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The Tommy Morrison Chronicles - Part II:
Top of the Mountain, Depths of the Valley
Feb 3, 2004
Doghouse Boxing Special:
Top of the Mountain, Depths of the Valley: The Tommy Morrison Chronicles - Part II
After the Olympic Trials, Morrison was contacted by someone associated with John Brown, the founder and President of Ringside Products, and told that Brown was interested in training him. Morrison packed up everything he owned, which wasn’t much, and made the drive to Lenexa, Kansas, headquarters of Ringside. He sat for a very long time waiting for Brown to finish a telephone conversation. When Brown hung up the phone, Morrison was surprised when Brown asked “Well what the hell do you want?” Morrison answered that he was Tommy Morrison and that he had heard Brown wanted to train him. Brown bickered about board and training expenses, and Morrison went to work for him stuffing heavybags.
Morrison's professional debut finally came in November 1988, in the Felt Forum which was a part of Madison Square Garden. His opponent, a man named William Muhammad, was also having his first professional fight. "I remember the main event that night featured big Art Tucker. I remember thinking at the weigh-in, looking at Tucker, this guy is huge. A few years later I knocked him out. The guy I fought that night though, was William Muhammad, and I knocked him out with a right hand," Morrison recollects. The knockout came in the first round, as a matter of fact, and it convinced Muhammad never to fight again. It would turn out to be his only fight.
Following that success and one more one round knockout in November, Morrison began a breakneck schedule of what would turn out to be 19 fights in 1989. In April 1989, Bill Cayton came on board as a co-manager for Morrison with Morrison’s second round knockout over Lorenzo Boyd. It wasn’t long before Cayton began billing Morrison as “The Duke,” due to Tommy’s relation to John Wayne as a great grand nephew. Wayne, you may be aware, changed his name which was originally Marion Michael Morrison.
Morrison was taken the distance for the first time against veteran Steve Zouski in June, and had to settle for the decision victory. Along the way to becoming a prospect in the heavyweight division, Morrison caught attention not just for knocking out opponents, but for the way he knocked them out. One punch knockouts of Dave Jaco and Harry Terrell, which were televised on ESPN, come to mind. ESPN televised many of Morrison’s bouts that year, and these fights caught the attention of Sylvester Stallone, the writer and star of the classic Rocky series. Stallone was casting for the latest installment, Rocky V, and was impressed with Morrison’s boxing ability, not to mention his movie star looks. Morrison relates, “Stallone got a hold of Bill Cayton, my manager, and Cayton and I flew out to Los Angeles. We went to the screen test, and then I went back home. About a week or ten days later, Stallone called and left a message on my answering machine telling me that they were going to use me and congratulated me.”
Morrison impressed in his role as Tommy Gunn, as many critics praised the movie as a return to the glory of Rocky I and II. It had been complained that Rocky III and IV had turned Rocky into a caricature, fighting against villains like Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago. Morrison’s performance in the movie brought a more realistic feel to the movie, and certainly helped his own marketability as a rising heavyweight. Stallone and Burt Young even accompanied Morrison to the ring on one occasion, in a November 1989 fight against Lorenzo Canady. The distraction led to Morrison winning a tougher than expected six round decision, and sustaining a cut in the process.
After December 1989, and due to the filming of Rocky V, Morrison would fight only once again in the next six months, that coming in a second round knockout of a fighter named Charlie Woolard. Morrison broke his hand in that fight, and was forced to lay off for another four months before coming back to boxing regularly. It was then that he began stepping up the level of competition.
In January 1991, Morrison stepped into the ring to face former contender James “Quick” Tillis on a card that showcased Ray Mercer and Bruce Seldon in addition to himself. Morrison was by far the most impressive of the three on that night, completely ripping through Tillis with uppercuts and left hooks, while walking through Tillis’ best shots. Tillis would later claim to have thrown the bout, but as Morrison now says when told of the charge, “It didn’t look that way to me. He looked like he was in pretty good shape. Anyone out there can watch the tape. Tell me what you think.”
Following that fight, one month later, Morrison took on former world heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas in his adopted hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. The fight was a mismatch, as Morrison bludgeoned Thomas with overhand rights to the head and left hooks to the body repeatedly in the opening round. Thomas was left teetering as the bell ended the round, but he was convinced that he had had enough for one night and threw in the towel. Morrison’s star was definitely on the rise.
Yuri Vaulin was the next opponent in line for Morrison, on the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman undercard in Atlantic City on April 19, 1991. Morrison got off to a very slow start, and at one point was rocked in the third round by a three punch combination from the Russian southpaw. Morrison, though suffering from cramps in his ankles and calves, would find his bearings and go on to score a 5th round TKO when he landed a few crunching left hooks into Vaulin’s midsection.
After a first round knockout victory over Ladislao Mijangos, Morrison was set to challenge Ray Mercer for Mercer’s World Boxing Organization Heavyweight Championship, which was won by Mercer on the night Morrison fought Tillis. The fight was originally scheduled for August 9, but had to be postponed until October 18. Morrison stepped into the ring at the Atlantic City Convention Center that night with a record of 28-0 with 24 KO, while Mercer was also unbeaten at 18-0.
For three rounds, Morrison looked like the best heavyweight in the world. Mercer was assaulted by every punch in the book, including a particularly devastating right to the body, right uppercut to the chin, left hook to the temple combination delivered in the first round. Despite being in trouble several times, Mercer somehow kept his feet under him. Morrison now admits that he and his trainer had only trained for a “balls to the wall” four round fight, but at the time “had no idea that he could take that kind of punishment.” By the end of the fourth round, Morrison was spent, and Mercer took advantage and went on to score a horrific knockout with Morrison out and propped up by the ropes. Referee Tony Perez was about 15 punches too late with his stoppage.
Morrison did not wallow in defeat for long. Four months later, he was back in the ring and set out an ambitious schedule for his return, involving fights against gradually improving opposition. Impressive knockouts over Bobby Quarry, Wimpy Halstead, Kimmuel Odum and Art Tucker led to a nationally televised afternoon bout on ABC’s Wide World of Sports against Joe Hipp. Hipp was a rugged, hard punching southpaw who few at the time were willing to face. Morrison took the challenge however, and it resulted in a great fight, allowing Morrison to show just how big a heart beats inside his chest.
In the second round, Hipp caught Morrison on the inside with a left which broke Morrison’s jaw. Also in the round, Morrison suffered a terrible cut over his right eye. In the fourth round, Morrison broke his right hand, and it looked like Hipp was taking over. No sooner had the fifth round started that Morrison deposited Hipp on the canvas with a right uppercut which snapped Hipp’s head back violently, and then a right cross. Hipp made it to his feet, and the fight was close going into the ninth round. By this time, in addition to all of his other injuries, Morrison was bleeding from his mouth. Somehow, he summoned one last attack, beginning with a left hook that missed and followed by a right uppercut that landed. The uppercut froze Hipp in place, and Morrison sprang to action, raining rights and lefts on Hipp. Hipp was stepping in “post holes” until finally he went down. He rose just a bit after referee Vic Drakulich’s count of ten, and the fight was stopped. Morrison had survived a tremendous gut-check.
It took six months for all of his injuries to heal, but Morrison finally got back into the ring in December 1992, and scored a one round knockout of Marshall Tillman. One month later, he was featured on HBO in a fight against Carl “The Truth” Williams, part of a doubleheader with George Foreman, which was to set up a Morrison-Foreman clash. Morrison did his part, but not without difficulty, by stopping Williams in the eighth round. Williams was down in the first and third rounds, but put Morrison down twice in the fifth. Once again Morrison showed great heart, staying on his feet and fighting back when one more knockdown would have ended the fight due to the three knockdown rule.
June 7, 1993 was the date of the fight with Foreman in Las Vegas. Experts were hailing this fight as potentially another Foreman-Lyle, and expected each fighter to visit the canvas. Morrison had other plans, and he thoroughly outboxed Foreman on his way to winning a wide unanimous decision. In the process, Morrison picked up the WBO Heavyweight Championship which had been vacated by Michael Moorer.
In August, Tommy was to make the first defense of his new belt against Mike Williams, who played his opponent Union Cane in Rocky V. For whatever reason, Williams decided just minutes before the fight that he didn’t want to go on, and local fighter Tim Tomashek was pulled out of the crowd to replace Williams. Morrison easily dispatched Tomashek in four rounds.
In October, disaster struck. Fighting in front of a hometown crowd in Tulsa, Morrison was shocked by Michael Bentt in the first sanctioned defense of his WBO crown. Morrison hurt Bentt early, but then forgot to protect himself and Bentt caught him with a hard straight right as he came off the ropes and Morrison was coming forward. The result was a groggy Morrison getting to his feet and attempting to fight Bentt off, only to be dropped twice more and ending the fight. Morrison would later describe this fight as “the bottom” for him.
The comeback trail began again in February 1994, and Morrison quickly racked up three victories, extended the ten round distance in a fight against Sherman Griffin among them. He then fought a journeyman whom few had heard of at the time named Ross Puritty. Puritty showed great strength, defense, and chin in the fight, as Morrison pounded him early on, nearly taking him out in the third round. Puritty however, displayed his own offense, putting Morrison down in the sixth and tenth rounds. The fight was ruled a draw, but without the tenth round knockdown Morrison would have been the victor. Puritty, as we all know, would go on to hand Wladimir Klitschko his first career loss.
The setback against Puritty did not affect a fight with Herbie Hide, which had been planned for Morrison. Hide had taken the WBO title with a 7th round knockout of Michael Bentt and was set to defend it against “The Duke.” The fight was set to go in China in October 1994, but due to promoters’ inability to pay the fighters, the fight was called off just hours before it was set to start.
Morrison took an extended break, and did not return to the ring until early 1995, where once again he ran off a string of victories on the comeback trail. A seventh round knockout of tough Terry Anderson in May set up a June showdown with Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, who was one of the most feared punchers in the heavyweight division. The fight was a homecoming for Morrison to Kansas City, and a chance for him to redeem himself after the Mike Williams fiasco.
It looked like trouble all over again in the first round, as Ruddock landed his vaunted “smash” left hook/uppercut hybrid, followed by a right uppercut. Morrison went down on his knees, but got up inside the count and fought Ruddock off for the rest of the round. In the second, Morrison landed a right uppercut of his own that buckled the knees of Ruddock, and referee Ron Lipton stepped in to issue a standing eight count to Ruddock. The next three rounds saw Morrison fading, especially the fifth when Ruddock caught Morrison with a double left hook.
The sixth round would be the last. Ruddock landed another strong left, and Morrison began to backpedal. Ruddock, thinking Morrison was hurt, charged in and missed a right uppercut. Morrison, as he had done so often in the past, seized the opportunity with Ruddock’s face unprotected, and landed one of the most devastating left hooks ever delivered in a boxing ring. Ruddock dropped like a sack of bricks, in fact so hard that Ron Lipton would later say “That was one of the hardest punches I’ve ever seen land. Ruddock was out until he hit the canvas, and when his head hit, it woke him up.” Amazingly, Ruddock was up by the count of four. Morrison jumped on him, forcing two more standing eight counts and the imposition of the three knockdown rule to end the fight. Morrison had won the IBC Heavyweight Championship, and once again shown that he could never be counted out of a fight.
That victory would lead to another big fight, in what would sadly turn out to be Morrison’s last big fight. Lennox Lewis had hooked up with Emanuel Steward and was still on the comeback trail after losing his WBC championship to Oliver McCall. The fight between Morrison and Lewis, scheduled for October 7, 1995, was considered a toss-up by most going in. Morrison never really had an opportunity to get into the fight, suffering a cut early in the bout and having to deal with his right eye rapidly swelling shut. Lewis would knock Morrison down four times in all during the bout, before Mills Lane finally called a halt to it in the sixth round.
Soon thereafter, Morrison signed a three fight promotional deal with Don King, which was to culminate in a fight against Mike Tyson. It wasn’t to be however. Just before the first fight, scheduled against Arthur Weathers, news came back that Morrison had failed his prefight physical. It would come out in the news a couple of days later that Morrison had tested positive for HIV, confirming speculation. Morrison gave a heartfelt press conference announcing his retirement from the ring, and vowed to work to heighten awareness about HIV and AIDS. The boxing world was stunned, and calls for mandatory HIV testing were called for. While there was little chance, almost nil in fact, of transmission of the virus in the ring, Morrison was forced into the shadows.
Six months later, Morrison would announce that he was coming back for one last fight, to raise proceeds for the Knockout AIDS Foundation, which he had recently started. No commission in the United States would sanction the bout, but with support from George Foreman, Morrison was able to get into the ring and fight Marcus Rhode on November 3, 1996 in Tokyo, Japan. Morrison scored a first round knockout in what would be his final bout. He finished with a career record of 46-3-1 with 40 knockouts.
There was never a fighter with more courage than Tommy Morrison. It is truly a shame that we never got to see more of him in the ring, and it was a great loss to boxing as well. Morrison, had he been able to continue his career, would no doubt still reside among the top ten heavyweights in the world and could never be counted out of a fight against anyone. Fight fans will never forget the memorable battles, in and out of the ring, that Morrison fought and continues to fight today. His heart will always keep him fighting. It’s what he was born to do. And for that, we should remember him always.
Next: HIV and Beyond: Morrison discusses his career, life since the announcement of his HIV positive test, and what he has planned for the future. : Part III
Professional Record: 50 fights; 46+ (40 KO), 1=, 3-
1993: W.B.O. Heavyweight Champion
- 1988 -
+ (Nov-10-1988, New York) William Muhammad kot 1
+ (Nov-30-1988, Detroit) Tony Dewar ko 1
- 1989 -
+ (Jan-12-1989, Oklahoma City) Joe ADAMS ko 1
+ (Jan-17-1989, Sterling Heights) Elvin EVANS ko 1
+ (Jan-24-1989, Great Falls) Mike Foley ko 1
+ (Feb-9-1989, Atlantic City) Traore Ali kot 4
+ (Feb-24-1989, Atlantic City) Lee MOORE ko 2
+ (Mar-29-1989, Atlantic City) Alan Jamison ko 1
+ (Apr-22-1989, Atlantic City) Lorenzo BOYD kot 2
+ (May-14-1989, Atlantic City) Mike MC GRADY kot 1
+ (Jun-11-1989, Atlantic City) Rick Nelson kot 2
+ (Jun-25-1989, Atlantic City) Steve Zouski 4
+ (Jul-3-1989, Atlantic City) Aaron BROWN II 6
+ (Aug-8-1989, Atlantic City) Mike ROBINSON kot 2
+ (Aug-22-1989, Atlantic City) Jesse SHELBY kot 2
+ (Sep-5-1989, Lake Tahoe) Rick ENIS kot 1
+ (Sep-19-1989, Jacksonville) David JACO ko 1
+ (Oct-17-1989, Phoenix) Harry TERRELL ko 1
+ (Oct-26-1989, Atlantic City) Charles HOSTETTER ko 1
+ (Nov-14-1989, West Orange) Lorenzo CANADY 6
+ (Dec-7-1989, Las Vegas) Ken LAKUSTA 6
- 1990 -
+ (Jun-9-1990, Atlantic City) Charlie Woolard ko 2
+ (Oct-4-1990, Atlantic City) John MORTON kot 5
+ (Nov-8-1990, Las Vegas) Mike ACEY kot 1
- 1991 -
+ (Jan-11-1991, Atlantic City) James TILLIS kot 1
+ (Feb-19-1991, Kansas City) Pinklon THOMAS retiring 2
+ (Apr-19-1991, Atlantic City) Yuri VAULIN kot 5
+ (Jun-27-1991, Las Vegas) Ladislao MIJANGOS kot 1
- (Oct-18-1991, Atlantic City) Ray MERCER ko 5 (W.B.O., Heavyweight)
- 1992 -
+ (Feb-16-1992, Las Vegas) Bobby QUARRY ko 2
+ (Mar-20-1992, Las Vegas) Jerry Halstead kot 5
+ (Apr-23-1992, Ledyard) Kimmuel ODUM kot 3
+ (May-14-1992, Atlantic City) Art Tucker kot 2
+ (Jun-27-1992, Reno) Joe HIPP ko 9
+ (Dec-12-1992, Phoenix) Marshall Tillmann kot 1
- 1993 -
+ (Jan-16-1993, Reno) Carl The Truth WILLIAMS kot 8
+ (Mar-30-1993, Kansas City) Dan MURPHY kot 3
+ (Jun-7-1993, Las Vegas) George FOREMAN 12 (W.B.O., Heavyweight)
+ (Aug-30-1993, Kansas City) Tim TOMASHEK retiring 5 (W.B.O., Heavyweight)
- (Oct-29-1993, Tulsa) Michael BENT kot 1 (W.B.O., Heavyweight)
- 1994 -
+ (Feb-20-1994, Biloxi) Tui TOIA ko 3
+ (Mar-27-1994, Tulsa) Bryan SCOTT kot 2
+ (May-24-1994, Tulsa) Sherman GRIFFIN 10
= (Jul-28-1994, Atlantic City) Ross PURITTY 10
- 1995 -
+ (Feb-7-1995, Oklahoma City) Ken MERRITT kot 1
+ (Mar-5-1995, Muskogee) Marcellus Brown ko 3
+ (May-1-1995, Tulsa) Terry ANDERSON ko 7
+ (Jun-10-1995, Kansas City) Donovan Razor RUDDOCK kot 6
- (Oct-7-1995, Atlantic City) Lennox LEWIS kot 6
- 1996 -
+ (Nov-3-1996, Tokyo) Marcus RHODE kot 1 .