlights of 2012 include Usain Bolt making history by winning three medals in back-to-back Olympics, and Michael Phelps becoming the most-decorated (and arguably greatest) Olympian in history. But with a limited amount of sports featured on the NBC primetime telecast, many athletic feats won't get the attention and respect they deserve. To be specific, let’s examine two athletes who not only won gold but are also primed to make history in future Olympic Games.

Outside of the wrestling and combat-sports community, Jordan Burroughs was a relative unknown despite his two NCAA titles and All-American status at the University of Nebraska. Burroughs’ success in college has caught the attention of the Mixed Martial Arts world to make the crossover. However, he had other plans by beginning his quest to become the greatest American wrestler ever. The 2011 World Championships saw Burroughs win the 74kg championship and made him a favorite to win gold in London. Burroughs embraced his role as the new star of American wrestling by changing his Twitter handle to @alliseeisgold. His confidence and swagger proved to be a valuable asset in defeating a difficult field of Iranian and Russian wrestlers. In the final, Burroughs achieved his destiny by overcoming his 2011 World Championship foe, Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi to claim gold. Along with extending his 38-straight international freestyle match winning streak, the 24-year old got a nice $250,000 bonus from the Living the Dream Medal Fund. When asked what his future held, Burroughs sees more championships and medals on the horizon. If he continues to win gold, he might be in line to replace Phelps as the face of the USA Olympic team.

17-year-old champ Claressa Shields
17-year-old champ Claressa Shields
The United States has always had a strong history in the sport of boxing in the Olympic games. But lately it has been struggling, with the men's team failing to medal for the first time in history. With talk of creating different plans to revitalize America's dominance in boxing, there was pressure on the women to deliver. For the first time, women were allowed compete in boxing. Most of the attention before the games went to Marlen Esparza who appeared in various commercials leading into London. Esparza captured the bronze in the flyweight division, but the youngest member of the team, Claressa Shields, earned the gold. Shields has a classic underdog boxing story growing up in a tough neighborhood in Flint, Michigan. Despite her personal struggles, Shields became the first woman to win a gold medal in women's boxing and was the only gold medalist for USA boxing. She's only 17-years old but experts are already stating she's the new face of boxing in America. With Holly Holm being unknown outside of New Mexico, Shields could fill the void that Laila Ali once had. And with Shields being fairly young, she’d surely excel in future Olympics, although she may capitalize on her newfound fameand turn pro. But if Shields turns her sights to the 2016 Rio Games, USA boxing future may lie with the women instead of the men.

news

The Daily Word in Judo, Annan and Doctor Who

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Ex-APD officer who kicked a suspect in the head a bunch of times wants his job back.

Kofi Annan quits gig as Syrian peace envoy because no one's got his back.

Bone marrow transplants eradicate HIV.

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The lady who takes pictures of babies dressed like flowers and peas and things is totally nuts. (Satire)

The Olympic rings as fascinating infographics for nerds like me.

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Swimmer Ryan Lochte digs one night stands, says his mom.

Kayla Harrison becomes the first American to win the gold in Judo.

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"Doctor Who" trailer for series 7 features dinosaurs.

In Memoriam

Albuquerque’s champion Johnny Tapia, revisited

“I’ll live and die here. This is my pride and joy, New Mexico.”

In November of 2003, the late, great Johnny Tapia welcomed the Alibi into his East Mountains home for a candid interview. The beloved brawler and Burque legend weighed in on topics including his relationships with Danny Romero and Mike Tyson, how family helped keep him afloat and what the broader picture of being a champion meant to him.

Former News Editor Tim McGivern's accompanying story fills in the gaps on how Tapia became the complex figure who overcame unimaginably tragic circumstances, yet always lived in the shadow of his horrific past. And Tapia's words ring with poignant prescience.

As for the Jerry Bruckheimer movie Tapia and McGivern discuss, Tapia's longtime friend Dennis Latta says that production—and several others—never came to fruition. Latta mentions that a Tapia documentary is in the works that will include footage from his June victory over Mauricio Pastrana—Tapia's last dance in the ring. Tapia died on Sunday, May 27, at the age of 45.

An interview with Johnny Tapia

Tim McGivern

Johnny Tapia loves his new house in the East Mountains. He calls it his castle and to satisfy his hyperactive personality he’s got plans to build a basketball court and swimming pool to go along with the modest boxing gym that fills-out his garage. Yet while Tapia, 36, has the energetic presence of a moth on a light, oddly, he says one of his favorite things to do is lock himself in his room, watch TV and “take my guard down.”

And that’s the mystery of Johnny Tapia. On one hand, he’s the friendliest and humblest guy you will ever meet. But on the other hand, he is a fragile figure, frightened by the tragedies of his past, who can shift gears from cheerfulness to sorrow to an intense seriousness at the drop of a hat.

The five-time world champion boxer wasn’t guarded about anything when Teresa Tapia, his wife and manager for the past 11 years, arranged for the Alibi to talk with him in his living room last Friday. In the fashion of a man who knows it can be good to be the king, Tapia sprawled back in his recliner at the start and said, “Why don’t you ask me anything you want.”

Heroic words for someone with Tapia’s tragic and checkered history. His father was reportedly murdered before he was born. He nearly died at age seven when a bus he was riding plunged off a cliff, killing the pregnant woman seated next to him and throwing him through the window.

To this day, he is haunted by the sound of his mother’s screams and his vision of her being chained in the bed of a pick-up truck the night she was kidnapped and violently murdered by her boyfriend—back when he was just eight years old.

Singeli Agnew
Following the tragedy, he was raised by his grandmother in the Wells Park neighborhood, where he started boxing at the age of nine. From that point forward, Tapia slugged his way to two national Golden Gloves titles as an amateur, five world championships as a pro and when he wasn’t brawling in the ring, he was fighting perhaps a fiercer battle with the ghosts of his childhood and his addiction to drugs and alcohol.

For example, it took nearly 25 years for his mother’s murder case to be closed. And not until the summer of 1999 did Bernalillo County detectives identify the killer, Richard Espinosa, who had died in 1983. Just weeks after Tapia learned the news, he had to fight Paulie Ayala in what was considered by some boxing analysts to be one of the greatest fights in the past decade. Although the outcome was a questionable split decision, it marked Tapia’s first loss as a professional boxer in more than ten years.

Like a true survivor, less than a year later, on Jan. 8, 2000, Tapia won his fourth world title against bantamweight champion Jorge Eliecer Julio before a capacity crowd of 13,000 fans chanting “Johnny! Johnny!” at the Pit.

His ups and downs as a boxer, however, pale compared to his chaotic life outside the ring. He’ll tell you about his struggles to overcome addiction to cocaine—a drug he calls “my mistress”—that has left him clinically dead four times and cost him several shots at a world title thanks to positive drug tests. His most recent overdose occurred this past January, when doctors and Teresa discussed funeral arrangements in a Las Vegas hospital just before Tapia revived himself and asked for a cheeseburger. “I was hungry,” he said in a recent New York Times interview. “I guess it wasn’t my time to die.”

His struggle with drugs and alcohol have led to a 125-page arrest record, including several DWI convictions, numerous stays in the Bernalillo County jail, numerous suspensions from professional boxing and getting kicked out of New Mexico for 18 months by a local judge.

His relationship with wife Teresa—the fact that she has stuck with him through the tough times—is perhaps as remarkable as anything he ever accomplished in the ring. And he’ll be the first person to tell you that. After charges of spousal abuse, including pulling a loaded gun on her when he was high on cocaine, Teresa gave Johnny one last opportunity to get clean. She locked the two of them together in their home for more than a month, allowing her mother to pass them food through a barred window. That was almost 10 years ago and what at the time seemed like the final step toward recovery was just another hurdle in his never-ending battle to stay clean.

Johnny and Teresa Tapia
Singeli Agnew
Johnny and Teresa Tapia
Today Johnny and Teresa stay focused on the future, with one-eye always carefully monitoring Johnny’s daily battle with addiction. Their story is set to become a major motion picture in 2005; famed Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) recently purchased the story rights and Johnny and Teresa will be paid consultants on the project.

Are you back in New Mexico forever?

Oh yeah, I was born and raised here and I’ll live and die here. This is my pride and joy, New Mexico.

Do you still look in the mirror, especially when you are in the gym, and see the baby-faced assassin?

No, because you know I’m going on 26 years in boxing and I’ve done everything you can do in the sport. I fought like a champion. I fought like a contender. I beat everybody. There’s a time and place when you gotta call it quits. I talk to my wife. I talk to my boy, and I just said, “You know what, I got a few more left, suck it up, do whatever it is going to take to keep it going.”

Are you going to fight Danny Romero again?

No, me and Danny are close. They made the whole rivalry bigger than what it was. You know, he’s a good guy. His father took very good care of me. You can’t go wrong with that. But (back then) I was struggling, using alcohol and cocaine, that was my mistress, you know, because of the tragedy that happened. But to your question: Me and Danny are very good friends. We always have been. It just happened we had to see who was the king of Albuquerque and that’s the situation that happened. He was just at my house today. …

Do you guys ever spar together?

No. I only spar two weeks before a fight. But we’re working, you know, helping each other grow bigger and better. He’s gonna be a champion again, you’ll see.

So because you guys are so close, you can’t see getting back in the ring with him, even if that’s the fight everyone wants to see?

I’ll tell you, we’re friends so there’s not gonna be no more fights. Whoever’s in the ring though, I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna hurt ’em. I got the skills to pay the bills, you know.

Singeli Agnew

A lot of kids in Albuquerque want to be like you. Kids that go to Jack Candelaria Community Center and work out in the boxing gym. What do you say to those kids when they are looking at you and they see their dreams?

It’s hard to be a world champion. But I tell them look at who you hang around with and that will tell you who you are. If you want big dreams don’t follow the leader. They don’t protect you and take care of you. If you look at what I’ve done, a lot of people look at my history and don’t see what I’ve accomplished. When you fall you have to pick yourself back up to be successful. I don’t want to be a living proof, but I’ll tell you when I was in a coma, it makes you stop and think about who are your friends. … There’s a lot of bullies here, and I can’t stand bullies. I cannot stand bullies. … I’d say I would rather have friends than enemies. I got a (surrogate) dad who loves me, cares about me as an alcoholic and drug addict, not because I’m a five-time world champion. The situation is, I’m not an every day user, I’m a binger. To me, you can ask me anything you want, because I would love to tell you, so people can hear it, so they can learn from my experience. Everyone knows Johnny Tapia, the champion, the crazy guy. But I’ve got a beautiful wife that sticks with me through thick and thin. She can’t stand me sometimes, but you know what? That’s part of the relationship.

What they call tough love.

I tell you one thing, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but I’ve taken her through hell. Every time I die, I wake up and she’s right there next to me. That’s why I tell you to feel free to ask me anything. Because if there is a 100 kids out there and I get one to listen, then that makes me feel good. Seeing a smile on someone’s face.

Talk a little more about your message to kids.

My message is don’t be a follower, be a leader. You know, the first time you do drugs it’s a mistake, second time it’s a habit. It’s easy to go one way or the other. If I want to mess up, I’ll do it. I don’t put the rap on nobody but myself. If I don’t go straight, I can get divorced and be out on the streets away from my family. But those are the people that I really hurt—the ones that love me the most.

That’s what keeps you straight?

It’s every day waking up with my wife and kids. I got my Pops calling me every day. I’m not a needy person. But when I was going back and forth, messing up (gets emotional, pauses for a moment). …

How do you define love?

I don’t know love. I lost everything I loved when I was small. But when my wife puts her arms around me, or my boy smiles at me tells me he loves me, Pops calls me and tells me he’s really proud of me in my recovery, that’s what’s important. … I used drugs and alcohol to kill the pain. When I was young I lost my mom, my father. It was hard.

What’s your definition of a champion?

I’m not anybody. I’m just a guy that has a lot of problems trying to fix myself. Everybody in the boxing game knows me as Johnny the champion. But boxing is easy for me. I’m a natural. When I do have problems it’s out of the ring. I’ve always had problems out in the streets, but I’m taking my sobriety seriously. And I’m able to stay straight. It’s a lonely world out there, you know.

And a lot of people admire you as a survivor.

To tell you the truth, if my wife doesn’t hug me, or say I love you, I’ll cry. I’m a big baby. In the ring, you gotta kill me. If you don’t drop me, or put me a stretcher, I’ll get up and throw. I love the one-on-one combat. Nobody can help me; nobody can help my opponent. You just have to do whatever it takes. I’ve always trained like I was going to fight Mike Tyson.

You’re friends with Tyson, right?

Oh, we’ve been partners since the ’80s. We roomed together in the Junior Olympics when we were teenagers.

Do you stay in touch?

I talked to him about six months ago.

Do you see him now as a tragic figure?

I’ll tell you one thing, back in the ’80s he was the best in the world. But, you know, when you come into a lot of money really quickly, you run into a lot of yes-people. I’m not that kind of person. I’d rather you talk to me from your heart and say how you feel. (Teresa tells the story here of the last time Tyson called. It was just after Tapia awoke from a drug-induced coma in January. Tyson called to tell Tapia to see a psychiatrist or go to an institution, telling him he was crazy and needed help. Teresa recalled Tyson saying “I know I’m crazy too, so I’m authorized to tell you to get help.”) He’s a beautiful, intelligent person, who just got screwed up and now is just a money figure. You can have fame in two ways: You can have everybody saying yes, or you can have fame and still be around real people. A name will take you a long way, but money is very powerful. The real people will be right next to you through thick and thin. You find out who they are when you fall down. Without my fans, I won’t be where I am today. They have always supported and guided me in ways that they don’t even know.

I guess you’ve had a tough time deciding who you want to hang around with.

The truth is, sometimes it’s not about people that want to be with you, it’s about what they can get out of you. So you have to figure out who’s your friend and who’s not. I can go right now to Wal-Mart and sign autographs for an hour and a half and people there will be my friends. I can call my wife and my Pops and they’ll be there for me to hold me.

What will you do when you’re done boxing?

I’m going to call the pharmacist and tell them I want to be able to have four kids at one time (laughs). No, you know, if there’s a 100 kids out there and I can get one to listen, then that’s my job. I love to help people.

You want to work with youth?

If they call me, I’ll try to help. But I love being at home. This is my castle. This is my peace.

Being bored when you are a hyper guy can get you into trouble, right?

You know what, when stuff like that happens, I’ll call my wife and Pops. You know what really makes me happy, staying in my room. It’s all about keeping my life sober, getting my kids to go to college, explaining to kids and others that the way I went wasn’t the right way. College is very important. I wish I could have went to college. But you know what? I can’t complain. I’ve got food on the table and a beautiful wife that loves me; my boy’s as hyper as I am. But it’s not just that. I love to be in a room locked up, just a place to take my guard down. I enjoy that.

One last question about the new movie deal you signed.

Guess who’s playing me? Either Don Knotts or Gilligan (everyone laughs). Got you guys, huh? (Tapia’s smiling) Or, either Jerry Lewis.

Whoever it is, I hope they do a good job.

Yeah, me too.

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    Old Man Markley
    Old Man Markley4.29.2014