By Keith Idec
PASSAIC ó Glen Tapia got goose bumps the first few times he returned to train inside this familiar Fourth Street boxing gym last month.
The undefeated junior middleweight prospect hadnít trained at the old Passaic PAL location since his father figure and former trainer, Jorge Martinez, moved the operation to Monroe Street in 2007. Once his current trainer, Alex Devia, moved his Garden State School of Boxing from Paterson to the old Passaic PAL spot last month, Tapia took stock of how boxing saved his life.
"If I didnít come to this gym when I was 8 years old, if I didnít come with my older brother [Alan] and walk all the way over here from uptown, it wouldíve been over for me," Tapia, 23, said. "Most of my friends are in jail and Iíve got a few friends that are dead. Itís like everybodyís gone, like Iím the last one standing. And Iím doing something positive."
The biggest fight of Tapiaís four-year pro boxing career is scheduled for tonight at Texas Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (10 p.m.; ESPN2). The winner of the 10-round, junior middleweight match between Tapia (18-0, 10 KOs) and Abie Han (19-0, 12 KOs), of El Paso, Texas, will earn a top-10 spot in the WBOís 154-pound rankings and the regional NABO championship.
Itís a step up in competition for both boxers, a difficult fight thatíll transform one of these top prospects into a legitimate contender. The outcome aside, Tapiaís maturation as a fighter and a man already represents a significant victory for his hometown and the Passaic PAL program that has helped keep countless kids out of trouble since it opened in 1997.
"There were years when everybody gave up on me," said Tapia, the father of an infant daughter. "From cops to family members, everybody thought I was going to be nobody. They had the right to feel that way, because I was doing the wrong things in the streets. Jorge was the only one that stayed with me and always said I could do it. I thank him every day of my life for that."
Tapia went 130-13 as an amateur and won a USA Boxing Junior Olympic national title at 145 pounds in July 2006. Even as he succeeded in the ring, there were times Martinez rightfully worried he would lose Tapia to the streets.
Now that Tapia has developed into a role model for Passaicís youth, Martinez is beyond proud.
"It couldíve gone a lot worse than it did, so just being where weíre at right now is a blessing," said Martinez, a retired Passaic Police Department sergeant who will work Tapiaís corner tonight. "Heís been with me since he was 8 years old. Itís like seeing my son grow up. Now all the plans that we had when he was little, everything we talked about, he has a chance to achieve [tonight]."
Tapia and Han have comparable records, have faced nearly identical levels of opposition and have similar styles. Tapia expects to prove his superiority tonight, though.