During the last few days there have been a plethora of rumors swirling around the internet and boxing circles concerning the health and well being of former WBO heavyweight title holder and contender Tommy Morrison 48-3-1 (42). I’m not a rumor guy nor do I have clue one as to how he’s afflicted medically.
From what has been posted on most reliable platforms, Morrison is battling Miller Fisher Syndrome/Guillain Barre Syndrome and not HIV/AIDS as most media and fans assumed. According to Fightnews.com, Miller Fisher Syndrome/Guillain Barre Syndrome is a very rare nervous disease that causes abnormal muscle coordination, paralysis of the eye muscles, absence of the tendon reflexes, muscle weakness and respiratory failure. A largely unknown disease, it has touched the sports world before as former NFL quarterback Danny Wuerffel suffered the same diagnosis a few years back and was successfully treated.”
The only thing that can be said for certain is that Tommy Morrison is going through a tough patch in his life and hopefully everything will work out for him in due time. At 44 he’s still a relatively young man and no doubt has plenty of fight still left in him. And because of his current situation I think it’s a good time to address an episode of Morrison’s career that a lot of boxing fans remember, but don’t fully appreciate how terrifically he responded to such adversity after he was stopped during the signature bout of his career at the time.
The date was October 18, 1991 when the 28-0 Morrison was literally taking apart 17-0 Ray Mercer in what was the first signature bout for both fighters at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Morrison had lost to Mercer at the 1988 Olympic Trials in the heavyweight division three and half years earlier as Mercer went on to capture a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul Korea. Morrison and Mercer turned pro three months apart, however it was Morrison who was getting more publicity and attention being that he had a left hook that was putting his opponents to sleep in the same manner that a young Mike Tyson had done four years earlier as he climbed up the ranks. And the fact that he was a relative of actor John Wayne didn’t hurt the story surrounding his career and upbringing. And don’t be mislead by what I said regarding Morrison’s early notoriety, Mercer was also showing promise on the way up, beating name heavyweights Bert Cooper and Francesco Damiani.
On the night Morrison and Mercer came to blows, Morrison was killing Mercer for the first three and a half rounds. He was bouncing left hooks and right hands off of Mercer’s head and chin so hard that not only did you feel like you were getting concussed just watching the fight, but Mercer should’ve been outta there. It was at this time that the boxing world discovered that Ray Mercer had an all-world chin and wasn’t easily discouraged. By the middle of the fourth round Morrison started to wind down and needed a breather, and then Mercer started to assert the action and began to come on. Early in the fifth round Mercer spun out of the corner and nailed Morrison with a beautiful left-hook right hand combination that froze Tommy against the ropes and it was at this time that Morrison was hit flush with three short right hooks followed by a finishing left hook while he was already out on his feet as he crumbled to the canvas. The fight was halted without Morrison ever being given a count.
The devastating knockout that Morrison suffered at the hands of Mercer was one of the most abrupt and brutal knockouts ever seen in a heavyweight fight. It was frightening to see and it was not a given that Morrison would ever fight again, let alone fight again without being haunted by the ghost of what happened to him against Mercer. And that’s exactly what Morrison did. He fought 23 times after he was stopped by Mercer and never once appeared to be glove shy or enter the ring with trepidation. And this is where I believe Morrison has never been given his due by the boxing media or fans, on how much that says about Tommy Morrison’s character and constitution.
Not many fighters have come back after suffering such a brutal knockout the way Morrison did. In every fight after Mercer, Morrison wasn’t afraid to let his hands go at all. Two years after the Mercer fight Morrison got off to a good start against Michael Bentt but was suddenly caught midway through the first round and was stopped in a bout for the WBO heavyweight title. And yes, even after being stopped in brutal fashion twice, Morrison let his hands go in subsequent bouts against big hitters Donovan Ruddock and Lennox Lewis.
What some fans and observers forget is the fact that a fighter is never more open and vulnerable than when he letting his hands go and on the attack. Sure, we’ve seen fighters suffer a brutal knockout before, but many of them come back and adopt more of a safety first style and only cut loose when they read that the opponent is out of position or isn’t of the mind to retaliate or counter–fighters sense this–and that’s when they get off. Not Morrison, despite what happened to him against Mercer and Bentt, he let his hands go and didn’t shy away from who he was as a fighter, and that was an all-out attacker/swarmer who could only be effective pushing the fight and bringing it to the opponent.
No, Tommy Morrison will not be remembered as an all-time great heavyweight, he’ll be best remembered for his power and big left hook. And yes, his power was legitimate when he could deliver it and didn’t run out of steam as the fight progressed. Others will think of him and remember that he wasn’t the most durable heavyweight they’ve seen, and that’s a fair point. But I submit that Tommy Morrison was every bit as mentally tough and emotionally fit as any heavyweight we’ve seen in a long time.
A fighter’s ability to take a punch has nothing to do with heart, but how responds to being stopped does and Morrison passed that test as well as it could be passed. And that puts him in a select group, so small that it wouldn’t take long to call roll. Morrison seemed to understand that, in order to be successful, he needed to live by the sword, which meant he had to be willing to die by it too. It’s to his credit that he accepted that.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com