January 9, 2000
TAPIA CHAMPION AGAIN
Julio drops title in one-sided contest
Bantamweight champion Jorge Eliecer Julio didn’t seem particularly daunted by
the prospect of facing former titlist Johnny Tapia in Tapia’s hometown. As
18,000 Tapia devotees rained down a chorus of boos on Julio, the champion
merely grinned. Beaming the type of smile usually reserved for completed
victories, Julio displayed a confidence that would gradually diminish once
the bout actually began. Perhaps he felt Tapia’s speed was overrated, that
his reputation as a light-hitting brawler suited him, or that Tapia’s
conditioning for the bout was suspect. No matter the reason, Julio looked
like a man for whom the fight was merely a formality.
Johnny Tapia had other plans. Despite looking a bit soft in the midsection,
Tapia opened the fight by quickly displaying the adjustments he had made
since his defeat to Paulie Ayala in last year’s Fight of the Year. The
primary adjustment was the rediscovery of the footwork and timing that had
previously maximized Tapia’s quick flurries. As Julio stalked Tapia in the
first round, looking to counter with a right over Tapia’s jab, he was unable
to find the stationary target he may have been expecting. While Tapia warmed
up his jab, then his left hook to the body, and eventually his combinations,
Julio waited for Tapia to give him the opportunity to answer. That
opportunity rarely came on this evening.
Tapia’s footwork allowed him to control the pace of the fight from the
get-go, which was critical versus the taller, stronger Julio. Unable to
dissuade Julio by brute force, Tapia was required to let go his punches and
then get out of harm’s way. Having watched himself drop rounds to Ayala by
opting to stand and trade, Tapia now set out to fight a style more tailored
to his strengths. In the first half of the bout, Tapia’s movement,
interrupted by machine gun bursts of punches, neutralized most of Julio’s
offense. Unable to land clean on the challenger, Julio caught a lot of air,
landing only glancing blows upstairs and blocked shots downstairs.
To the champion’s credit, he never failed to pursue Tapia. However, in
failing to couple his pressure with offense, he allowed Tapia to set a rhythm
that was banking round after round in the books. Julio’s attempts were often
wild, and while he may have taken the third round, his misses resulted in a
number of elbows, shoulders and headbutts landing in the place of clean
punches. By the halfway mark of the bout, concern surely was settling into
Julio’s mind, as Tapia was not tiring, despite having come down from 150 lbs.
to make the 118 lb. limit.
At times it seemed as though Julio was not only facing Tapia, but also his
18,000 supporters. Occasionally he would land a flush left hook or a well
timed overhand right, to no response from the partisan crowd, while Tapia’s
bursts nearly always drew roars of approval and fans leaping from their seats
in excitement. It’s difficult to measure the effect these reactions had on
the official judges, but not hard to see how the cheers boosted Tapia in
times of need. In the sixth, seventh, and eighth rounds, Julio stormed out
of his corner and landed his best shots on Tapia, only to have Tapia answer
back with accurate flurries for the remainder of the frame. Spurred on by
the crowd, Tapia won these middle rounds in which Julio landed his best shots.
By the ninth round, Julio was beginning to tire. Tapia’s digging body shots
had slowed the champion, and his jab was now snapping the Julio’s head back
when it landed. At times in the closing frames, Tapia stunned Julio with his
accuracy, including an occasion in each of the final two rounds when Tapia
fired three consecutive right hand leads that landed. It was classic Tapia
as Albuquerque’s favorite son showed that determination and skill could
overcome strength and size. When the final bell sounded, the official scores
were a mere formality, as Tapia had dominated the bout with few interruptions.
The official scores read 118-109, 116-111 and 119-108 (Boxing Chronicle scored
the bout 117-110), handing Johnny Tapia his fourth world title and his
second at 118 lbs.
After the bout, the obvious question asked was "what’s next?" Although Tapia
was too elated to give a clear answer, there are a number of options for him,
all of them lucrative. The most obvious contest would be a rematch between
Tapia and Ayala, especially with each man now holding a championship in the
division. However, as Tapia has struggled with 118, the talk has turned
towards another step up, this time to 122 lbs. With names like Barrera,
Morales, McCullough, Garza, and of course Romero, haunting the division,
Tapia will have no lack of choices. His exciting style, relentless will
power, and willingness to take on all comers might not make him the favorite
in each of these bouts, but they certainly make the bouts themselves fall
into the "must-see" category. And really, what more could any professional
boxer hope for?
Tapia Dethrones Julio
Albuquerque, N.M - Johnny Tapia strategically gave another brilliant
performance in return for Jorge Eliecer Julio's WBO Bantamweight
Championship. In front of his screaming hometown fans at The Pit, Tapia
(47-2-1) effectively moved in and out, landing sharp, straight punches
throughout the 12 round contest. All three judges at ringside scored the
fight 118-109, 116-111 and 119-108 for Tapia, while the fans who viewed the
Showtime televises fight from their living rooms, favored Tapia in all 12
rounds. The CBZ had it for you know who 118-111.
As Tapia has repeatedly done throughout his career, he was able to
frustrate and adapt to the aggressive Julio pursuit. The deposed champion
lost for the first time in over six years. His only other defeat occurred
when he dropped a decision to another American, Junior Jones. Though the
Colombian had felt that the decision was "hometownish," his aggressiveness
could not match Tapia's speed. Julio's (42-2) decision to occasionally
switch from his conventional stance to a southpaw's also did little to offset
Tapia's infinite rhythm.
The name of the venue, The Pit, is befitting to the arena where a world
champion like Tapia fights. Tapia was pursued to no avail as if he were a
mongoose thrown in with a cobra. Tapia would have made Archie Moore (The Old
Mongoose) proud of him. Even nearing 33, Tapia's speed and savvy were too
much for Julio.
The victory for Tapia not only assured him of his fourth world
championship belt, but it was his first since losing in last year's fight of
the year to Paulie Ayala. The loss to Ayala came just days before
investigator's announced who his mother's killer was. Many were concerned
whether or not Tapia could perform as great as he had after losing for the
first time, but as Tapia says, "You can't keep a good man down."