'Local hero' Tapia is ready for fifth world title

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The Independent Online

It was obvious that Johnny Tapia would receive the type of reception generally reserved for retired fighters when he finally entered the ring at a capacity York Hall in London's East End on Saturday night.

Tapia has a reputation in the ring – and a crazy legacy away from it – so when his name was added to the roll-call of fighters due to appear the few remaining tickets were purchased in a hurry. Consequently as dark descended there were hundreds of frustrated fans trying vainly to gain admission to the dirty old venue. They were disappointed, but Tapia was not disappointing.

It took the American 82 seconds to firmly establish that, after six months away from boxing, he still has a future and even before the referee hauled him off Argentina's Eduardo Alvarez he had shown that his ambition to win his fifth world title is realistic.

The crowd responded to Tapia's entrance like it was the return of a prodigal son when in fact the veteran was having his first professional fight in Britain. They gave him a standing ovation when his slight frame ducked beneath the ropes and entered the ring which is odd because it is not often that a fighter gets a standing ovation before a fight. Tapia loved every second of it.

Tapia was not the main event, but he did have an interest in the main attraction between Argentina's Julio Chacon and Colombia's Victor Polo for the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title. Chacon retained with a disputed majority decision and will now fight Tapia in America before the summer. Tapia could be too slick for the willing Chacon and if he wins he has promised to return to Britain and defend against the current domestic champion Scott Harrison in Glasgow in the type of fight that could give the ignoble art a good name.

The presence of Tapia and Chacon at York Hall complemented the original main event which featured Croydon's Wayne Alexander in a challenge for the vacant European light-middleweight title against Italy's Paolo Pizzamiglio. Alexander was simply too strong, and close to the end of round three the Italian went down for the full count. He had never looked happy with the level of ferocity he encountered in the ring and the degree of hostility he experienced from a crowd that had been inspired by Tapia's brilliant, but brief, appearance.

Now Alexander is in a unique position because in addition to the European title he is also the British champion and he could, if he wanted, simply take his time and wait until he is nominated as a mandatory challenger to one of the sport's respectable world champions. However, he will find it hard to resist the offer Frank Warren, Saturday's promoter, will shortly make him and five or six other British light-middleweights.

Warren has plans to initiate a tournament involving the best at the weight in an effort to find the best in Britain. In addition to Alexander there are three British boxers who hold versions of the world light-middleweight title.