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"The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison"

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  • "The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison"

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    Book Review by Thomas Hauser

    Tommy Morrison was born in Gravette, Arkansas, on January 2, 1969, and lived in Oklahoma for most of his life. He fought in countless toughman contests, had three organized amateur bouts, and turned pro in 1988. Over the next seven years, he compiled a 45-3-1 (39 KOs, 3 KOs by) ring record, the high point of which was a 118-109, 117-110, 117-110 decision over George Foreman in 1993 to claim the vacant WBO heavyweight throne.

    In Foreman's next fight, he knocked out Michael Moorer to annex the WBA, IBF, and lineal heavyweight titles. In Morrison's next fight, he was knocked out by Michael Bentt in the first round.

    Morrison's other losses were brutal "KOs by" at the hands of Ray Mercer and Lennox Lewis. During the course of his career, he knocked out faded versions of James Tillis, Pinklon Thomas, Joe Hipp, Carl Williams, and Razor Ruddock. As a postscript, between 1996 and 2008, he scored stoppages over three particularly inept opponents after having been diagnosed as HIV-positive. He died in 2013 at age 44.

    The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison by Carlos Acevedo (Hamilcar Publications) chronicles Morrison's life.

    "Morrison," Acevedo writes, "came from a broken home. He was a secondhand son, passed from here to there, from nowhere to nowhere bound, wherever he would stick. His father was abusive. His mother once beat a murder charge. His brother would spend fifteen years in prison for rape. And Tommy? His mother first made him use his fists when he was five years old."

    "I was the guy your parents warned you about in high school," Morrison cautioned.

    The Duke is divided into two parts. Part I deals with Morrison as a fighter. His early ring record was fashioned against a collection of hopeless opponents. Then Bill Cayton took over as lead manager and Tommy graduated to a higher grade of stiff. Cayton built Morrison brilliantly as an attraction. He propagated the deceit that Tommy was a distant relative of movie star John Wayne and was instrumental in landing Morrison the role of Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. Cayton also used his skill and economic power to ensure that Morrison was featured on high-profile boxing telecasts.

    At times, Morrison struggled in the ring. "He was," Acevedo writes, "especially susceptible to right hands. And when he opened fire, he often did so squared-up to his opponent which made him a big target and left him exposed to counterpunches." Moreover, Morrison trained less rigorously than he should have and burned the candle at both ends. “Let’s put it this way,” Cayton said. “Tommy Morrison makes Mike Tyson look like a monk.”

    But as Acevedo notes, "Morrison worked the body with zeal, often doubling up hooks with either hand after landing to the rib cage. His signature right-to-the-body-right-uppercut combination was both lethal and often unexpected. In close, Morrison could surprise an opponent from either side with damaging shots. There was also the undeniable potency of his left hook. And Morrison showed the kind of heart often lacking among his peers. Morrison was someone who had to be nailed to the canvas before he lost."

    It was inevitable that Morrison would come to be spoken of as a "Great White Hope." To his credit, he did his best to avoid making race an issue. “It’s kind of sad," he told the Kansas City Star. "To be honest, it’s a big advantage being white. There aren’t that many white fighters around. But I’d prefer to stay away from that because it’s racist."

    By 1991, Morrison had run his record to 28-0 with 24 knockouts. Then Cayton matched him against Ray Mercer for the WBO heavyweight title. It was a mistake. For three rounds, Morrison dominated the action, pounding the granite-chinned Mercer with sledgehammer blows. Then Tommy ran out of gas and, in round five, was knocked unconscious.

    Undeterred, Cayton rebuilt Morrison's credibility, matching him in fights that resulted in seven wins and a draw over the next seventeen months. That led to a two-million-dollar payday against George Foreman in a 1993 bout for the WBO heavyweight title that Mercer had vacated after beating Morrison. Fighting against Foreman with uncharacteristic caution and in excellent condition for one of the few times in his career, Tommy emerged victorious.

    The world was now Morrison's oyster. He had a belt and was a big name in the heavyweight division. A deal was made for a title unification bout against Lennox Lewis that would pay Tommy a minimum purse of $7.5 million. But first, Morrison wanted an interim fight against a walkover opponent in Oklahoma. The walkover opponent was Michael Bentt.

    KO by 1.

    "All fighters reach a peak," Acevedo writes. "A point at which the rigors of training and the punishment received in the ring combine to break them down. For some fighters, particularly aggressive ones such as Morrison, short peaks are the rule. [After the Bentt fight], it was clear that Morrison was beyond his best days. Over the span of two years, from October 1993 to October 1995, he was knocked down ten times. And Morrison compounded these issues with a torrid nightlife, a lax attitude toward training, and a dependency on steroids that likely had an adverse physical effect on him."

    Ah, yes. Morrison's night life.

    Part II of The Duke deals with Tommy's life outside the ring. In his later years, he would use cocaine, crystal meth, Adderall, and Special K. In the early-1990s, he was a drinker. And alcohol fueled his temper.

    "Morrison," Acevedo writes, "was the kind of drunk who would pick fights in public and reject outright the concept of a designated driver. He could also become violent when under the influence."

    A drunk Morrison slashed an exotic dancer with a broken beer bottle in Kansas City. She sued. According to John Brown (Morrison's co-manager), the case was settled for $100,000.

    Morrison pled guilty to simple assault and public intoxication in conjunction with another incident and was fined $310. He was also arrested and pled no contest to two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery stemming from an altercation at a party given by Tammy Witt (the mother of his son, Trey). In that instance, Morrison received a suspended sentence, was fined $600, and ordered to perform thirty hours of community service.

    But the drinking was nothing compared to the women.

    "In the wake of Rocky V," Acevedo recounts, "Morrison had become what John Brown called a 'Bimbo Magnet.' At the peak of his stardom, between the premiere of Rocky V and his upset loss to Michael Bentt, he lived out an adolescent fantasy that might have been the rudimentary plot of a teen sexploitation film. His life was truly a wild one. Wherever Morrison went, he trailed yearning women behind him. They shadowed him at personal appearances, before fights, after fights, in lobbies, restaurants, bars, and clubs. Few celebrities, even minor ones, spend their nights partying in Kansas City or Jay [Oklahoma] or Iowa. But Morrison had little interest in the bright lights of New York City or Los Angeles. The local whirlwind he created in small towns was more than enough for him."

    “His attraction to women was more than anything you can imagine," Bill Cayton told a reporter for the Vancouver Sun. "He was a womanizer beyond anything I’ve ever known.”

    “It was unbelievable,” Morrison said to Sports Illustrated. “It was all right there. You could feed yourself as fast and as much as you wanted.”

    Then everything changed. For the worse.

    Much worse.

    On February 10, 1996, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner announced that, for medical reasons, Morrison had been scratched from a fight card scheduled for the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino that night. Ratner declined to specify what the medical issue was. Five days later, at a press conference held at the Southern Hills Marriot Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Morrison addressed the issue with candor and grace.

    "First of all, I’d like to thank everybody for being here today," Morrison said. "I’m sorry that I couldn’t be here in person on Monday when Tony [promoter Tony Holden] informed you of what the present situation was. At that time, I felt it was more important to be with my family. Since that time, I’ve taken action to have more extensive tests run. I was informed just a little while ago that those tests do in fact confirm that I have tested positive for the HIV virus. There was a certain point and time in my life that I lived a very permissive, fast, reckless lifestyle. I knew that the HIV virus is something that anyone could get, but I also believed the chances were very, very slim. I thought that the real danger of contracting this rests in the arms of those who subject themselves to certain types of lifestyles - addicts who share needles, people who practice a homosexual lifestyle. I honestly believed that I had a better chance of winning the lottery than contracting this disease. I have never been so wrong in my life. To all my young fans out there, I’d ask that you no longer see me as a role model but see me as an individual who had an opportunity to be a role model and blew it. Blew it with irresponsible, irrational, immature decisions; decisions that one day could cost me my life."

    That was laudable. But within seven months, Morrison had pivoted 180 degrees. He had come to believe that HIV was a hoax and that the drugs developed to fight it were, in fact, designed to kill patients. In Acevedo's words, "like so many other fanatics, [Morrison] ignored facts and substituted intuition for verifiable science."

    Now Morrison had a different view of his own medical condition. “I don’t have a lot of confidence in all this medication,” he said. “I’ve chosen not to take it. See, I don’t think that HIV causes AIDS. Some of the research I’ve read and some of the doctors I’ve talked to - there are still a lot of unanswered questions. It hasn’t been proven scientifically to my satisfaction that HIV leads to AIDS. It’s the medication that’s killing people. You unravel the little piece of paper in the bottle and you read about the side effects and they match identical with the symptoms of AIDS. HIV’s never been proven to cause AIDS. HIV ain’t never killed anybody.”

    Thereafter, Morrison repeatedly denied that he was HIV-positive. But as Acevedo notes, "A lawsuit [instituted after Morrison's death] brought to light dozens of documents revealing medical records that repeat over and over the fact that Tommy Morrison had HIV. These records include prescriptions, credit card statements, test results, memos from physicians, expert testimony, even psychiatric intake notes. The evidence that Morrison had been living with HIV for years is overwhelming."

    The end game for Morrison was long and ugly, marked by alcoholism, drug abuse, and uncontrolled aggression. But as Acevedo states, "Nothing about his carnal lifestyle - reckless, aimless, remorseless, seemingly bottomless - is as shocking as the willingness of dozens of women to risk a potential death sentence by sleeping with the most famous carrier of HIV outside of Magic Johnson."

    In Acevedo's eyes, Morrison was now a menace to society.

    He was also a bigamist, having married two different women (Dawn Freeman and Dawn Gilbert) in 1996. He would marry for a third time in 2011, two years before he died.

    Meanwhile, again and again, Morrison was getting arrested. Twice in 1997 on charges ranging from driving under the influence to carrying a loaded firearm while under the influence of intoxicants, On December 20, 1997, he was sentenced to six months in prison (later reduced to thirty days). The following year, he was arrested again; this time for driving under the influence, destruction of private property, running a red light, and driving with a revoked license. In 2000, he pled guilty to myriad charges and was sentenced to ten years in prison with eight years suspended. He was released after fourteen months.

    Morrison also subjected himself to cosmetic surgery that amounted to self-mutilation. As recounted by Acevedo, "In June 1999, Morrison underwent a series of surgeries for chest and biceps implants in Tulsa with nightmarish results. When the last procedure was over, Morrison and Landon [a friend] checked into a motel for a brief recovery period. That was where Dawn Gilbert found Morrison, looking like the creation of a Hollywood-style mad scientist."

    Landon told Gilbert that the doctor had used implants for the biceps rebuild that appeared to be shin guards bought from a sporting goods store. "As disturbing as his new implants were," Acevedo notes, "the most shocking part of his appearance was the multiple tubes that now protruded from his body, each attached to one of the four bags surrounding him. Tubes came from each armpit and each bicep, and the bags contained a yellowish gunk and blood."

    Yet bizarrely, Morrison continued to fight. On November 3, 1996 (less than nine month after first testing HIV-positive), he'd been allowed to enter the ring in Tokyo and scored a first-round knockout over Marcus Rhode. Then, after a decade-long absence, he returned to boxing and stopped two no-hope opponents in West Virginia (2007) and Mexico (2008).

    And all the while, his mind was rotting away.

    "When he was only in his mid-thirties," Acevedo writes, "Morrison was already exhibiting classic signs of pugilistic dementia. Slurred speech, forgetfulness, scattered thoughts, a scanty attention span. He increasingly suffered from paranoia. His IQ was measured at 78, which placed Morrison on the borderline for mental disability. Anyone who had heard Morrison speak after fights or read his interviews knew that he was an eloquent young man capable of expressing himself in complex sentences. By the time he hit rock bottom, that was no longer the case."

    Morrison, Acevedo continues, "also suffered from the burnout effect of methamphetamines. And in the early 2000s, he was diagnosed with HIV-related encephalopathy. Combined with his career as a prizefighter, these afflictions left him with a tenuous grip on reality. ESPN interviewed Morrison in 2000 while he was serving out a term in a Texarkana lockup for a variety of drug-related charges. In his orange prison garb, Morrison looked like he had just returned from a week-long crank binge in Arkansas swampland. He was heavy-lidded; some of his teeth were missing; he spoke haltingly; many of his answers were rote; his hair had thinned into a wispy comb-over. And he seemed delusional."

    Fast-forward to 2011. Morrison was arrested twice more on charges that included felony possession of controlled substances and misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia for use. Acevedo recreates what followed:

    "The sports world is shocked to see the latest mug shot of Tommy Morrison, an image that seems to foreshadow death. Only forty-two years old, Morrison resembles a vagrant who has just returned from a harrowing ordeal. A video of his court appearance is even more disturbing. Morrison looks like a cross between a confused little boy and a senile old man. He is haggard, ashen, bewildered."

    At that point, the criminal justice system applied what Acevedo calls "pragmatic mercy."

    "Simply put," he writes, "Morrison is unfit for prison. He is, by then, unfit for anything. In less than two years, he will be dead."

    In evaluating The Duke, one should begin with a thought from Acevedo himself who cautions, "Any biographical narrative is bound to raise questions of veracity. The life of Tommy Morrison more so, perhaps, because of how much of it took place in half-light. Toughman contests, club fights in Wichita and Great Falls, orgies in rattletrap motels, stints in jail and prison, and night crawling with tweakers from crash pad to crash pad across the Southeast. By nature, Morrison seemed drawn to subterranean pursuits."

    That said, Acevedo writes well. His tale moves briskly through Morrison's life from his hardscrabble origins to his self-destructive end. The recounting of Morrison's ring career doesn't have the depth and nuance of some of Acevedo's earlier writing about boxing. And there are times when he gives Morrison less credit than Tommy might deserve as a fighter.

    But The Duke comes to life in Part Two. The material dealing with Morrison's spiral into oblivion outside the ring is powerfully written and informative. Acevedo shows here that he's a very good writer.

    Thomas Hauser's email address is His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing's highest honor - induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

  • #2
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    It's so easy to go after someone when he is gone and can't defend himself. This is terribly disgraceful on many levels. Talk about a hit piece.
    Last edited by Kid Blast; 05-10-2022, 08:46 AM.


    • #3
      "March 17 ·
      DO NOT buy this book. This is from a horrible author that is trying to cash in by exploiting rumors on Tommy Morrison. Carlos Acevedo How can you consider this piece of trash book to have any credibility when you never interviewed Tommy's family or myself. You even try and make him a raciest, How? Did you know Tom? Tommy Morrison was NOT a raciest. Tom was not perfect and he did have problems, he worked hard on dealing with them and overcame so much. He was a very giving and compassionate man that was always helping others in need. Unlike you Carlos Acevedo, the Tommy I knew would never try to destroy someone's lifelong reputation after they are deceased. I like the lie where you claim Tommy had gangbangs after the George Forman fight. Mr. Acevedo I was with him and so was his future wife, we were surrounded by many of his friends and family. Where did you get that rumor? We’re you there? You should be ashamed and any credibility you had as a boxing writer is gone. I see your a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. I will do my best to expose you and I hope they throw you out. Tommy is not here to defend himself but I will along with his friends and family. Carlos, You might get a job with the National Enquirer, but the again I'm sure they would not lower their standard to a hack like you."

      This was taken off Facebook and was written by the much-respected Tony Holden who was Tommy's promoter and manager.
      Last edited by Kid Blast; 05-10-2022, 01:11 PM.


      • #4

        Interesting on-point article


        • #5
          True or false as far as the facts in the books who knows ? I don't think it is a hit job it may be a writer who thinks the ugly side of Boxing is the only side of boxing that interests people. I believe Tommy M. lived a life that many people lived be them fighters, dock workers or Medical Doctors no matter you statis in life if you have certain behaviours brought on by demons or whatever you want to call them it is a sad situation. I hope the writer of the book took the time to give some hope shine some light and speak to some who have lived to tell of the horrors and the way out of them in real life. I seriously mean those words. There are lots of ways to die in this country. You can die slowly, or very fast just one pull of a trigger, or you can linger. I have witnessed death of others up close unfortunately and it is not a specticle. It is not something to get excited about or take lightly. Yet most people do. That is what comes to mind when reading this review of a book, the detachment, of NO MERCY or concern at least in the review more of a attention getter. Was it needed to write about a man whose life went so wrong so miserably wrong. Maybe there was some concern if not understanding of the part of society in this country of what really happens in some peoples lives. Even the criminal justice system had Mercy on his life ending actions upoun himself but not so much in the review. The book I would have to read, and unless it shows up in a library I will pass on it. There is enough and I have seen enough and unfortunately will witness this type of life style as the years go passing by.

          There is a song, Title "As the years go Passing by" John Hammond did a very nice version of it, every great blues man did a excellent cover of the song this mans life. Also on the LP Named Source point besides the above mentioned song title is the song "Junko Partner". I would prefer to listen to that lp and get a better feel for what afflicts peoples lives then to read the book yea think I will do that hope someone else does also. Maybe even the guy who wrote the review and the aurthor himself why not six minutes of your life might get struck by something. Take that hole out of your soul...................


          • Kid Blast
            Kid Blast commented
            Editing a comment
            No, it IS a hit piece. And it sickens me because I knew Tommy and he was loved by many. He went out of his way to look after Iran Barkley when Iran needed a friend. I watched him and with my wife had breakfast with him at a IBHOF event in Lantana, MA back in the day.
            Last edited by Kid Blast; 05-14-2022, 11:54 AM.

        • #6
          OK Kid I stand corrected and I apoligize for not knowing all the facts. So if it being a "hit piece" as you have said stands to be the truth. A hit pc I would guess is a premeditated pc written to hurt or damage the reputation of a fighter or any person or organization ? Fine My anger at the pc was how Tommy M. was used his life, his contribution to the fight game and with no decency as far as him being a decent human being or the fact that what happened to Tommy M. happens all over this country if in fact what is written is true. Do you follow what I am saying Kid ? I will kick it back and forth with you if you like but my thoughts had very little to do with a "hit pc" more to do with dirty ugly way the two writers presnted the fighter Tommy M. and no mention of any decency that he surely carried as a person. And the facts of how people are treated and kicked about over a lifestyle a lifestyle many in this country live and die by and from. I witness that all day long. Just another injustice in this country. One other thing this reply was not meant to discredit the fact that this may have been a hit pc as you have said it was. I used many more thoughts that were spelled out in my reply not only hit hit hit. pc. I hope that gives you the clarity you were looking for. I am not a writer OK ? I am a fight fan who got agitated over an article writer on a review of a book about a fighters life. Maybe that was the intent of the review of the book how would I know for sure? Maybe it was the intent of the writer of the article to get people angry and at each other once again how would I know what goes thru a writers mind ? I only know what I know from life experiences seeing and standing by those that get kicked around for no good reason, discredited for no good reason other then peoples ignorance.And for those reasons there just mentioned I will not apoligize, I go on this forum for exchanges or thoughts and idea's about the fight game and Boxing.


          • Kid Blast
            Kid Blast commented
            Editing a comment
            Points taken. Exchanges or thoughts and ideas about the fight game and Boxing are good.

        • #7
          The dead should be left to rest.

          Not exhumed for some shiity book.


          • Kid Blast
            Kid Blast commented
            Editing a comment
            Absolutely. Disgraceful.

          • Kid Blast
            Kid Blast commented
            Editing a comment
            This one by Paul Magno just popped up out there on another site: "Hell, a biography that cast numerous aspersions on the character of a dead fighter was recently published to critical acclaim, despite the sleazy author’s own admission to using almost no primary sources for the hit piece. When the first few people he tried to interview for the book declined to comment, he decided to just use “newspapers, magazines, and video features” because “the paper trail was a better process” than making the effort to earn trust and an interview from those who actually knew the fighter and lived the stories this writer guestimated about in his book. But he got away with creating this shaky tome that will taint the deceased fighter’s reputation forever because, well, nobody really cares enough to demand truth and integrity in the writing process. Boxing fans just want sordid tough-guy, boxing-on-the-edge tales and to be told stuff they want to hear. Screw the fighters—especially the dead ones who can’t defend themselves."

            Perfectly said, Paul.
            Last edited by Kid Blast; 05-16-2022, 06:01 PM.

        • #8
          I refereed Tommy on P.P.V. against Donovan "Razor" Ruddock. In the years that ensued he showed himself to always be a gentleman to me. The title of this book resonates a cruelty that seems to run through some boxing writers. Some go out of their way to hurt people out of some misguided sense of vengeance for them or their friends for some distorted input of an imagined slight. They enlist their friends to jump on the bandwagon with them not caring who they hurt with their cowardly slander. Tommy is not here to defend himself and if someone is a real man, then they would know nothing is worth hurting people or their families or drawing first blood on someone who did nothing to you first. A boxing writer is not automatically a boxing expert, it is just someone who writes about boxing. You cannot instill a sense of honor into someone who has none at all to begin with.
          Attached Files


          • Kid Blast
            Kid Blast commented
            Editing a comment
            I could not have said that better, Ron. I'm also shocked that Hauser world review this.

        • #9
          A happier moment in time for Tommy Morrison.
          Attached Files


          • Kid Blast
            Kid Blast commented
            Editing a comment
            You know, I think some writers really don't like boxers--perhaps subconsciously--and go out of their way to malign them. Go figure. Maybe they are so pathetically weak physically, they displace their rage on the boxers. It's sick; just plain sick.
            Last edited by Kid Blast; 05-14-2022, 11:56 AM.