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Rest in Peace, Tommy Morrison

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Tommy Morrison, who for a brief span of time represented hope for an American boxing public who offered them a link to past glory days, and whose ring exploits were later overshadowed with his resistance to accepting a diagnosis of being HIV positive, has died.

The Oklahoma-bred hitter, whose left hook was the sort which could do damage to even the iron chinned, was 44. Cause of death has not been released.

His record as a professional will stand for perpetuity at 48-3-1, with 42 knockouts.

By 1991, his buzz was what it was partially because the press in the States had been preoccupied with finding that next “Great, White Hope,” a Caucasian sensation whose skin tone would match that of a semi-substantial portion of the populace who sought a light-skinned heavyweight champ. Part of the early buzz spread because Morrison claimed to be the grand-nephew of film icon John Wayne, “the Duke.” A 1990 role in Rocky V, playing the next big thing who Rock has to thrash some humility into, eventually, put him on the radar of non fight fans.

When Morrison beat George Foreman and nabbed the WBO title in 1993, he was a long step closer to being that guy. He wasn’t now a trumped up sort, who got connections because of his complexion; no, coming back from the demolition KO Ray Mercer inflicted upon him in 1991 demanded Morrison be lauded for his heart and soul.

His luck, or his fate, took a turn when a rust-shedder against Michael Bentt in 1993 resulted in another KO loss, and the evaporation of an $8 million payday against champion Lennox Lewis. He fought six rebuilding bouts, and then got the W against another bomber, Razor Ruddock, in 1995. That earned him the tardy date with Lewis, and Morrison lost to Lennox, via TKO in October of that year.

Fate landed a sharper blow in when Morrison tested HIV positive in 1996, as he prepped for a comeback bout, against Arthur Weathers. He was 27, and the world had been turned on its axis for him, as quickly and violently as his left hook disconnected foes from reality. Morrison initially accepted the HIV diagnosis, and admitted he was extremely promiscuous. “Sex became a part of my conditioning program,” he’d tell people. NBAer Magic Johnson had somewhat prepared sports fans for this news when on Nov. 7, 1991, he told the public he was HIV positive, but Magic’s situation didn’t help bring much in the way of clarity to a young athlete who had to ponder the end of his career, and, perhaps, his life.

You had to feel for Morrison when he publicly pondered if he had five, maybe ten years left to live. He made it longer than that, but the road was paved with incidents galore for the man who was entering Toughman contests when he was 13 struggled to come to grips with the stunning diagnosis. By the fall of 1996, Morrison was saying he wanted to fight on, against the perception that HIV necessitated a ring exit. His quest was helped by the announcement by George Foreman that he’d happily share a ring, and blood and sweat, with Morrison.

By 1997, his acceptance of HIV had switched, to a stubborn denial. The medications used to treat HIV, he maintained, not the virus, kicks a breakdown in the immune system into motion. Marcus Rhode agreed to get in the ring against Morrison on Nov. 3, 1996, but the venue was in Japan, as the US wasn’t open to allowing Morrison to play his trade here.

He boxed twice more, during a more serious comeback attempt, in 2007 and finally, in 2008, against Matt Weishaar in Mexico, a TKO3 victory.

Morrison was fighting the law at times following the diagnosis. In 2000, he sat in an Arkansas lockup, for a cocaine and firearm charge. The story how he contracted HIV had changed, as he now says he got it injecting steroids.

By 2006, he was telling the press that it’s possible some nefarious boxing promoter had rigged the test to come up positive, to stop the Morrison train in its tracks. But hope came alive in 2007, when it looked like Top Rank would sign him, if he looked decent in his February bout in West Virginia against John Castle. His blood showed no trace of HIV, and thus he was able to step in the ring. He beat Castle and fought in Mexico, but age, and layoffs, had sapped him of too much vibrancy. He would not box again, though he was still talking comeback and working out in 2010 and 2011, even though so of his own family members, including dad Tim, said he was “deteriorating.”

Some worried about his mental state when he asserted that he’d teleported himself to get out of a shady situation in a tavern in a 2011 interview.

By 2012, the rumor mill churned regular rumors that his health had taken a nasty turn, and he wasn’t long for this earth.

Last week, a story hit ESPN which said Morrison’s mom stated he has AIDS, and is “in the end stages,” in a bed in Nebraska. His current wife, Trisha Morrison, told the writer he was sick, but not from AIDS. She wrote this on his Facebook page a bit after noon on Monday: “Tommy fought right to his last breath. I held his powerful left hook hand till the end- he was not alone. I never left his side. He so loved his fans and reading and listening to your emails and messages. In his last few minutes, I whispered into his ear how much his friends and family loved him. He deserves to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame- would you help me help him get there? Send your emails of support and love to tommythedukemorrison1@yahoo.com so I can share them with his sons that love him so much.”

Morrison’s legacy will be easiest to convey from the videos which show him hurling that thunderbolt of a left hook. Of course, his legacy is more varied and murky than that. Morrison used boxing to get distance from himself and a difficult home life, where his volatile dad could be abusive–dad put him in Toughman shows when he was in seventh grade–so it can be argued that Morrison is an example of boxing’s ability to lift up, as it gave him purpose and direction. He also helped convince holdouts that HIV isn’t a “gay” disease, that the virus can be spread by heterosexuals, so for that inadvertent public service, he can be commended.

The Morrison life for me brings to mind the quote by Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

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Conor McGregor vs. Pac-Man: The Circus is Back in Town

Arne K. Lang

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MMA superstar Conor McGregor stole some of the thunder from a busy Saturday in boxing with his announcement that his next fight would come against Manny Pacquaio. “boxing Manny Pacquiao next in the Middle East,” McGregor tweeted on Friday, Sept. 25.

Jayke Johnson, a representative of Pacquiao, confirmed that there have been preliminary talks. Johnson hinted that this would be Pacquiao’s final fight and said that Senator Manny would be donating a large chunk of his purse to COVID-19 relief in the Philippines. The situation is bad there. As of Sept. 22, there were 291,789 confirmed infections in a population of approximately 109 million. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that travelers postpone all travel to the Philippines, including essential travel.

The best guess is that the fight will take place early next year. Pacquiao is unlikely to leave his homeland until the pandemic has abated there.

Pac-Man, who turns 42 in December, last fought in July of 2019 when he further cemented his great legacy with a 12-round decision over previously undefeated Keith Thurman. McGregor, 32, last fought in January of this year. His fight with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone was over in 40 seconds. Cerrone left the ring with a fractured nose and orbital bone.

In June, McGregor announced his retirement, but few people gave it any credibility. McGregor was just making noise which he is very good at. But like him or loathe him, the fellow is certainly adept at selling his brand. In the world of combat sports, the Dubliner is Mr. Charisma.

In 2019, McGregor was reportedly the 4th wealthiest sports personality in the world, trailing only Mayweather, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. And his bank balance was growing in leaps and bounds because the whiskey he was promoting was flying off the shelf. Proper No. 12, a three-year-old blended Irish whiskey bottled at Ireland’s oldest distillery, was launched in September of 2018 and reportedly attracted $1 billion in sales in its very first year. (The “12” refers to the postal code of the neighborhood where McGregor grew up.)

McGregor started the company; he wasn’t merely the spokesperson. The parent company of Tequila maker Cuervo recently upped their stake in Proper No. 12 to 49 percent. Without a punch or a kick, McGregor made a big score.

(By the way, the popularity of Conor McGregor’s libation isn’t matched by the reviews. A bottle was sent complimentary to a business magazine in London with instructions to pass it around the office. No one liked it. “It smelled like ethanol and tasted only marginally better,” said one imbiber.)

McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in June of 2017 attracted a whopping 4.3 million pay-per-view buys. The match at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas drew 13,094 paid and a live gate of $55.4 million, the second highest in Nevada history (albeit well short of the $72 million gate generated by Mayweather vs Pacquiao in 2015).

McGregor plainly won the first round in that fight and won the first three rounds in the eyes of many observers. But by the ninth round the Irishman was clearly fatigued and Mayweather stopped him in the 10th.

Many people, including this reporter, believe that there was a gentleman’s agreement in place whereby Mayweather agreed to fight the first few rounds under wraps to give the paying fans more bang for their buck. In a recent tweet, McGregor said that he was disgusted with himself for not following up his early advantage and that, if he could go back and do it over, he would give Floyd a good kick in the neck because getting disqualified wouldn’t have stung as bad as getting TKOed.

The preamble to the McGregor-Mayweather fandango was a four-city promotional tour that began in Los Angeles and coursed through Toronto and New York before concluding in London. At each stop, the public was invited to come and witness the fighters’ vent their mutual enmity and the circus was live-streamed on several social media platforms.

Each session was marked by an orgy of F-bombs. Veteran boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, after tuning-in to the Toronto segment, articulated the feelings of many as he voiced his disgust: “(The show) defiled whatever remained of the nobility of combat sports, and in a broader sense the fabric of civilized society.”

If there is a promotional tour for McGregor-Pacquiao, it will take a different tack. Manny is deeply religious; he won’t play that game.

Historically, some fights for charity have been little more than exhibitions. A writer for an MMA site speculates that McGregor-Pacquiao may be contested under a modified rule set, whatever that means. Regardless, if this event comes off, it wouldn’t command my patronage if I were anything other than a boxing writer obliged to give it a look-see.

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Emerging Heavyweights: Three to Watch

Ted Sares

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Victor Faust (Viktor Vykhryst), a 6’6” 232-pound Ukrainian heavyweight (and long-time amateur) is a product of the great amateur program in the Ukraine–one that has produced the likes of the Klitschko brothers, Oleksandr Usyk, Vasily Lomachenko, and more recently Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

At first glance, his amateur record does not appear stellar, but a closer review indicates several SD’s or MD’s.

Earlier this month, on Sept. 20, he scored a frightening one punch KO when he fought the more experienced Gabriel Enguema (10-9) in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It was his third KO victory in three professional fights—all in 2020. The end came as a result of a Doctor Steelhammer-like perfect straight right to knock the Spaniard out cold. It brought back memories of Wladimir’s KO of Calvin Brock in 2006. Faust displayed skills, size, a solid chin, and power in dispatching his opponent.

“…Soon everyone will …see how skillful he is. He’s the complete package and will compete in massive fights sooner rather than later.” Erol Ceylan (Faust’s German promoter)

Oh yes, Faust beat Romanian Mihai Nistor in the amateurs and the talented Nistor in turn halted Anthony Joshua in the amateurs back in 2011. (Nistor also went 1-2 with Filip Hrgovic and lost to Tony Yoka in 2012.) Of course, one must be circumspect when using logic in boxing. Now that Nistor has turned pro, he will be worth following as his style is very much Tysonesque.

There are others who have—at a minimum– the same potential as Faust.

Tony Yoka

tony

Hard-hitting Frenchman 6’7” Tony Yoka (8-0) has beaten far better opposition than Faust and has a far better amateur record. In fact, he beat Filip Hrgovic and Joe Joyce in the 2016 Rio Games on the way to a Gold Medal. Recently, he dismantled veteran and fellow Frenchman Johan Duhaupas, a fringe contender with some notable notches on his belt. The end came in the first round by virtue of a crunching right uppercut.

Yoka perhaps could be slotted above Faust at this point.; he just might be the best of the new guys on the block. However, there are some dicey anti-doping issues that have tainted his reputation, though they do seem to be mostly resolved at this point.

Arslanbek Makhmudov

Arslanbek

This Russian “Lion,” 6’5 ½”, 260 pounds with an imposing muscular frame, is still another hungry prospect ready to break into the next tier. Nicknamed the “Lion,” — he also has been called “Predator” and “Beast — he is 10-0 (10 KOs).

He now lives and fights out of Montreal. The holder of two regional titles, he stopped a shot Samuel Peter in one round this past December.

“I’m confident that with my team, Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions, I will reach my goal of becoming heavyweight champion of the world,” —Makhmudov.

This all said, The Lion needs some work on his technical skills as size can only go so far.

Makhmudov’s next opponent is Canadian heavyweight Dillon “Big Country” Carman (14-5) whose claim to fame is that he KOd comebacking Donovan Ruddock in 2015 in Toronto. This one will end differently for “Big Country.”

Others

Arguably, classy Americans Stephan Shaw (13-0), and Jared Anderson (6-0 with four KOs in the first round) could be added to the above. Filip Hrgovic and Efe Ajagba, both 6’6”, have already moved up.

A good yardstick is 6’5” American Jonathan Rice who lost a 10-round bout to Ajagba, was TKO’d in the seventh round Makhmudov, lost a 6-round decision to Tony Yoka, and a lost 6-round decision to Shaw.

Have I missed any?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com of on Facebook.

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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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