Keith Tapia: Cruiserweight machine gun zeroed on ‘Beast’ hunting
There are weight classes that have been difficult for boxers from certain regions of the world to crack, such as heavyweight for South American and Asian boxers or anything below bantamweight for American and European combatants. It just seems to go with the territory but one boxer trying to crack a regional weight ceiling is Puerto Rican cruiserweight Keith “Machine Gun” Tapia, 17-0 (11). Carlos De Leon and Ossie Ocasio are Tapia’s only countrymen who rose to the top, winning WBA and WBC titles (in the 1980s), though neither had lengthy stays, only registering three successive title defenses in their reigns. Currently, there is only one Hispanic rated by THE RING magazine at cruiserweight, Argentine mauler Victor Ramirez, with the other spots habitually inhabited by European champions or gatekeepers who have bullied North American opposition back down the ranks. It will take a focused fighter to break this trend and we can see if that evolutionary step takes place when Tapia headlines Friday night’s edition of “ShoBox” (10 p.m. ET/PT) telecast against fellow undefeated slugger Andrew “The Beast” Tabiti, 12-0 (11).
Though born in New York City’s South Bronx borough (a “Nuyorican,” like famed compatriot Hector Camacho, as their parents were born in Puerto Rico), Keith Tapia considers himself Puerto Rican through and through, residing near the city of Carolina, training out of its respected Club Diamante Gym. Tapia has been holed up in a gym for the past few months preparing for his all-important Showtime debut, “I feel blessed by this opportunity. I’m training hard and will put on a great fight. Camp is going well and I’m ready. No matter who gets put in front of me, I’m going to keep taking care of business and there’s nothing else to talk about.” However, the garrulous Tapia always seems to have an addendum. “I will show the fans that I’m one of the best cruiserweights in the world. I am here and definitely ready to fight. I feel I’m the best in my weight class except no one has seen me yet.”
Now an athletically pleasing 6-foot-2 construct, the 25-year-old Tapia was initially introduced to boxing at age 13 to reduce his weight and control a chronic case of hyperactivity. Before long, Tapia’s parents found that not only had boxing taken off pounds but added tons of confidence and led to maturation as he burned off excess energy at the Fort Apache Gym with celebrated local trainer Jack Stanton. In and out of the ring, Tapia exudes a feverish charisma that makes him an easy person to root for in every sense. Tapia knows his parents’ decision to get him into a gym altered his life, “If it wasn’t for boxing, I wouldn’t be here right now. God and boxing saved me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be alive.”
Tapia represented the United States in multiple international tournaments, winning bronze at the 2006 Cadet World Championships and gold at Silver Gloves and National AAU Junior Olympic Games. After moving to Puerto Rico at age 16, Tapia felt obligated to change his allegiance to the Puerto Rican team in 2007 and fought under that flag until 2011. Though less successful on the medal front, Tapia developed a broader skill base under the tutelage of Ricardo Marquez, placing highly in tourneys as a cruiser and heavyweight. He faced off against all the major European and Eastern European foes, as well as the elite from South and Central America, bearing witness to the divergent styles and scoring systems before turning pro in 2012.
As Tapia put in more work at the gym, he began to incorporate bits of his favorite boxers, such as countryman Wilfredo Gomez and the legendary Muhammad Ali, attempting to fuse styles separated by 12 weight classes. It has been difficult but you can see Tapia employing the power-pressure tactics of Gomez with the speed and movement of Ali. Upon turning pro, Tapia appeared on some Miguel Cotto Promotions cards but switched his base of preparation often to find higher levels of sparring, given the dearth of higher weight talent in Puerto Rico. Ultimately, Tapia signed a managerial deal with Al Haymon and seems poised to break into the alphabet rankings at cruiserweight with a victory over Andrew Tabiti.
The nickname of “Machine Gun” is apt for Tapia, inside or out of the ring, given the energetic vibe he discharges as he bounces from ring post to ring post. He appears a manic ball of activity, probably finding it hard to focus on one angle of pursuit, thus opting to come at problems like a Tasmanian devil attacking from all angles. Though fighting mostly out of an orthodox stance, Tapia is a switch-hitter with the ability to hurt foes with either hand, given those ambidextrous tendencies. Hopefully, Tapia’s recent power surge, stopping four of his last five foes, continues in order to show the audience the potential this young gun has. It does not hurt that Tapia also sports an easy-to-promote million-dollar smile after stoppage victories.
To ask Tapia, boxing is not about knockouts, “I never look for a knockout as much as box my way into a knockout. I just look to throw punches in combinations. I’m feeling my power more and more every fight.” Trainer Jack Stanton does feel a tinge of pressure to deliver on this larger stage. “We want to look really good in this fight. We’re really excited about getting the television exposure. When all is said and done, we want people to be saying that Keith Tapia is one of the best 200-pounders in the world.”
In Tapia’s only other televised outing, an unexpected swing bout on FS1, he dispensed of veteran trial horse Garrett Wilson. Tapia won all but one round but it was a notable one, given Tapia ate too much leather and was rocked in the second stanza. It allowed Tapia to show his fighting instincts with immediate retaliation but it really should not have been necessary, given Tapia’s reflexes and Wilson’s offensive predictability. Tapia redoubled his jab in the third round, comfortably winning the fight, but was too willing to take punches in order to get close and land his bombs. However, it is that kind of firefight which draws attention and will surely create a solid fan base, given Tapia is one of few Puerto Ricans (or Hispanics, in general) in the upper weight classes.
Like the majority of 200-pounders, Tapia has given thought to traversing the small gap in weight from cruiserweight to heavyweight but decided to make a run at a cruiser title than naturally building his body to incorporate speed-infused strength to compete at heavyweight like David Haye. The draw of the big money division is impossible to ignore for young or old talent at cruiserweights, which Tapia freely addresses. “I’m going to become the cruiserweight champion, defend it a couple of times and then move up. I already feel like a champion both mentally and spiritually. All of my fights are equally important. I’m really satisfied with the way my career is going.”
That is the future to which Tapia aspires but, for now, he has to be content with the biggest test of his career facing unbeaten Mayweather Promotions young gun Tabiti. The Chicago-bred power-puncher has promised victory and says everything is falling into place for him at the right time, “I’m focused and I’m ready. I’ve been in training camp for 10 weeks. My game plan is to go in and destroy,” which Tabiti has done to all but one foe, thanks to a distinctive style that sees him bounce on his toes, looking to land quick flurries and withdrawing rapidly out of the exchanges to analyze the damage he has wrought.
A dedicated Tabiti relocated to Las Vegas, with the aid of Floyd Mayweather’s promotional firm, and is fixated on the job at hand to repay his employer’s faith in him, “I love training at Mayweather Boxing Club. It keeps me focused and hungry. I am maturing as a fighter and feel a lot more confident in my skills and abilities. Winning is everything.” The emphasis Tabiti has is squarely on himself, “I don’t compare myself to other cruiserweights; I know I’m the best. I’m always looking to win impressively and I look to put on a great performance for the fans Friday night. I’ve never seen Tapia fight but I’ve watched videos. He is unbeaten, a solid opponent. Styles make fights and this is a good one for me.”
Tapia is nonplussed by the threat Tabiti holds and, like his opposition, is much more concentrated on what he needs to do for a victory, “Whatever the guy brings, I trust myself to just see things magically and then improvise. But if it comes down to going the distance, then a win is going to be good enough.” While confident, Tapia is not dismissive of the task or opponent at hand. “Fighting Tabiti is a great, real challenge. I like the way he fights. I respect him but I’m going to be bad weather for him. I’m going to take control right away; it will be a Tapia fight, not a Tabiti fight. That’s a fact.”
When asked at the final press conference to describe the test he faces, Tapia found an easy comparison, given one of the promotional sides. “Tabiti is a talented boxer. His style is a Mayweather style. I love Floyd Mayweather as a fan but Tabiti’s not Floyd Mayweather.” Then Tapia employed a favorite Mayweather trick by quickly reminding everyone who the main attraction is, in his mind. “I’m definitely going to change the perception about me in this fight and the division…because I’m a machine. I come to fight, hands up, moving forward as I go. I want to run over you.”