Former WBO heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison
passed away on Sunday evening at the age of 44. ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill
first reported the news on Monday afternoon, noting that the once-great boxer
died in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.
Morrison was born in Gravette, Arkansas. He was an
Irish-American who was raised in Delaware County, Oklahoma. Since Morrison's
older brother and two uncles were boxers, Morrison's father urged him to
begin boxing locally at the age of ten. At the age of 13, he used a fake ID and
entered fifteen "toughman" contests (the minimum age for
contestants was 21). He later told The New York Times that he lost only one
of these matches.
In 1988, Morrison won the Regional Heavyweight Title
Kansas City Golden Gloves from Donald Ellis and advanced to the National
Golden Gloves in Omaha, Nebraska, where he lost a split decision to Derek
Isaman. Two weeks later, Morrison took part in the Western Olympic
trials in Houston, Texas winning the Heavyweight Title and garnishing the "Most
Outstanding Fighter" of the tournament. Two weeks after that at the
Olympic Trials, held in Concord, California, Morrison lost a split
decision to Ray Mercer, who would go on to win the gold medal at the
Seoul Olympics. Morrison's combined professional and amateur record is
343241, with 315 wins by knockout.
Morrison started his professional boxing career on
November 10, 1988, with a first-round knockout of William Muhammad in
New York City. Three weeks later, he scored another first-round knockout. In
1989, Morrison had 19 wins and no losses, 15 by knockout.
In 1989, actor Sylvester Stallone observed one of Morrison's
bouts. Stallone arranged a script reading and cast Morrison in
the movie Rocky V as Tommy "The Machine" Gunn,
a young and talented protege of the retired Rocky Balboa. Originally an
admirer of Rocky, Gunn's successes led him to goad Rocky
into a street fight.
In 1991, Morrison, already the recipient of much
television exposure, won fights against opponents James Quick Tillis and
former world champion Pinklon Thomas. He was given an opportunity to
face fellow undefeated fighter Ray Mercer, the WBO title holder in a Pay
Per View card held on October 18, 1991. Morrison suffered the first loss
of his career, losing by 5th round knockout. Morrison had six wins in
1992, including fights with Art Tucker and Joe Hipp, who would
later become the first Native American to challenge for the world heavyweight
title. In the Hipp fight, held June 19, 1992, Morrison was
suffering from what was later discovered to be a broken hand and broken jaw, but
rallied to score a knockout in the ninth round. After two wins in 1993,
including one over two-time world title challenger Carl "The Truth"
Williams, Morrison found himself fighting for the WBO title again,
against heavyweight boxing legend George Foreman, who was himself making
a comeback. As both men were famed for their punching power, an exciting battle
was expected, but Morrison chose to avoid brawling with Foreman
and spent the fight boxing from long range. Morrison was able to hit and
move effectively in this manner, and after a closely contested bout he won a
unanimous 12-round decision and the WBO title.
Morrison's first title defense was scheduled against
Mike Williams, but when Williams withdrew on the night of the
fight, Tim Tomashek stood in as a replacement. Although Tomashek
had been prepared to fight as a backup plan, some news reports created the
impression that he had just been pulled out of the crowd. The WBO later
rescinded their sanctioning of this fight due to Tomashek's lack of
experience. Almost immediately, talks of a fight with WBC champion Lennox
Lewis began, but were halted when virtually unknown Michael Bentt
upset Morrison in his next bout. Bentt knocked Morrison
down three times, and the fight was stopped in the first round in front of a
live HBO Boxing audience. Morrison recovered by winning three bouts in a
row in 1994, but his last fight of the year, against Ross Puritty, ended
with a draw.
Morrison won three fights in 1995 before meeting former
#1 contender Razor Ruddock. Ruddock dropped Morrison to his
knees in the first round, but Morrison recovered to force a standing
count in round two and compete on even terms for five rounds. In the sixth
round, Ruddock hurt Morrison with a quick combination, but just
as it seemed Morrison was in trouble, he countered with a tremendous
hook that put Ruddock on the canvas. Ruddock regained his feet,
but Morrison drove him to the ropes and showered him with an extended
flurry of blows. Just as the bell was about to sound, the referee stepped in and
declared Morrison the winner by TKO.
The much-anticipated fight with Lewis, who had also
lost his world championship, finally took place following the Ruddock
match. Morrison was knocked out in the sixth round.
Scheduled to fight against Arthur Weathers, the Nevada
Athletic Commission determined that Morrison had tested positive for
HIV. The Commission suspended Morrison from boxing in Nevada. Several
days later, Morrison's physician administered a test, which was also
positive. At a news conference on February 15, 1996, Morrison said he
had contracted HIV because of a "permissive, fast and reckless
lifestyle". Morrison stated that he would "absolutely"
never fight again.
At another news conference on September 19, 1996, in Tulsa,
Oklahoma, Morrison announced he wished to fight "one last time"
when he could find an opponent, the proceeds of which would benefit his KnockOut
AIDS Foundation. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Advisory
Board said Morrison would probably not be permitted to fight in Oklahoma
because of his Nevada suspension.
To treat his infection, Morrison said he took
antiretroviral medication, which reduced his viral load to almost undetectable
In 2006, Morrison said his HIV tests had been false
positives. The Nevada commission's medical advisory board reviewed Morrison's
1996 test results and concluded they were "ironclad and unequivocal."
Morrison said he tried to get a copy of the original test result but was
unable to do so: "I don't think it ever existed." The
Commission said Morrison could "contact the laboratory, and
they would immediately release the results to him."
Beginning in 2007, Morrison began fighting again. After
passing medical tests in Texas, West Virginia licensed Morrison to fight
in the state, and in February 2007 he fought and beat John Castle.
Castle had also been the
Amateur North American Classic Champion. Castle had won the
Amateur title in Orlando Florida, USA on August 15th when he defeated Chuck
Baxter of Dubuque, Iowa, USA by split decision 29-28, 28-29 & 29-28.
However, Castle had to forfeit the Amateur title because on November
4th, 2004 it was discovered that he had "THREE" Professional
matches before the North American Classic "AMATEUR"
Tournament. He made his Pro Boxing debut on October 7th 2003 against Damian
Mansfield at the 8 Second Saloon in Indianapolis, Indiana winning by TKO at
55 seconds into the second round. Since then he has won all 3 of his Pro Boxing
Baxter's loss was made a win and Castle was given no credit for
his win. This took Castle's record from 11-0 to 10-0. Castle
made his Pro Kickboxing debut in November, 2004. When he met Morrison
his Professional Boxing record was 4-2. The Morrison bout was his last
Morrison tested negative for HIV four times in January
2007. On July 22, 2007, the New York Times reported that Morrison took
two HIV tests in 2007 plus a third specifically for the Times. HIV experts
reviewed the three tests and concluded that the 1996 result had been a false
positive. But ringside doctors expressed doubt, implying that the negative
results were not in fact based on Morrison's blood. However, the experts
agreed that no one is ever cured of HIV, so if his tests in 2007 showed that he
was negative, then he was never infected with HIV. In January 2011, the RACJ,
the boxing commission for the province of Quebec, required that Morrison
take a supervised HIV test in advance of a scheduled 2011 fight. Morrison
declined to take the test because he said it would be the same kind of test
administered by Nevada in 1996. Instead, Morrison invited the Quebec
commission to attend a public test, but the commission did not come. Morrison
stated that if Quebec refused to license him, he would "take the dog
and pony show somewhere else."
On September 1, 2013, Morrison died at a hospital in
Omaha, Nebraska at the age of 44. Although an official cause of death has not
been made public, Morrison's wife Trisha told MMADirt.com that
he died of "acute respiratory and metabolic acidosis and multiple organ
failure." She said Morrison had Miller Fisher Syndrome/Guillain