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Julio, Tapia To Fight for WBO Title

January 7, 2000

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ WBO bantamweight champ Jorge Eliecer Julio predicts he’ll eliminate former world champion Johnny Tapia’s hometown edge once the two step into the ring Saturday night.

``It will be just him and me,″ the Spanish-speaking Julio said Friday. ``He was a good champion, but I’m ready.″

Julio (42-1, 31 KOs) is defending his World Boxing Organization title against Tapia (46-1-2, 25 KOs), who hasn’t fought since losing his WBA bantamweight title to Paulie Ayala in Las Vegas last June.

For Tapia, it’s a chance to win a fourth world title and to prove that at 32, he still has the power and skills to remain a world class fighter. For Julio, it’s a chance to achieve the status he craves by beating an opponent of Tapia’s marquee stature.

``It is not good to say you are good. It’s better to prove it in the ring,″ Julio said Friday. ``I’ve changed everything to get ready for this fight. I’ve changed my training and my diet. I am well prepared.″

If Julio is ready, Tapia is hungry again.

The colorful and emotional Tapia fought 48 times before his first defeat. After losing to Ayala, Tapia said he needed some time away from the ring. But instead of taking a softer, tune-up bout in his return, Tapia decided to challenge Julio.

``There’s nothing this guy can do to hurt me,″ Tapia said. ``I’m going to win it, no ifs ands or buts. He must be crazy to fight me here.″

Julio, a Colombian who fought in the 1988 Olympics, believes a win in Tapia’s hometown will get him the celebrity status he craves. Julio has been willing before to fight in an opponent’s town. In fact, he knocked out Puerto Rican challenger Daniel Jimenez in Bayamon in April of 1998.

Julio’s only defeat was to Junior Jones on Oct. 23, 1993. In that fight, Jimenez lost the WBA bantamweight title. Four years later, he beat Oscar Maldonado to win the WBO title and has defended it three times _ the latest a 12-round decision over Julio Gamboa last March _ and won 16 straight fights.

Tapia’s career has been a saga of triumph and tragedy. His mother was murdered when Tapia was 8 years old. He was banned from boxing for 3 1/2 years because of his addiction to cocaine, and recently said his drug problems remain a daily battle.

The one constant in Tapia’s life has been his ability to win big fights. He won his first world title when he stopped Henry Martinez in 11 rounds for the WBO junior bantamweight belt in October 1994. He took Danny Romero’s IBF junior bantamweight title with a unanimous decision in July 1997 and beat Nana Yaw Konadu for the WBA bantamweight title in December 1998.

``I don’t think Johnny ever lost any fire,″ said trainer Freddie Roach. ``He just had a bitter taste in his mouth after losing. He’s hungry again.″

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