Bunch of fives: Tommy 'The Duke' Morrison
Luke G. Williams
As ESPN premieres a new documentary about his turbulent life, Luke G. Williams brings you his personal selection of the most colourful and significant fights in the career of Tommy 'The Duke' Morrison...
Photo courtesy of ESPN Sports
1. Heavyweight fight vs Harry Terrell, 17 October 1989 – won by first-round knockout
If one fight sums up the rock 'em, sock' em early stage of Tommy Morrison's career this is it. As he built his record and reputation against a motley crew of never-beens and never-would-bes, Morrison accumulated spectacular KOs at the same speed and volume with which he was accumulating notches on his bedpost. The unfortunate Terrell was floored twice in the opening stanza, first via a counter-left hook and then via a huge overhand right that sent him sprawling, his head tumbling through the ropes. It remains as startling and spectacular a stoppage today as it was nearly 18 years ago.
2. WBO heavyweight title fight vs Ray Mercer, 18 October 1991 – lost by fifth-round TKO
In the wake of the release of Rocky V in November 1990, Morrison's profile sky-rocketed and the level of opposition he faced gradually increased. In '91 he disposed of four foes, the faded but still capable James Tillis and Pinklon Thomas among them, before facing 17-0 (12 KOs) tough guy Ray Mercer in Atlantic City for the lightly regarded WBO heavyweight title. 'Merciless' had wrested the bauble from Francesco Damiani, and Morrison's record heading into the showdown was 28-0 with 24 KOs. In the opening round yet another rapid stoppage looked possible when he snapped Mercer's head back with a huge left hook. However, after furiously going for the KO in the opening three rounds, Mercer rallied and Morrison faded fast. In the early stages of the fifth, the champion caught Morrison with an overhand right, Tommy fell into the ropes and absorbed some fearful punishment before the referee belatedly called a halt. At which point a barely conscious Morrison slumped to the canvas, where he stayed for several minutes. It was a stunning setback his career arguably never fully recovered from.
3. Heavyweight fight vs Joe Hipp, 27 June 1992 - won by TKO in round 9
Along with Cooper vs Moorer and Foreman vs Lyle this remains one of my three favourite non-title heavyweight brawls. After nine pulsating rounds, Morrison was left with a broken jaw and broken hand, while Hipp's cheekbone was smashed. The men stood toe to toe for the majority of the contest, native American Hipp - a huge underdog - being flattened by a big right in round five, before roaring back to stagger Morrison in the same round. With 'The Duke' looking weary, Hipp sensed an upset, swarming all over an open-mouthed Morrison in the ninth, only for an exhausted Tommy to rescue himself and floor his foe with a big right followed by a series of desperate swings. Hipp barely rose to beat the count, the referee waved it over and the Reno crowd went wild.
4. WBO heavyweight title fight vs George Foreman, 7 June 1993 - won by unanimous points
Legend has it that this is one of the few fights that Morrison trained diligently and without distraction for, largely because Foreman – despite now being 44 - was still a formidable foe. Having extended Evander Holyfield the full 12-round distance in a losing effort to regain the heavyweight title in 1991, ‘Big George’ (72-3) had since won three on the bounce, while Morrison had recovered from his Mercer setback with eight straight stoppage victories - the Hipp war among them. The anticipated all-out brawl between the two men failed to materialise as Morrison wisely refused to trade, instead boxing sensibly on the retreat against his older, less mobile foe. A landslide points win (117-110 twice and 118-109) seemed to augur a new-found maturity in the Duke’s approach to pugilism. It was a false dawn.
5. WBO heavyweight title defence vs Michael Bentt, 29 October 1993 - lost by TKO in round one
As shocking a reverse today as it was then … the traction Morrison had gained by beating Foreman – plus the prospect of a showdown with WBC champion Lennox Lewis - evaporated in the course of three knockdowns in 97 seconds in Tulsa. Showing little respect for the 10-1 (5 KOs) underdog, Morrison rocked his opponent early with heavy left hooks which deposited him against the ropes, only for Bentt to come back swinging and slug ‘The Duke’ to the canvas courtesy of a desperate and massive right. Hurt and shaken, Morrison staggered up but Bentt showed no mercy, depositing him twice more on the floor, whereupon the three-knockdown rule was invoked and the referee called a halt. Morrison - still only 24 - would only fight 12 more times as a pro and never again contended for one of the ‘big four’ alphabet crowns. Arguably the only fight of significance he would win in the remainder of his career was his epic 1995 shootout with Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock.