A young up-and-coming Fighter from Oklahoma with humble beginnings walks into the Goldsmith gym in Philadelphia, eager to impress a former heavyweight champion, his hopes and dreams are placed into the hands of his hero, together they would plan for world domination.
An impressive early record is forged under the careful watchful eye of his trainer however the allure of the big time, money and a lavish lifestyle offered to him by an unscrupulous promoter will lead to the downfall of a promising boxer’s career.
You could be forgiven for thinking you are reading the synopsis of the movie Rocky V in fact and perhaps ironically Tommy Morrison’s life was almost identical to the character he portrayed on the big screen.
Morrison was a natural athlete who excelled during his school years in most sports, however due to a family tradition he turned his attention to boxing amassing a formidable amateur record of 222 fights losing 20, the pinnacle being his points loss to Ray Mercer at the Olympic trials, their paths would cross again at professional level.
Morrison turned pro in 1988, standing at 6 feet 2 with a heavyset muscular physique he quickly thundered up the heavyweight rankings recording 19 wins with 15 knockouts all within 5 rounds or less, equipped with tremendous power in either hand his signature punch was his fearsome left hook.
After a year of Filming in Hollywood Morrison returned to the ring in 1991 and dispatched the likes of James Tillis and Pinklon Thomas, although long past their best it was the manner in which Morrison brushed them aside that earned him his first shot at the WBO heavyweight title held by Ray Mercer.
Eager to avenge his amateur loss to Mercer, the Duke set out to destroy the champion as quickly as possible but having punched himself out Mercy inflicted a sickening 5th round knockout, 7 unanswered brutal headshots rendered Morrison unconscious.
This would set a trend for the rest of his career, after 6 consecutive wins, culminating in a superb point’s win over WBO Champion George Foreman in 1993, Morrison would be catapulted into superstardom, the Oklahoma boy was showered with lucrative sponsorship deals and masses of wealth, unfortunately with the accolades came the high society living coupled with secret drink and drug binges.
Morrison held the title for 4 months, after a non-sanctioned defence against Tim Tomashek, Michael Bent would surprisingly end his reign as Champion with a 1st round TKO.
Once again on the rebuilding trail, Morrison notched up a further 7 straight wins setting up a meeting with Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock in 1995 for the vacant IBC heavyweight title, a sensational 6 round contest saw both fighters hit the canvas with an intense show of strength and power by both fighters, Morrison rallied to victory forcing the referee to stop the fight in his favour.
Talks had been taking place for a super fight between Morrison and Lennox Lewis for the WBO title, however that loss to Bent in 1993 meant that the 2 would not face each other until 1995, in a must-win battle for both fighters, Lewis who was sensational on the night, dropped Morrison 4 times over 6 rounds.
Morrison found himself having to rebuild his career yet again and was offered a money-spinning fight deal by Don King to fight Mike Tyson this potential match-up had the boxing world drooling with anticipation, but regrettably, Morrison’s career would come crashing to an abrupt end.
In February 1996, he was diagnosed HIV positive, days before a scheduled bout in Las Vegas against Arthur ‘Stormy’ Weathers, because of the positive test, Morrison was forced to retire from boxing, aged just 27, however, an old ring foe would offer Morrison one last chance to fight a few months later, George Foreman was headlining a title defence of his Lineal and WBU championship against Crawford Grimsley in Japan.
Morrison would be allowed to fight in Japan, and anyone who was HIV positive was not prohibited from fighting in an Asian Country, the Duke grabbed the chance to reignite his Boxing career, quickly dispatching Marcus Rhode by TKO, in less than two minutes of the first round, Morrison donated his purse to the ‘Knockout AIDS Foundation’.
Like so many fighters forced to retire, they struggle to adjust to life without boxing, Morrison endured 11 tough years in the wilderness full of self-denial and personal demons, during which time he spent 14 months in prison on drug and weapon charges, But in 2006 Morrison claimed his HIV tests were False Positives and actually tested negative numerous times during 2007 thus being given a licence to fight again by the state of West Virginia, after a number of non-significant wins he hung up his gloves for the final time in 2011.
On September 1, 2013, the boxing world lost a legend as Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison passed away at the age of 44 in Omaha’s Nebraska Medical Centre. Despite no evidence of HIV or AIDS symptoms in both Tommy’s Antemortem and Post-mortem reports, his legacy was overshadowed by the stigma of his initial and wrongful positive HIV tests. However, his devoted widow Trisha Morrison continues to tirelessly champion his fighting prowess and works to dispel the misconceptions surrounding his untimely demise.
With a record of 52 Professional bouts, 48 wins of which 42 were knockouts Tommy Morrison was a formidable boxer/puncher, with superb strength and punching power he was more than capable of dominating a classic era of heavyweight boxing.
The World Boxing Organization credits Morrison as being one of the most influential and iconic of their heavyweight title holders, and quite rightly too, we should remember him as a legend of the ring.