Tapia to fight Julio in New Mexico, then retire

Originally Published: January 18, 2007
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Johnny Tapia, who won five world titles in three weight divisions and excited fans with his brawling style, is coming home for a farewell fight.

Johnny Tapia
John Gichigi/Getty ImagesJohnny Tapia (left), seen fighting Eduardo Alvarez in London in 2002, wants to fight one more time in front of his home fans before retiring.
Tapia (55-5-2, 28 KOs) announced at a Wednesday news conference that he will face Ilido Julio (33-10-1, 29 KOs) on Feb. 23 in a 10-round featherweight bout dubbed "The Final Fury" at the Isleta Casino and Resort in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M.

Then, Tapia said, he is retiring.

Tapia, who turns 40 on Feb. 13, hasn't fought since Sept. 16, 2005, when he was knocked out by journeyman Sandro Marcos on a body punch in the second round. It is the only time in his career Tapia has been stopped.

He said he didn't want to end his career with a loss.

"I guarantee you, this will be my last fight. It's time for me to hang up the gloves, but I want to go out with a win and to be on top," said Tapia, who won titles at junior bantamweight, bantamweight and featherweight. "I will give my hometown one last fight. I really want to outbox Ilido, but you know once he hits me, and I taste blood, it's on. It's time for me to pass the torch to the younger guys and give them the opportunity."

"It's time for me to hang up the gloves, but I want to go out with a win and to be on top."
-- Johnny Tapia.

If Tapia sticks to his retirement plans, the fight will bring to an end a tumultuous career, which was only part of his more turbulent life. Nicknamed "Mi Vida Loca" -- "My Crazy Life" -- Tapia struggled with drugs, a suspension for cocaine use, depression and a suicide attempt.

Through all the struggles, Tapia became one of the most popular fighters in the sport.

"A living legend comes to the end of his Hall of Fame career and we are very happy to be putting on this show for Johnny," promoter Lenny Fresquez said. "This will be Johnny's ninth fight with Fresquez Productions, and he has never disappointed us or his fans. We are just proud to be putting on this fight."

Tapia said he plans to stay involved in boxing by training fighters, including his son, Johnny Tapia II, who is scheduled to make his amateur debut in March.

Tapia knocked out Henry Martinez in the 11tth round in Albuquerque to win a vacant junior bantamweight title in 1994. He racked up 10 defenses before outpointing crosstown rival Danny Romero in 1997 to unify titles in the biggest bout in the history of the 115-pound division.

Tapia later moved up to bantamweight, where he won two versions of the title. In 2002, Tapia outpointed Manuel Medina to win a featherweight belt before relinquishing it to take a high-profile fight against Marco Antonio Barrera, who won a decision.

Besides the fight with Romero, Tapia will also be remembered for waging two classic battles with rival Paulie Ayala. Ayala won both of the all-action fights on disputed decisions. Their first clash -- in which Ayala took Tapia's bantamweight crown -- was named the 1999 fight of the year.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.