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Remembering the "Duke"

Tommy David Morrison (1969–2013)

Possessed knockout power with either hand, Tommy "The Duke" Morrison brought excitement to boxing's heavyweight division during the 1990's , what many experts call the golden era in the heavyweight division. "The Duke" nickname derived from Morrison's unsubstantiated claim he was the grandnephew of Hollywood movie legend John Wayne. Born in Gravette, Arkansas, on January 2, 1969, Morrison was raised in Jay, Oklahoma, where he began boxing at age ten. Participating in Golden Gloves competitions, he culminated his amateur career at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. There Morrison dropped a split decision to Ray Mercer, who subsequently won the gold medal in the heavyweight division at the Seoul Summer Olympics.

Making his professional debut in October 1988, Morrison won his first twenty-eight bouts, including twenty-three by knockout. In 1990 he landed a role in the movie Rocky V, portraying the character Tommy "The Machine" Gunn antagonist to Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa. Returning to the ring, Morrison suffered his first defeat when he met Ray Mercer for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) heavyweight championship. The former amateur rivals squared off on October 18, 1991, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with Mercer winning via fifth-round knockout. Mercer a few years later stated that Morrison was the hardest puncher he ever faced.

Morrison rebounded from the loss with eight consecutive knockout wins. The 6'2", 215lbs fighter was a fan favorite and a staple of cable and network boxing telecasts. Against top competition Morrison fought through injuries and was often knocked to the canvas. On more than one occasion he rallied from near defeat to score a knockout victory with his trademark left hook.

Morrison received a second chance at the WBO heavyweight championship when he faced former and future world heavyweight champion George Foreman in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 6, 1993. Wary of Foreman's legendary punching power, Morrison boxed smartly and won by unanimous decision. His title reign was brief, however on October 29, 1993, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he lost in his second title defense to unheralded challenger Michael Bennt by first round knockout.

Over his next eight fights Morrison registered seven wins and a draw. Included was a stoppage victory over Donovan "Razor" Ruddick to win the International Boxing Council heavyweight title and a knockout lose to two-time world champion Lennox Lewis. In 1996 Morrison was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after a blood test indicated he had HIV. Morrison announced his retirement, but subsequent negative medical tests caused him to deny his illness. Granted a boxing license in West Virginia, Morrison had two bouts before retiring in 2008 with a final record of 48 wins, 3 loses, and 1 draw with 42 wins by knockout.

In the 1990s Morrison was plagued by health, personal, and legal issues. As early as 1993 he faced charges of assault and public intoxication. During the mid-1990s he was arrested multiple times for various offenses, and in January 2000 he received a two-year prison sentence at the Southwest Arkansas Community Correction Center in Texarkana.

Morrison's health steadily declined following his parole in 2001. Bedridden the final year of his life, Tommy Morrison died on September 1, 2013, in Omaha, Nebraska, from AIDS complications and was buried in Butler Creek Cemetery at Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. His sons, Trey Lippe Morrison and Kenzie Witt, are professional boxers keeping the family legacy alive.


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