Tommy Morrison, the former heavyweight champion who battled Lennox Lewis and George Foreman in the boxing ring, starred in “Rocky V” and reportedly tested positive for HIV, died Sunday night at a Nebraska hospital at age 44.
Morrison's mother, Diana, in August told ESPN that her son had "full-blown AIDS." But his wife, Trish, was quoted as saying her husband's recent health problems were not related to HIV.
The cause of his death has not been released.
On Monday, members of Omaha's boxing community who fought Morrison remembered him as a tough fighter with a blinding left hook.
“His job was to beat me up,” said Dan Murphy, now 52, who fought Morrison in the early 1990s, “and he did a pretty good job.”
The two fought once and that was enough for Murphy, who called Morrison “the best left hooker in the world.” Even more, he said, Morrison was good to his family.
“He was very loyal,” he said.
Retired Omaha heavyweight Dicky Ryan, 46, said Morrison was a funnyman who “didn't take stuff too seriously.” The two met when they were in their 20s to fight and see how Morrison, who was on the verge of becoming pro, matched up. They met again when Ryan was brought in to tune Morrison up before a Ray Mercer fight.
“He was a big Elvis Presley fan and he talked fast just like Elvis and he always played Elvis Presley music before he went to the ring,” said Ryan, noting they became friends who'd hang out, spar and then lift weights.
In 1990, Morrison, nicknamed “The Duke,” had a starring role in “Rocky V” alongside Sylvester Stallone. Three years later, Morrison beat Foreman to win the WBO heavyweight title, only to lose it to 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.
His career reached its height in 1993 with a unanimous decision over Foreman, then in the midst of his comeback, to claim a vacant title.
In 1995, while preparing for a fight, his blood test came back positive for HIV. His license was quickly suspended by Nevada, and the ban was upheld by every other sanctioning body. He said at a news conference he'd never fight again, blaming a “permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle.”
Morrison had numerous run-ins with the law and in 2000 was sent to prison. When released, Morrison said his HIV tests had resulted in false positives. Wanting to resume his career, Morrison passed medical tests in Arizona and returned to the ring. He fought twice more in his career, winning in West Virginia and Mexico and finishing with a record of 48-3-1, with 42 knockouts.
Retired Omaha heavyweight Ryan said his heart goes out to Morrison's family and friends.
“Tommy was a really good guy,” he said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.