*** Please Note: This Interview was conducted shortly before Tommy Morrison’s death where he granted Russell Bedford two exclusive interviews ***
Tommy Morrison, a man that conjures up varying images for boxing fans and the general public alike. A former World Champion, a star in the Rocky V film and a man relieved of his profession by the decision to exclude him from it due to a positive HIV result. To this day the Duke is adamant that this positive result does not exist and that his time as World Champion was taken away from him far to soon. In this two part interview I delve into Tommys boxing story as well as his biggest fight yet-the one to clear his name and prove that he deserves his shot.
I first got in contact a few months back, we shared messages and found ourselves looking into the prospect of getting this amazing story out there for the world to see. Below is part one-an insight into the career of one of the best boxers of recent times.
I start at the beginning of the pro campaign, its 1988 and William Muhammad is to be the Duke’s first opponent, “Did you always sense victory going into this fight and realise that it could be the start of an amazing journey?” He is in a confident mood, “Definitely, I knew I was going to win, I had done the work.” Such confidence is evident in fighters but for many, it can be a front to allay their fears, Were you always a confident fighter? “Yes-if you don’t have confidence you shouldn’t be in the ring.”
A fair point some would say and this confidence was clearly being shown in the ring, marching onto a record of 28-0 people could see that this was a fighter that could dispatch of the opposition quickly and efficiently, when the fight with Mercer came around some thought that this could be the first chink in the armour, “Well I’m always thinking of another win. One thing that I remember having in the back of my mind knowing that I am fighting 10 rounds of fight-but never having passed 2 rounds in an actual fight! I didn’t realise that he could take so much punishment. I double sevened to get into move myself closer to him and then threw a right hook to the body and then came with a devastating four-and then i came back with a left hook which he was at that point definitely hurt-and if i would have followed through with another overhand right-that would have been it.”
So with this unbeaten run continuing the Duke marched on, 10 more victories really put him on the map, in this period was the famous fight against Joe Hipp where Tommy suffered a broken jaw and hand whilst shattering the jaw of his opponent, one wonders how a fighter can continue with such pain, “Well there’s an old saying in the sport of boxing..the harder you work the harder it is to quit. I believe any other swinging dick would have quit. You feel the pain but you don’t respond to it.”
Such bravery is admirable I am sure you can agree, next up came the big one, George Foreman, many people saw this as an easy chance for Morrison, the old man Foreman against the ferocious Tommy Morrison, I press him about his outlook on it, “Originally I never believed that George could take that good of a shot. I was very confident for that fight. I went away to a training facility at army camp where there was actually zero distractions. Quality training.” Now I am no boxer but George was getting on a bit at this stage, people would expect a Morrison victory, probably coming from that famous left but after the fight critics and fans alike were saying that the display was a lot more cautious from the normally explosive Duke, “Lets talk about the critics, they are exactly what they are. That’s their job. They are never going to encourage or compliment you. Like Sam Mellinger of the KC Star. I don’t worry about that. I just worry about things that are in my control. I had to change my complete style in an 8 week period. Everyone expected us to beat the shit out of each other. I didn’t have that approach. That was a hell of a task-me changing my complete style-and orchestrate it as flawlessly as I did. I was very proud of myself.”
With that victory now in the bag the words World Champion echoed around for all to hear, it must be a great feeling for any sportsman to hear that “You know what, I already knew I was world champion. When I am in the ring I don’t hear anything, if I get hit I hear the crowd!”
With Foreman disposed of the list of fighters wanting a title shot was growing, as a fighter you surely want to prove yourself against everybody out there, I wondered who Tommy wanted next, “Back then at that time I didn’t have control of that not that I couldn’t have, I didn’t want to worry about that. All I wanted was to train. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made. This time round I do.”
With fights being arranged for him there will always be some fighters that slipped the net I was curious to see what Tommy thought of his chances against any of the guys he never got in the ring with, I’m not surprised by the answer quite simply, “I had the capability of beating anybody.”It’s a Champions answer just look at Ali, Tyson, Frazier, Mayweather never do they think their abilities are in doubt.
The planned defence against Mike Williams didn’t quite run to plan and at short notice, Tomashek was put in his place, surely this would mean that the first defence would be more a walk in the park as the guy was literally pulled out of the crowd? “He was always fighting every 2 or 3 weeks. We knew there was a possibility that Williams would pull out. We were paying him $150,000 for the fight. He asked for an advance of $30,000 for training expenses etc about a week later he called and needed another $30k you don’t go through 30k in 10 days unless you have something major going on there. I saw a potential problem here. We had to have somebody available. This was about 4 weeks before the fight. Tomashek was active. Couldn’t break an egg played with the crowd!”
Some people say that Williams was just too plain scared to get in the ring with the Duke and his fearless left hand, Tommy disagrees, “He was just strung out on crack!!” Following the Tomashek fight a defeat came at the hands of Michael Bent, had the confidence got too much for Morrison or was Bent just the better fighter, “That was your classic case of a blind squirrel finding an acorn! Most people don’t realise is that any heavyweight out there can knock you out. I had him hurt he was on his way to going down he bounced off the ropes and came right down the pipe with a straight right hand. Hit me high on the head buckled my legs and I went down.”
It’s a frank admission, what I am more intrigued about is the nature of the defeat, surely a round one knockout is the most humiliating kind of defeat for a fighter? “I’ve only lost 3 fights in my professional career-but each one that i have lost i learned a lesson-and further improved myself. People knew that they were going to get their money worth when they saw me fight. It is humbling to get your ass handed to you but what I received from it gave me an indicator of what I needed to improve on“
It’s another honest answer and I can see from Tommy that he is happy to admit when he might have not been at his best, other fighters David Haye, for example, pick excuses over reason when trying to explain a loss.
A second World title shot came Morrison’s way when he got to fight ring legend Razor Ruddock for the lesser sought IBC title, going down in the first again must have set the alarm bells ringing but getting up again and claiming the victory must make it more satisfying, “I realise and understand to the fullest extent, boxing writers and media people and think of themselves as experts….if they have never laced up a glove themselves! They may be an expert journalist! A title is only as important as the person that holds it. I legitimized the IBC belt because of the calibre of the opponent and the excitement of the fight.”
With this belt now proudly around the Duke’s waist, a fight against Lennox Lewis was next, Lennox is seen by many as an all-time great Morrison isn’t so sure though, “I wasn’t impressed with him at all. He was long..he had an 86inch reach..I had a 75in reach!….I was like target practice for him…I couldn’t see him because of the cut on my eye.” (Morrison suffered a cut right eye during the bout)
I spent some time watching some of the Dukes fights, analysing what I could, one immediate thing becomes clear, there is by far one of the best-left hands in the business on display here I wanted to know if Tommy believed the hype behind his famous left, “No doubt, once I let it go, he was going down.”
At the other end of the scale though some observers saw Tommy as a fighter who couldn’t take a punch, had a glass chin and was vulnerable to big shots, “The true signs of boxing at the professional level is to put yourself in positions where you can execute an effective offensive strategy, but at the same time once he starts punching back then you need to get out there. Boxing is about offence and defense.”
Its an answer that shows maybe he was aware of this but doesn’t want to admit it, I come to the conclusion that because he was such an offensively minded fighter he feels he hadn’t perfected defence quite as well as he should have.
It was around this time that the HIV result was being thrown about (this is covered exclusively in part 2) when Tommy was allowed to fight again it was on a smaller scale, smaller audiences, smaller purse, smaller venues, I wonder how this affected a two time World Champion, “Being on a smaller scale didn’t bother me. You can’t be doorman for 10 years and expect to go out there and perform as you did when you were consistent. You have to have warm-up fights. I never let the media dictate my thoughts or my actions.” I also wanted to know if the confidence from the early days was still there, “Yes. This is what i do God Gifted me, he made me a professional fighter. I realised at a very young age that I had a talent.” Nothing changes….
The comeback of the Duke continued against Matt Weishar, a man that has been a supporter of Morrison throughout his most difficult times recently. This fight was on the undercard of a massive night of boxing, it must have felt strange being in front of a large crowd again but not being the highlight, “I didn’t even notice the crowd. I was happy the fight took place. My obstacles have been since my comeback, consistency and Tim Lueckenhoff from the ABC.”
In some sports it is common for the fans to heckle and give as much abuse as possible, take football here in the UK for example, with the next fight against John Castle drawing a large crowd is it possible that the Duke might be in for a hard time from fans, “ I think that is why people came to the Castle fight. I had been out of circulation for 10 years. People showed up out of curiosity. There were a lot of mixed opinions out there. When you are a natural-born fighter you are comfortable in the ring.”
This kind of answer makes me realise that Tommy was getting back in the zone, fighting is in his blood, no hecklers, no critics, no opponent is going to stop him getting in that ring and doing what he does. We move on to a fight that I wasn’t sure whether to talk about type Tommy Morrison fake fight into YouTube and you might see why I decided I may as well, he has been kind enough to share stories with me so why not ask about it, the rumours are that the fight was a fix, to give Tommy some more coverage, give him another victory, his answer is what I expect,
“I can’t believe that you actually asked that question! If you saw the fight which you probably did like I am going to have to stage Cory Williams? Not to say that that stuff doesn’t go on it was a typical situation..I am a 2-time heavyweight champion and he was your typical journeyman/ham and egger.”
Do I press further……well yes I did, I decide to tell Tommy that it does look very suspect, again I suppose I get the answer I expected, “All I can say about that, let me hit you with a left hook and a straight right and see if your opinion changes! I knocked him out in 57 seconds….not long enough to stage anything! He could have gone on another 2 or 3 rounds but he was too worried about spending the money he ripped me off for the fight and pay per view his cheque bounced on me and he emptied the pay per view account and I am still hunting him down…and so are others.”
It’s not for me to argue with a 2 time World Champion I begin to believe him if I was Corey Williams I don’t think I would be looking forward to taking a punch from that left hand no matter how long it had been out of action.
Now with the difficulties, he faces I am curious to know how he sees the next step in this incredible story, world champion again? If Foreman, Holyfield etc all can do it when over 40 why not the Duke? Or does he just look forward to getting on the ring?
“I’m only fighting for 2 reasons. 1. My career got shit on and I still have the tools to win a Title…and when that does happen without a doubt that will be the greatest comeback in history 2. Money”
WOW, I am sort of expecting that response but at the same time, I have to doubt it…World Champion…really I want to say it can happen for him but could it…? I am sure many would say its delusional to expect Tommy Morrison to be in the ring with a World title belt anytime soon, I suggest this and immediately have to turn down the offer to spar with him!
With this World Champion dream still very much in his mind I want to know which heavyweight crown would be the easiest to take if he was ready right now, I have got to say when he tells me that Wladimir Klitschko would be easy to beat I am shocked but also impressed instantly I want to know how this hypothetical fight would pan out, “I would knock him out …if he is still standing after the first 3 rounds I would be the most surprised person in the building. Once he has felt my power his whole attitude would change,.”
Now that would be an incredible match up-a fully fight fit Morrison against current heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko, with the heavyweight division being how it is I wouldn’t be ready to bet on the outcome!
Finally, I wanted to speak to Tommy about Rocky V, it’s a subject he is asked about all over the world and he is keen to talk about it, “When i got a chance to do acting I did pull off something that even I thought was pretty amazing. One of the most difficult things for actors to do is to play a character like themselves it was the first time I acted, Many actors can’t do that.
I was complimented by Irwin Winkler-Stallone-Robert Chartoff- I can’t wait to get back into acting that is truly my passion, acting.”
On that note, we agree to hook up again soon for the second part of our interview, which promises to pack one hell of a punch as Tommy explains the HIV story to us all! – Check back on Friday