"Johnny Lee Anthony Tapia."
"I'm a professional fighter."
Those are the words spoken by the man who is the focal point of HBO's latest sports documentary "Tapia", and the last sentence has more significance as it describes not just his chosen profession, but more acurately describes his entire life.
Johnny Tapia had some great fights in the ring on his way to becoming a champion, but it was his fights outside of the ring that truly shaped and defined his 45 years on this earth. The man nicknamed "Mi Vida Loca" had a career record of 59-5 but his win-loss record compares palely to the signifcance he had to his fans and those outside of the ring. You will see how deeply the murder the of his mother when he was eight years old affected him, even into his forties. You will see how cocaine continued to destroy both his career and his life each year. Yet you will also see a man who loved his friends, family and hometown of Albuqueque, New Mexico dearly, a man who wanted to make them proud despite the demons that plagued him internally.
"Tapia" takes you on a journey through a professional career that was filled with memorable wins, such as the victory over up-and-coming hometown rival Danny Romero, and controversial and heart-breaking defeats, such as the bouts against Paulie Ayala. But in true HBO fashion, the sports action becomes secondary to the lifestory of the athlete, a strategy and accomplishment that always makes their documentaries so successful. It draws in both the die-hard and casual fans to their stories, making the athletes seem more tangible because of the victories and obstacles they've experienced in their lives. It makes them appear to be more human, and while fans love to cheer for winners, they feel closer to those that they share something in common with. In regards to Johnny Tapia, it was his love for those around him, the unconditional love shown by his wife Teresa despite his struggles with drugs and his general down-to-earth personality that brought people closer to him. He remained loyal to his city, even after his retirement from boxing, by coaching local kids in the sport.
"Tapia" is more than just a story of another athlete throwing everything away because of his mistakes or the obstacles in his path. It's a story of a man who loved what he did and who he did it with, but for whom life was always a fight.
It airs Tuesday December 16th at 11pm EST on HBO.