Tommy Morrison: He’s alive, he’s healthy and yes, he’s still one tough S.O.B.
Interview with Tommy 'The Duke' Morrison Part 1
Interview by Benny Henderson Jr. (December 14, 2004)
It was November 1988 at the Felt Forum in New York City where two heavyweights were making their pro debuts. In one corner you had William Muhammad, in the other Tommy Morrison in what seemed to be just your average heavyweight prospects who were both looking to make a bang with their first professional fight with only one coming out the victor. When the bell sounded one would go out 0-1 and the other? Well, let’s just say he became known to the world as 'The Duke'. This wasn’t just another 'Great White Hope'; hell, Tommy could care less for that cliché as he was a born fighter regardless of what color the good Lord decided he should have been. At the age of thirteen the hard hitting Oklahoma native began competing in the Tough Man circuit to help out his mother to make ends meet and was kicking the butts of fighters twice his age, going on to bang out a combined record of 49-1. Yeah, Tommy was a tough S.O.B. but this fight was different, he was stepping into the pro ranks with guys who studied the sweet science and made this their career. Well, with just one round needed and a finishing right hand Tommy Morrison would end the fight and the career of Muhammad. With the victory Morrison would embark on a sensational highly glamorized career of his own and would become a highly recognized name in the history of boxing. From his debut in 1988 to his first title match in 1991 'The Duke' would hand out losses to twenty-eight fighters putting to sleep twenty-four and stopping fifteen in the opening round, including big wins over James Tillis and Pinklon Thomas. He would also star beside actor Sylvester Stallone in Rocky V, which made the small town boy a household name as 'Tommy Gunn'. The stage was set for the undefeated rising heavyweight to earn a belt when he challenged WBO heavyweight champion Ray Mercer for his title in 1991. Morrison was involved in one of the most horrifying knockouts in history, but this time Tommy was on the receiving side. 'The Duke' led on the scorecards until the fifth when Mercer landed that fateful punch that turned the lights out on Morrison’s night and then continued to unmercifully pound away at what seemed to be the lifeless body of the challenger. But Tommy took the loss in his stride and refused to give up because he is one tough S.O.B. Eight wins later, all by way of knockout, Morrison again proved his toughness by battling it out with two broken hands, a broken jaw and a massive cut over his eye to stop Joe Hipp in the ninth round setting up a shot at the title he was once denied. This time he faced living legend 'Big' George Foreman, who he outboxed for twelve rounds to finally strap on his first hard earned belt. Tommy would successfully defend his title and in the second defense he would face Michael 'The Fluke' Bentt. Bentt floored Morrison three times in one of the most upsetting and abnormal loses of his career. Heck, Tommy was caught beat and made no excuses. After two years, eight fights and a hell of a win over Razor Ruddock, Morrison would step in the ring with 6’5” boxing Brit Lennox Lewis to be stopped in the sixth round, but Tommy toughest test was yet to come. Tommy’s world took a turn for the worst when the boxer would test positive as an HIV carrier. This would prove to be the toughest bout of the champ’s life. Tommy would go on to fight one more time and would end his career as he begun it eight years earlier with a first round KO over Marcus Rhode, in like a champ, out like a champ and always a champ. Tommy announced his retirement form the sport of boxing at the age of twenty-six. Not even in his prime, Tommy proved that he was a born fighter. He owned one of the most dangerous left hooks in boxing and would brawl it out to a win or loss at the sound of the bell without making excuses. People can question anything they so please about Tommy’s skill, style or career as they would any other fighter, but one thing for sure you never could or even till this day question is 'The Duke's' heart. Because one thing for sure: Tommy has proved throughout his career and throughout his life that he is one tough S.O.B. For the ones who wonder about Tommy, well, he’s still Tommy. He’s alive and he’s well and 'The Duke' was more than happy to share his thoughts on his career to the Doghouse fans. In part one Tommy talks about his career, his wins, his losses, Rocky V and much, much more. Here is how it went, enjoy.
Benny Henderson Jr.: First off the fans would like to know what Tommy Morrison has been up to these days and most importantly how is your health?
Tommy Morrison: Well I’m fine, I’m as healthy as I have always been. [Yawn] I’m sleepier than normal right now. [We both laugh] But yeah my health is fine. What have I been up too? Just trying to have as much patience as I can. I have several different projects fixing to take off, one in particular is this guy who came over from Germany who has been here the last three days and we have been talking about doing a documentary on my life so that is going to open a lot of doors. Kirk Johnson is still planning on doing a movie this fall about my life here, and hopefully the book and movie deal will fall under the same umbrella. Hopefully this project will help the next one and these projects will work together than hinder one another. So that is what I have been doing waiting for the door to open up, just waiting on the Lord to open up the doors and I am being patient trying to get my life together.
BH: Looking back on your career can you give us your most memorable moments in and out of the ring?
TM: Probably doing the movie, that was a big turning point in my life. I finally realized what I was probably put here to do and I knew it was that. But I just wasn’t in the position to take advantage of it. I had three or four other people who were depending on me to make a living so I couldn’t walk away from my responsibility. My trainer who gave up an eighty thousand dollar a year job to come train me so loyalty is what allowed me to hold it together I guess.
BH: How did playing Tommy Gunn in Rocky V affect your career, was it good or bad?
TM: Yeah it was good in the terms of marketing, it helped me out quite a bit. It allowed me to make more money than anybody else around at that time. You know I was the white guy who got lucky to be in a movie, marketing wise it helped but I didn’t get paid a whole lot to make the movie itself.
BH: Dumb question, but what was your favorite part of the movie?
TM: I guess I was just being there everyday, it was a heck of a deal. It was an introduction to fantasyland. [Laughs]
BH; Well if you want to know something Tommy, I really think you could have actually taken ole Sylvester.
TM: Ah I reckon so, yeah I do. [We both laugh]
BH: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
TM: I don’t think that I have accomplished my greatest yet. Up to this point I guess would be wining two world titles would be considered my biggest accomplishments. Obviously excelling and becoming a champion in a sport that you really don’t like, you know I think that is pretty admirable. [Laughs] You know that is hard to do.
BH: How would you define your eight-year career in pro boxing?
TM: Wanting. People never got to see my best; right when I was getting it all together I had to quit. It took me six or seven years to hone my skills you know I come from a Tough Man circuit and I didn’t have a lot of background training, I fought a little in the amateurs but my skills I had to play catch up with all Bowe's, Lewis’s and Moorer’s and all of those people in terms of amateur experience they were way ahead of me.
BH: You lost your first bid for the WBO heavyweight title against Ray Mercer in 1991 and in your second for that same title attempt in 1993 you defeated boxing legend George Foreman and strapped on the belt. How did it feel to not only get the belt you were once denied getting but also beating a living legend in the process?
TM: For me personally it was a good win, it was a smart win. I just outsmarted him is basically what it amounts too. It wasn’t really that big of a tactical fight. I just went out there and fought him the only way that had been proven up until that point how to beat him, just go out there and out box him. That is what Ali and Jimmy Young did. My trainer brought only one tape to camp and I was like where are the tapes and he said it is right there. It was the fights the he had lost up till that point against Young and Ali. I just watched those fights over and over again. My trainer asked how come these guys beat him and I was like they didn’t stand in front of him. So that is exactly what we did and I showed the world how to beat him and then after I beat him everybody beat him. Axel Schultz beat him I thought, Michael Moorer was beating him until he got caught with a shot.
BH: In your sensational career you had a total of three losses on your record to Mercer, Bentt and Lewis. The Mercer fight you had until the fifth round when all hell broke lose, the Bentt fight seemed like it would be an easy win for yourself but Michael 'The Fluke' Bentt caught you in the first round. Experts or fans or whomever has questioned your chin and others say that you possessed a killer offense but lacked in defense at times. What is your take on these bouts and the observations made by the boxing public?
TM: I’ve always had the opinion of a good defense is a great offense and I was always a very offensive fighter. My defensive skills was what was actually improving the most in terms of skills that I was needing to improve on that I hadn’t improved on. The defense skills were coming on pretty well but I didn’t use it a lot because it just wasn’t my style.
BH: What bouts are you most proud of?
TM: Probably the ones that you grow the most in, you know where you are facing adversity and have to overcome or lose. Probably the Joe Hipp fight was a fight that I grew up in, the Foreman fight was one that I grew up in. The Carl Williams fight I grew in, those were all up and coming fights against good guys, those were some good fighters I was in there with. Carl Williams had it together, he wasn’t in his prime but he could still beat most seven out of the top ten, but he couldn’t beat me.
BH: In the Joe Hipp bout you had a broken jaw, a broken hand and you toughed it out to knock Hipp out in the ninth round. Which round did you get injured in and explain how tough it was to fight through the pain and dig in deep to stay in the contest to get victory?
TM: I had two broken hands, both my hands were broke, my eye was cut and my jaw was broke. So I had to not only overcome fear but I had to also overcome the physical limitation I had. I had to forget about my hands that were broke even though it hurt every time I hit him. Every time I hit him I would get sharp pain but it was something I got used too. In terms of being able to do it I really never thought about it; how did I do it, how am I going to do it? I just did it. The harder you work the harder it is to quit and that’s the bottom line. I never really thought of anything other than that, you got to do what you got to do, you know. Yeah it was painful and it was difficult to do, but it always goes back to how bad you want it.
BH: What advice would you give to a young fighter searching for a career in the sport?
TM: Run, and don’t look back. [Laughs] Ah, you are only as good as the people that surround you in boxing. If you have good people around you, you will do well. You have to have people that care about you though. You can’t have people that are just interested in making a buck. That’s all these people were interested in with me, they didn’t have any idea with what they stepped into. I turned out to be ten times better than they thought I would and they really didn’t know how to handle it.
BH: You were pretty awesome in my book.
TM: Ah, I was pretty decent you know. I could have been something else.
I would like to personally thank Sean Newman for his help on this interview, it is more than appreciated. I want to give 'The Duke' a big shout out for this candid conversation and it was a blast to finally to get to chat with one of my heroes of the sport. For more info on Tommy he would like to invite you to visit his official website www.TommyMorrison.org . There you can find up to date info on 'The Duke' along with autographed memorabilia straight from 'The Duke'.
Stay tuned for part two where Tommy will give his thoughts on his faith, his foundation, his post-boxing career and his future along with his thoughts on today’s heavyweight champions.
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