Tommy “The Duke” Morrison’s greatest in-ring moment came in 1995. He was a rising star, taking on the favored Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in a big match with title implications.
Morrison rallied from a first-round knockdown to KO Ruddock in the 6th round. For Morrison and the boxing world, it was a big moment, a signal of hope that Morrison might one day be the linear heavyweight champion of the world. Morrison, a Hollywood star who appeared in Rocky V, seemed to have everything going for him.
Unfortunately, the KO of Ruddock was the biggest and best moment of Morrison’s career. He failed to make good on the momentum he’d gained after the victory, getting KO’d by Lennox Lewis.
Morrison never lived to his potential. Earlier in his career, he had won the WBO title by beating George Foreman, but it was a hollow, recently-created title — not the world title that mattered.
At a time when the heavyweight division was dominated by the likes of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lewis, many observers envisioned Morrison to be boxing’s “Great White Hope”, a title that was probably too much of a burden for him to carry.
Morrison had a bodybuilder’s physique and movie-star good looks. He had a wicked left hand, but his defensive skills weren’t great. His footwork was worse. Morrison might still have been able to reach the top of the sport had he possessed strong personal discipline.
Unfortunately, he was not dedicated to his craft. He was a partier, and admitted to problems with drugs and sex.
He paid for it. Lewis nearly killed him in one of the worst, most devastating knockouts in heavyweight history. One fight later, Morrison announced to the world that he was HIV positive.
The news stunned the boxing world. Morrison, besides Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Greg Louganis, was the highest-profile athlete to declare he was HIV-positive. The news meant the end of Morrison’s career, although he did fight twice more nearly a decade later after mysteriously claiming that he was not HIV positive.
Morrison had the potential to be boxing’s biggest superstar, but he threw it all away.
He’s a reminder that no matter how many gifts one is blessed with, success at the highest level never comes easy. Morrison had several opportunities to be a transforming figure in the sport, but lost it all because of poor decisions in and out of the ring.