By Keith Idec
PASSAIC, N.J. – Glen Tapia laughed as he told the story, clearly aware of how insane it sounds to those of us who lack personal perspective on what it’s like to take that five-step trip up to one of the loneliest, most dangerous places in the world.
Truth be told, the junior middleweight from Passaic enjoyed watching a replay of his unusually brutal loss to James Kirkland.
“I watched it twice,” said Tapia, who’ll fight veteran Keenan Collins (15-8-3, 10 KOs) on Saturday night in Atlantic City in his first fight in the sixth months since the Kirkland defeat. “I actually liked it. I started watching and I took myself out of it, as if it wasn’t me. It was fun to watch.”
Fun would not be the way that dangerous Dec. 7 fight in Atlantic City would be described by Tapia’s parents, girlfriend, co-managers, friends and anyone else that truly cares about his health. Fighting like Arturo Gatti that night left violence-loving fight fans with an unforgettable performance, even in a mostly one-sided defeat, yet Tapia knows repeat performances won’t lead to a long, prosperous career.
That’s why when the opportunity presented itself, Tapia happily hired Freddie Roach as his trainer in the aftermath of his sixth-round technical knockout loss to Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs). Unlike most fighter/trainer splits, Alex Devia, Tapia’s former trainer, supported Tapia’s decision to work with Roach at Roach’s famed Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood. Devia drew criticism for his instructions to Tapia between rounds Dec. 7, but the switch was preceded by their agreement that the renowned Roach’s expertise and a change of training scenery would benefit Tapia’s career.
Roach and Tapia (20-1, 12 KOs) already had a bond from when Tapia served as one of Manny Pacquiao’s sparring partners in the Philippines for his November 2010 victory over Antonio Margarito. Tapia realized quickly, though, that Roach’s no-nonsense style and brutal honesty would serve him well.
“I remember the first day I did pads with him, it was so hard,” said Tapia, who’s promoted by Top Rank Inc. and co-managed by Sal Alessi and Pat Lynch, Gatti’s manager. “I remember leaving the gym and I just felt like I was one of the worst fighters. I went back to my hotel room and I said, ‘Damn, I suck as a fighter.’ Then I came back the next day and did everything that he said. Me and him got going with the pads for seven rounds or eight rounds straight, and he said, ‘You did a 360 from yesterday till today.’ It’s crazy because I learned real quick. That was just the second day of me and him training. Just that first week, I learned so much. Now it’s eight weeks in.”
The 24-year-old Tapia will answer to Roach’s assistant, Ernie Zavala, on Saturday night at Bally’s because Roach will be a couple hours north, working the corner of Russia’s Ruslan Provodnikov at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Provodnikov is scheduled to make the first defense of his WBO junior welterweight title against Chris Algieri (19-0, 8 KOs), of Huntington, N.Y., in an HBO “Boxing After Dark” main event (10 p.m. ET). Tapia still will hear Roach’s voice in his head as he attempts to apply the lessons learned during a two-month training camp spent working alongside newly crowned WBC middleweight champ Miguel Cotto.
“I have the ability to box a guy if I want to box a guy and I have the ability to knock him out by boxing him,” said Tapia, whose fight against Collins won’t be televised. “I can do anything if I put my mind to it. He sees that, that I have that ability. I’m not just a bar fighter. I can do a lot of things. He saw that in sparring, he saw that on the pads, so he’s just teaching me a lot.”
Tapia realizes, though, that he performed more like a “bar fighter” than a legitimate contender against Kirkland. Following a strong first round, Tapia lacked energy, abandoned any semblance of a game plan and tried to bang it out with one of boxing’s most punishing punchers. A huge heart and a granite chin helped keep Tapia upright for five-plus rounds of a fight that should’ve been stopped following four rounds. His admirable bravery won him many fans during a bout broadcast by HBO, but Tapia now understands that he can maintain his commitment to entertainment and win challenging fights.
“I definitely know what I should’ve done,” Tapia said. “I could’ve boxed him. I could’ve done a lot of things. I could’ve been smarter, instead of letting my ego get the best of me. I learned a lot. Knowing that I could box and I could’ve just broken him down, and still entertained, it taught me a lot. That will never happen to me again.”
Roach has implored Tapia to move out of his opponent’s punching range once he lands, showed him how to get greater leverage and thus more power from his punches and changed some of Tapia’s footwork. Of course, old habits die hard, which led to many constructive sessions.
“He likes to brawl and he likes to throw a lot of punches,” Roach said. “I told him, ‘Brawling looks really good and so forth, but if you think you’re going to get away with a 10-punch combination against a good fighter you’re wrong. A good fighter will counter you.’ So I told him that we’d cut the volume down, use a little bit more feints, and be smarter about what he’s doing, and go about it in a little different way. The speed aspect of it is great, but if you throw 10 punches, one after the other, a good fighter is going to catch you in between those spots at one point. So we’re trying to work on that.
“I didn’t have an argument with him, but I had a discussion with him over that issue. So he says, ‘OK, let’s try it.’ He threw a 10-punch combination and I hit him twice. He said, ‘I think you won that one.’ He likes high-volume combinations and so forth, but the thing is they’re not really practical against a good fighter. A good fighter will time that and get the counter shot in. So he learned a good lesson. I told him, ‘I’m not that big a puncher, so you’re lucky.’ But he’s a good kid and he learns every day.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.