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Born to Fight: The Tommy Morrison Chronicles, Part I

Feb 2, 2004 

Doghouse Boxing Special:
Born to Fight: The Tommy Morrison Chronicles, Part I
Tommy "The Duke" Morrison was, and remains, a true fighter. It has been almost 8 years since his announcement that he had tested positive for HIV, an announcement which sent shockwaves not only through the boxing world, but through the sports world in general. In the years since, Tommy’s life has remained just as interesting as it was before and during his professional boxing career. "The Duke" has experienced enough ups and downs in his life to fill ten lifetimes, but nevertheless, he is still fighting today. This article commences a three part retrospective devoted to the life and career of one of boxing’s greatest warriors.

Tommy David Morrison was born January 2, 1969 in Gravette, Arkansas, to his parents Tim and Flossie Morrison. From early childhood, it seemed that Tommy was destined to fight. He had his first streetfight at a very young age at a drive-in movie, and from that discovered that this was something at which he was a natural. It wasn’t until later, however, that Morrison would step into a boxing ring.

He was still very young on that fateful night many years ago, when his family moved from Oklahoma to Decatur, Arkansas. His uncle raced stock cars in the area, and he and his family decided to go out for a Saturday night at the races. The night would not end at a race track, for by the time the Morrison clan reached their destination it had rained so heavily that the races were cancelled. Having already made a 45 minute drive, and not wanting to see their evening go to waste, the Morrisons decided to go to a boxing show at the local armory. It was there that Morrison would get his introduction to the sport of boxing.

"I walked in and I remember looking in the ring and seeing two kids who were a little bigger than me, and they were going at it. I was eyeballing them and thinking to myself, ‘I could beat both of those guys at the same time!’ It’s weird, though. If it hadn’t been raining that night, I probably would have never been a boxer," Morrison remembers. Indeed, Morrison originally thought he would become a punter for a professional football team. "I could punt a football on a spiral 50 yards every time. I thought I would just walk on to a team, maybe the Chiefs, because I could punt the hell out of a football. At one point I even thought I wanted to be a mortician."

So it was that Morrison had gotten his first taste of boxing on that rainy night, and as he puts it, "one week from that night, I had my first fight." Tommy would go on to fight often in the amateur circuit as a young boy as his family eventually settled in to the small town of Jay, Oklahoma.

Times were never easy in the Morrison household, and after his parents were divorced, a heavy financial burden was created. Morrison felt obligated to shoulder the load, and he quit school and went looking for work. He found it at an oil rig and then subsequently worked for a construction company. Also during this time, at age 13, Tommy began forging ID papers to enter local Toughman competitions, often competing against grown men twice his size and over twice his age.

He enjoyed a very successful run in these contests, winning in fifty matches with only one defeat. "I lost to a guy named Mark Breedlove, out of Muskogee, Oklahoma. I was about 14 and he was about 27 or 28. He was just a little bigger and stronger and kind of bulled me around, if you can imagine that," Morrison says. "You do what you gotta do. During that whole time, I would travel around the four state area, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas and fight in these Toughman contests, and that’s what kept money in my pocket." During this strenuous period, Tommy’s mother Flossie received her nursing degree and Tommy enrolled once again in school.

Growing up in a small town like Jay, Tommy found interesting ways to amuse himself. Once, after being cut from the high school baseball team, he burned an obscene message onto the field. At one point, Morrison was a "collector" for the Irish mob in Kansas City. Other stories circulated about Morrison’s early days in Kansas City, to the point where it becomes difficult to ascertain fact from fiction.

Asked how his classmates and others in the area felt about his ring success, he replied, "Growing up in a small town I think is a curse more than a blessing. Nobody messed with me, and those that did learned not to. By the time I graduated I had already beaten up everyone around there. I didn’t go out looking for it, but on weekends, there just isn’t much to do in a small town. I never started a fight in my life, but it didn’t take a lot to make me want to fight."

Eventually, Tommy found his way back into amateur boxing, where he finished with a remarkable record of 222-20. As a youth in 1980, Morrison had won the Junior Olympics in St. Louis, and eight years later he found himself on the cusp of the Summer games in Seoul, South Korea. He had already won a national PAL tournament in Florida, defeating former heavyweight contender Phil Jackson in the finals. After advancing to the Olympic Trials, however, he would be beaten on a three round decision by Ray Mercer in the final, but looked forward to embarking on his professional career. It was then that he was introduced to manager John Brown.

Part II: A look at Tommy Morrison’s professional boxing career.

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