• Boxing

Former champion Tommy Morrison dies

ESPN staff
September 2, 2013
Tommy Morrison defeated George Foreman to become WBO champion © Getty Images

Former WBO heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison has died at the age of 44. Morrison's long-time promoter, Tony Holden, said Morrison died on Sunday night with his wife, Trisha, beside him.

Morrison tested positive for HIV in 1996 before a fight with Arthur Weathers, effectively ending his boxing career. In the years that followed, he denied having HIV and also challenged the existence of the virus. Trisha Morrison, who married Morrison in 2011, picked up that fight, and in a recent interview with ESPN.com insisted that Morrison had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, not HIV.

Holden declined to comment on the cause of Morrison's death, telling reporters: "I don't know what the official cause of death at the hospital will be. You prepare for things like this, and still you feel like you got hit by a truck when you hear the news."

Morrison was one in a line of Great White Hopes in the 1980s and 1990s but he actually delivered when he beat the ageing George Foreman on points to win the WBO heavyweight title. He came into the fight with a run of 28 wins, some against decent fighters.

But hopes he had hit the big time - a unification fight with Lennox Lewis was being lined up - evaporated when he was knocked down three times in the first round against Michael Bentt.

He came back but was never the same and in 1995 he lost to Lewis. Months later he tested positive for AIDS and his career was over. "Tommy had a hard time with it back then," Holden told ESPN. "People wouldn't shake his hand, wouldn't come close to him, wouldn't let babies next to him. You took a kid from this height of stardom, being in movies, to the point where everyone wanted to be Morrison's friend to the point where, man, nobody wanted to be in the same room with him. I witnessed it. And it was heartbreaking."

Morrison blamed his condition on a "permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle"' and away from the ring he struggled. After a string of arrests he was sent to prison in 2000 and thereafter most stories concerned his health. He went to great lengths to mask his deteriorating physical condition, including at one stage having pectoral implants.

He also gained fame for his role in the 1990 movie Rocky V, in which he portrayed Tommy Gunn, a rookie boxer who is trained by Rocky Balboa, portrayed by star Sylvester Stallone. Morrison, as Gunn, goes on to win the heavyweight title in the movie and then later fights and loses to his mentor.

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This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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