By Jackie Kallen
Talk about a sad weekend for boxing. First we lose Johnny Tapia, a 45 year old warrior whose life has been one battle after another. And now we find out that Paul Williams may be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. Both tragic stories.
I always liked Johnny. He was fighting at the same time as my former champ James Toney. They both turned pro in 1988. We all ran into each other often and Johnny was always the friendliest guy around–despite the fact that his father was killed when his mother was pregnant with him and his mother was murdered when he was eight years old. Raised by his grandparents, he turned to boxing at the age of nine. In his career, he won five world titles.
During the mid 1990s, Johnny’s wife Teresa tried her hand at managing him. She and I were the only female managers that I knew at the time. In 1994, when James fought Roy Jones, Tapia fought seven fights, winning them all. He was on a roll, which came to a halt in 1999 when Paulie Ayala edged him out to win his WBO Bantamweight title.
Tapia has cheated death before. On March 12, 2007, he was found unconscious in his hotel room. He was hospitalized for a cocaine overdose and was in critical condition. The following day, his brother-in-law and nephew were killed in a car accident while driving to the hospital to visit him.
I will always remember Tapia as a man who loved his fans and treated them all as if they were his friends. I never saw him refuse to pose for a picture or sign an autograph. He was a down-to-earth guy who admitted that he was a colossal screw-up, but he had a sense of humor about it. He once joked about dying young and leaving behind a handsome corpse.
As for Paul Williams, I am still in shock. He apparently had an accident near Atlanta while riding his motorcycle. He is having surgery in the next two days, but early reports say he is paralyzed from the waist down. I heard that he swerved to avoid a car and another report claims he was forced off the road by the car. Whatever happened, his life will never be the same.
You couldn’t meet a nicer guy. Paul often came to Jimmy Lange’s fights in Fairfax, VA. He’d sit ringside and cheer Jimmy on, while greeting his fans and talking about his next fight. Even after his disastrous KO at the hands of Sergio Martinez in 2010, he still managed to seem upbeat and positive about his future.
He was set to fight Canelo Alvarez in September, which would have probably been the biggest payday in his career. Now he has an even bigger fight. The fight to survive and get better. The fight to walk again. My prayers will be with him.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen
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