Tommy Morrison, the former heavyweight champion who stood toe-to-toe with Lennox Lewis and George Foreman and later tested positive for HIV, died Monday. He was 44.
Morrison died Sunday night at a Nebraska hospital, said Tony Holden, his longtime promoter and close friend. The family would not disclose the cause of death.
In 1993, Morrison beat Foreman to win the WBO heavyweight title, only to lose it to unheralded Michael Bentt in a defeat that scuttled a showdown with Lewis. Morrison would fight Lewis a couple of years later, getting knocked out in the sixth round in Atlantic City, N.J.
Morrison, nicknamed "The Duke," never reached the status of such contemporaries as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, but it was surely a full career.
He was a prodigious puncher whose bid to fight in the 1988 Seoul Olympics ended at the hands of Ray Mercer, who later dealt Morrison his first professional loss. He had a starring role in "Rocky V" alongside Sylvester Stallone. And perhaps most memorably, Morrison tested positive for HIV when the virus still carried a significant stigma, only to declare later the test was false.
Along with numerous legal issues, including a prison sentence that stemmed from weapons and drunk driving, Morrison's name became attached to headlines that would eventually overshadow his work in the ring.
"If Tommy was fighting today, he no doubt would be a world champion," Holden said. "You have to look at who he was fighting in the '90s, the guys in that division were Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, George Foreman. There's no one with that talent today. Tommy would absolutely dominate if he were in his prime boxing today."
Morrison won his first 28 professional fights, beating faded champions such as Pinklon Thomas along the way. His career reached its apex in the summer of 1993 with a unanimous decision over Foreman, then in the midst of his comeback, to claim a vacant title.
See more in Tueday's Tahlequah Daily Press.