Keith Tapia can easily hold his breath for as long as it took him to finish off his most recent opponent.
“Thirty seconds,” says Tapia of his swift September knockout of Anthony Caputo Smith, his fourth consecutive stoppage victory, three of which came in the opening round. “I really felt my power more than I had in any of my previous fights, and I never expected that. It was crazy.”
Perspective on Tapia’s tremendous effort can be measured by this fact: It was the earliest the hard-punching Caputo Smith had ever been stopped. Previously, he had lasted three rounds each with contender Sean Monaghan and title challenger Ola Afolabi, and went the distance in an eight-round, unanimous-decision loss to title challenger BJ Flores.
Despite Tapia’s quick destruction of Caputo Smith—his 11th knockout in 16 fights—the unbeaten 25-year-old says he’s doesn’t necessarily view himself as a heavy hitter.
“I never look for a knockout as much as box my way into a knockout,” says Tapia, who was born and spent his early years in Bronx, New York, before relocating to Puerto Rico as a teenager to live with his father. “I just look to throw punches in combinations, [but] I’m feeling my power more and more every fight.”
That potency could be on display yet again Tuesday at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, New Jersey, where Keith Tapia battles Garrett Wilson (16-9-1, 9 KOs) in a 200-pound clash scheduled for 10 rounds (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
It marks the first time Tapia will get a chance to showcase his skills for the masses, which his longtime cornerman sees as a pivotal step in the fighter’s growth.
“We want to look really good in this fight,” says Jack Stanton, who has trained Tapia for more than a decade. “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.”
To continue on that path, Tapia will have to take down Wilson.
A durable 33-year-old from Philadelphia, Wilson sports a middling professional record, but he does come into this one riding a three-fight winning streak, all since June 20, when he too knocked out Caputo Smith. That was followed by a sixth-round TKO of Peter Lewison on August 29 and an eight-round, unanimous-decision win over Pedro Martinez on October 30.
Wilson last suffered defeat in January, when unbeaten Ukrainian Vyacheslav Shabranskyy—now 14-0 with 12 KOs—scored a ninth-round stoppage victory in a 178-pound contest. That was Wilson’s fourth consecutive loss, but he put forth a solid effort in two of those contests, going the distance against unbeaten heavyweight title contender Vyacheslav Glazkov (now 21-0-1) and hammer-fisted 200-pound title challenger Alexander Alekseev (now 24-3 with 20 KOs).
In other words, Wilson hasn’t been afraid to test himself against top competition, something that’s not lost on Tapia’s camp.
“Garrett Wilson is very dangerous, an underrated fighter with a strong punch,” Stanton says. “He’s displayed a lot of toughness in fights with a lot of top guys, many times taking the fight on short notice.
“Plus, we haven’t had a lot of time to prepare for him, so with his experience and durability, we cannot underestimate this guy.”
Despite his nine losses, Wilson has displayed a fairly sturdy chin. Besides failing to answer the bell for the 10th and final round against Shabranskyy, Wilson’s only other stoppage loss was by a fourth-round TKO to Omar Sheika in March 2010—a defeat Wilson avenged 11 months later.
So even though Tapia owns eight first-round KOs and would love to nail down another sensational finish, he’s not about to guarantee it.
“Everybody says they’re going to do something until they’re in front of a guy—that’s when you really know what’s going to happen,” says Tapia, an orthodox boxer who is also capable of fighting as a southpaw.
“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.”
For complete coverage of Tapia vs Wilson, check out our fight page.