Thursday, May 4
Updated: June 11, 8:08 PM ET
Morrison goes from No. 1 to No. 610788

Associated Press

Tommy Morrison
Morrison had some success in the ring, but is likely best known for his role in Rocky V.
TEXARKANA, Ark. -- Tommy "The Duke" Morrison used to stand with his hands held high, his big red, rounded gloves raised in the triumphant position of a champion boxer.

Now, Morrison stands with his hands clasped behind his back, the humble position required when an inmate leaves his room at the Southwest Arkansas Community Punishment Center.

The man who once was No. 1 is now inmate No. 610788.

Morrison, the former Oklahoman whose boxing career came to a sudden halt when he tested positive for the AIDS virus, is now serving a two-year prison sentence for drug and weapon charges.

Morrison overcame a dysfunctional childhood -- abused and abandoned by his father and used as an enforcer in a crime ring -- to star in a movie alongside Sylvester Stallone, compile a 46-3-1 professional boxing record and beat George Foreman for the fringe World Boxing Organization's heavyweight title.

Now he's back at his modest beginnings, again associated with crime, bitter about his circumstances and longing to return to the spotlight.

From his 20-foot-by-10-foot prison room on the fourth floor of what once was a hospital, Morrison can see from his window a pole with an American flag. He once wore boxing shorts sporting the stars and stripes, back when he draped a huge WBO title belt over his shoulder for photographers.

At 6-foot-2-inches and 218 pounds, the boxer is just 5 pounds below his contending weight. But his blond hair, once cropped short, has formed waves while in prison and his smile now is capped with a mustache.

To talk to a reporter, he is led hands behind his back to a room on the first floor. He has been there before, when questioned by prison officials about what they describe generally as some troubles.

Morrison, speaking in a soft voice, insists he is innocent of the drug crimes that brought him here, claiming he lied when he pleaded guilty because he thought it was the easiest solution. Doctors say he also is in denial about the way he contracted the human immunodeficiency virus, and that the disease can cause AIDS.

Morrison was suspended after a required HIV test came up positive just before a scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in February 1996. At the time, Morrison said he likely contracted the disease through a promiscuous sex life.

In prison, the 31-year-old Morrison now brags about his wild past, comparing his sex with an "astronomical number" of women to lifting weights and running.

"Sex became a part of my conditioning program, I'm serious," Morrison says. "It was just all the time ... three different women a day for seven or eight years..."

Morrison has changed his story about how he believes he contracted HIV, now connecting it to steroid injections.

"I didn't get it sexually," he insists. "HIV is just a dead piece of skin, that's all it is. Every time your pierce yourself with a needle, you are putting the microbes in you body, these little pieces of dry skin ... That's exactly how I got it."

Several doctors, informed of Morrison's dead-skin theory, said kindly that it is highly improbable, or more bluntly, impossible.

Morrison says his first sexual encounter came at age 13 with a 17-year-old baby sitter. That was about the same time he dropped out of school for a year in Jay, Okla., and went to live with his father, who had separated from his mother.

He got into tough-man contests, did construction jobs and worked for his father and his associates forcibly collecting money for what Morrison describes as an Irish-gangster group.

"There was a time I used to think that being a faction of an organized crime situation was cool," Morrison says. "You say, 'Here's the deal, you owe this much money and what do you plan on doing? Get on top of that behavior there son, and if you don't, I'm not responsible for what's going to happen to you.' I didn't necessarily always have to be the one to do it, just inform them of where they live, where they hang out, who their friends are, where their kids are."

Work was the best relationship he had with his dad. At home, Morrison says, his father would beat him with a chair, lamp, ash tray or whatever was nearby when he became angry.

The Morrison family moved from one small town in Arkansas to another in Oklahoma, and then back and forth, often living in a trailer -- three children in one bedroom. His parents were frequently apart.

Before young Tommy was in grade school, he recalls, his mother stabbed his father's "other woman" in a bar. Diana Morrison says she was acquitted of murder and doesn't like to say much else about it.

Mrs. Morrison ended up raising Tommy and his two siblings largely alone. Tommy, a "bright child" but a "sneaky one," went to Kansas City, Mo., to become a professional boxer, and Mrs. Morrison says she warned him about the big-city limelight.

"It was a mother's gut feeling," she says from her home in Jay. "I kind of had a feeling what was going to happen, and that's why I ragged at him so much, all this partying and such..."

Morrison fathered two sons by different women whom he never married. Both sons are now 10 years old. He sees one son occasionally, the other seldom. He doesn't talk with his father anymore. His mother still visits. His older brother is in prison in Missouri on a rape conviction.

Yet through his family, Morrison learned the skills that propelled him to prosperity. All Morrison males boxed, including his grandfather, who later gave up the sport to enter the ministry. Young Tommy participated in his first organized fight at age 8 in Rogers. He won a Golden Gloves competition in Kansas City as a senior in high school and competed in the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials, getting beat by Ray Mercer.

Abandoning a football scholarship at Emporia State University in Kansas, Morrison entered boxing professionally and within three years had his first shot at a world title against Mercer. He lost again, but gained some advice from Foreman sometime after the fight.

Foreman told Morrison he ran an hour at a time to help build up his endurance. Morrison started following Foreman's routine.

"Little did I know down the road I would end up fighting him, and the advice he gave me is what got his ass beat," Morrison says.

Morrison's 12-round victory over Foreman gave him the WBO title on June 7, 1993. But in his first title defense, Morrison was knocked out in the first round by Michael Bentt in what Morrison had intended as a tune up for Lennox Lewis.

His comeback was blunted when Lewis knocked him out in October 1995 -- about four months before he learned he had the AIDS virus.

"My life has been very much a roller coaster ride, not just the boxing part, not just the acting part, just my childhood, what I was into at a young age and the things I was exposed to, it's just very abnormal," Morrison says.

At his sentencing in January, Morrison told an Arkansas judge he intended to turn his life around and speak in schools after he had served his sentence.

Now in prison, Morrison has a different -- more profitable -- set of goals. He hopes to make money by selling his life story as a book or movie -- in fact, he wants to play himself in the film. Morrison reminds people he was cast as a boxer trained by Stallone in "Rocky V."

Even in prison, Morrison is still a fighter -- if only in mind and attitude. Morrison believes that prison officials are against him, trying to connect him to uprisings because of his popularity among other inmates.

Prison supervisor Dan McGuinness denies any bias, saying Morrison has "had a few minor adjustment problems" but is doing better. When hit by another inmate, for example, Morrison did not strike back, McGuinness says.

Morrison is upset that the prison officials refused to furnish his room with a television, tape recorder and laptop computer and turned down his offer to buy a $6,000 weightlifting machine as a replacement to broken equipment in the sparsely furnished recreation area.

When agreeing to plead guilty, Morrison claims prosecutors led him to believe he could get a job and wear his own clothes in prison. Instead he's wearing a banana yellow uniform, getting to pick up trash or cut grass once a week.

So Morrison wears a yarn necklace with a black and green cross and clips another cross to his pocket -- not so much for their Christian symbolism as for a statement of individuality.

Morrison considers the mandatory drug abuse classes a waste of time, saying he has used marijuana and methamphetamine but never was an addict. He says the cocaine police found in his 1999 Corvette was not his own, and he was not aware it was there.

Fayetteville police stopped Morrison's car in September after he left a friend's house. Morrison says he lent the car to his friend to install a stereo system and was retrieving it.

"I didn't do anything wrong," says Morrison, who also was charged with weapons and driving offenses. "I'm guilty by association more or less, but I'm pretty bitter about the whole thing."

Because Morrison already was on probation for drunken driving in Oklahoma, he says he feared he would be sent to prison for violating the terms of his release. So Morrison agreed to plead guilty, hoping his sentence in the minimum-security Arkansas facility would also count toward his probation violation.

Morrison received a 10-year prison sentence in January with eight years suspended. With credit for good behavior, he could be released from prison as soon as Dec. 19.

That's not soon enough for Morrison, who says he was planning to flee the country before deciding to enter a guilty plea. Now Morrison regrets his decision.

"I feel like I'm being paid back for every bad thing I ever did by being here," Morrison says. "They bring you in here and try to tear you down to a piece of dirt on the floor, and when you have a problem with that, they don't know how to handle that. If you have any pride at all, they try to strip you of it."

Morrison is not ready to relinquish his pride. He's hoping for one more comeback.

"When you get to a place like this, there is no place to go but up," he says.

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