Keith Tapia is 16-0 with 11 knockouts, including four in a row. Yet he doubts he’ll be the one in seek-and-destroy mode in Tuesday’s fight against Garrett Wilson.
“Once I hear the bell, I know that I’m in there with a guy who is trying to take my head off,” Tapia says of Wilson, a rugged, muscular, steel-chinned journeyman with nine losses on his ledger. “I think he’ll try to be sneaky, fight dirty [and] bum-rush me.
“The key will be my legs, because he’s never fought anyone who can give him angles and movement like I can.”
Perhaps that’s true, but so is this: Keith Tapia will be facing the most experienced opponent of his career when he squares off against Garrett Wilson (16-9-1, 9 KOs) in a 200-pound clash scheduled for 10 rounds at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, New Jersey (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Wilson was last in action October 30 when he scored an eight-round, unanimous-decision victory over Pedro Martinez in his hometown of Philadelphia. It was Wilson’s third consecutive triumph since June (the other two coming by knockout), a winning streak that follows a four-fight slump.
Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Tapia is coming off September’s 30-second TKO of Anthony Caputo Smith. It was not only his fourth straight knockout, but three of those came in the opening round.
Despite running into few challenges in his four-year pro career—he’s won every fight by knockout or unanimous decision—Tapia is nevertheless taking steps to improve at his craft.
That explains the addition of strength and conditioning guru Chin Achebe to his team. Achebe is a former amateur boxer and scholarship athlete who played football and wrestled at Iowa State, and had a brief professional football career.
Since hooking up with Achebe, Tapia says he's noticed a significant increase in his stamina.
“I’ve never gotten tired in any of my fights, but for this one, I can go 50 rounds if I have to,” says Tapia, who weighed in at a career-low 195 pounds Monday. “It’s the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Says Jack Stanton, Tapia’s longtime trainer: “Chin’s getting Keith ready for Garrett, who’s a 5-foot-8, home-run-hitting puncher who comes right at you. Chin’s doing an awesome job on the physical training and pad work.”
Tapia’s endurance could very well be paramount in this bout, given that he’s only gone as far as eight rounds twice, winning a unanimous decision over Paul Jennette in June 2014 and stopping Leo Pla in May.
Conversely, Wilson, who tipped the scales Monday at 193 pounds, has gone 12 rounds four times and 10 rounds twice. And while he does have those nine losses on his ledger, Wilson has only been stopped twice—and one of those was when he failed to answer the bell for the 10th round in his most recent loss to undefeated Ukrainian fighter Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in January.
In addition to displaying a sturdy chin and the ability to go deep into a fight, Wilson has proven his power doesn’t wane as a fight reaches the latter stages. In fact, he’s twice scored 12th-round knockouts against seasoned opponents Chuck Mussachio and Andreas Taylor, who entered the ring a combined 37-2-4.
“We know Garrett can be sitting there with his hands up and all of a sudden start throwing bombs. He’s a deceptive fighter coming at you,” Achebe says. “I’ve trained Keith to be ready for things that you don’t see from all angles, and to fight coming forward on attack or backward while boxing.
"We’ll pick our battles, letting our hands go when we’re supposed to, but Keith can go 25 rounds if need be. We’ve made sure that our fundamentals are sharp as far as footwork, keeping his hands up and being able to read Wilson’s moves.”
One of Tapia’s unique attributes is his ability to fight effectively from multiple positions. Although he’s a natural right-hander, he can switch to southpaw at any moment and not miss a beat. “Everything I do right-handed, I am just as comfortable doing with my left hand,” Tapia says. “But whether I’m fighting as a right-hander or as a southpaw, I throw a lot of jabs.”
Achebe calls Tapia’s two-fisted punching prowess “a huge plus” against Wilson, who was troubled by jabs, right hooks and straight lefts during unanimous-decision losses to southpaws Alexander Alekseev and Thabiso Mchunu in February 2013 and September 2014, respectively.
“When Wilson goes to throw those big, looping punches, he leaves his feet a lot,” Achebe says. “Wilson has a good skill set, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Whatever he has for us, we’ve practiced for, and [we’ve] mastered our ability to take advantage of the holes we’ve seen.”
With the fight taking place so close to his native Bronx, New York, Tapia expects a lot of fan support. For some, that could turn into a distraction, but Tapia insists that won’t be the case with him.
“I’m just concerned with beating Garrett Wilson,” he says. “He's got nothing to lose, but he has no idea what’s coming.”
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