clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tommy Morrison, former heavyweight champion and co-star of Rocky V, dead at age 44

New, comments

Tommy Morrison, former heavyweight champion, co-star of Rocky V and one of the first athletes publicly diagnosed with HIV, passed away at age 44 Sunday night in Nebraska.

Al Bello

Tommy Morrison, former WBO heavyweight champion and co-star of Rocky V, passed away Sunday night in an Omaha, Nebraska hospital.

Morrison was a Olympic hopeful in his amateur days, losing a split decision at the Olympic trials to Ray Mercer who would go on to win gold at the Seoul games. He would go on to turn pro in October of 1988 and run off 28 consecutive wins, only seeing the scorecards in four of those bouts. Among his victims during his early career run was faded former heavyweight champ Pinklon Thomas.

One of his biggest breaks came when Sylvester Stalone wrote a starring role for him in Rocky V. Morrison would play Tommy "The Machine" Gunn, a young fighter mentored by Rocky before turning his back on the former champion.

Back in the real world, "The Duke" would get a chance at revenge against Mercer, now WBO champ, in October of 1991. Mercer would hand Morrison his first professional loss, knocking him out in the fifth round.

Morrison would win heavyweight gold in 1993, picking up his biggest career win by beating George Foreman during his legendary career revitalization. Two fights later unheralded Michael Bentt stopped Morrison in the first round, taking his WBO title.

Morrison went on another run before running into Lennox Lewis and suffering the third loss of his career, a sixth round TKO.

In February of 1996, a pre-fight blood test diagnosed Morrison with HIV, making him one of the most prominent early figures publicly diagnosed with the disease. Morrison would take responsibility for his contraction of the illness by stating "I lived a permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle," and effectively retiring from boxing. The retirement was likely not up to him as his license was revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for safety reasons.

Later in life, Morrison would insist that the HIV test in '96 was a false positive and would provide several tests showing he did not have the illness, though the legitimacy of those tests was long disputed. He would have two more fights, one in 2007 in West Virginia and one in 2008 in Mexico.

An attempt to fight in Quebec in 2011 fell through when the commission asked Morrison to take a supervised blood test to ensure that the blood used in the HIV test would be his as many claimed that his "negative" tests were not Morrison's own blood. Morrison declined to take the test under those conditions.

His wife, Tricia Morrison, told ESPN earlier this year that Morrison suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, not HIV, and was bed-ridden and badly ill for over a year, though many others insisted to the network that Tommy and Tricia were in denial.

The family declined to release a cause of death, with Morrison's promoter stating "I don't know what the official cause of death at the hospital will be."