By now novelty seekers know the result of Tommy “The Duke” Morrison’s cage fighting debut. Morrison: TKO 1. They also know this was the second fight in Morrison’s comeback and that his claims of being HIV-negative suffered a knockdown last week. Still, there’s plenty they don’t know. So, novelty seekers, this is for you.
Last Tuesday in the same Days Inn conference room where Tommy Morrison announced his comeback in January, Arizona promoter Steve Ayala held a weigh-in for his 10th “Duel in the Desert” card – in no way associated with Morrison. Various participants in Phoenix boxing’s small ecosystem were there. When mention of Morrison’s upcoming fight was made, knowing glances went around. But nobody was talking – on the record, or off.
Wednesday night at Celebrity Theatre, the same cast gathered for the Ayala card. But this time the Arizona Republic’s irreplaceable Norm Frauenheim was there. Around Frauenheim on Wednesday, Tuesday’s sober looks gained animation.
By Friday, Norm Frauenheim had found someone willing to say publicly what most thought privately: Tommy Morrison is as HIV-positive today as he was 11 years ago, when a routine pre-fight blood test brought his prizefighting career to a premature end. Randy Lang, a man associated with Morrison until February, did not hold his tongue with Frauenheim on Friday.
That night, the Republic’s website posted Frauenheim’s story, to a plethora of reader comments. Saturday morning, the rest of Arizona knew the scoop: Tommy Morrison would be fighting that night in an octagon-shaped cage, on grounds governed by the Yavapai-Apache Nation. And according to his former representative, Morrison would be HIV-positive when he went in the cage.
Saturday evening came, and members of the media gathered near the octagon. There were no tables or seats but plenty of soft green grass. Before anyone could spread a blanket and open his laptop, though, a security guard approached Norm Frauenheim and told him he was barred from the media area. He would have to stand beyond the barricade – promoters’ orders.
Unbeknownst to many readers, this sort of behavior is common towards websites. Write something derogatory about an upcoming event, and your media credential can be pulled – no matter how reasonable that commentary is.
But a writer in his third decade with Arizona’s largest periodical? A writer who’s won an Arizona Press Club award and numerous citations from the Boxing Writers Association of America? A writer whose portrait adorns Central Boxing Gym in Phoenix, where everyone from Mike Tyson to Julio Cesar Chavez has trained?
Yes, him too.
When told that Norm Frauenheim was seated in the bleachers, both promoters were aghast of course. They’d fix it right away. It was a big misunderstanding. Where was that rogue security guard! A story in the Republic this morning? Why, one of the promoters hadn’t even heard of it!
About 90 minutes and eight fights later, Frauenheim’s media credential was restored in time for Tommy Morrison’s MMA debut. Mr. Frauenheim forgave all culpable parties and even appeared to have enjoyed his time in exile.
Then the main spectacle began.
For those boxing fans who’ve not attended an MMA event, here are some observations. There are 10 times as many women at these shows as there are at any but a De la Hoya boxing match. There are many more tattoos, as well. But the fighters, the fans and particularly the writers are a more knowledgeable, respectful and friendly group than stereotypes indicate.
Parts of the fighting, especially the close-fisted beating of a felled man’s head, are not for every sports fan. But then, neither is boxing.
Sometime around 10:00 PM, the lights dimmed and Tommy Morrison’s opponent, John Stover, a likable 350-pound sheetrock hanger from South Dakota, wearing a dark blue t-shirt and no shoes, climbed in the cage. Then the deejay queued Morrison’s music, the ring announcer read Morrison’s resume and the crowd waited. And waited.
Eventually, “The Duke” stomped towards the octagon, scowling and barking at his entourage. Morrison looked reluctant and annoyed. The crowd did not cheer him. Morrison then walked by the cage door as though he were going to spin round the perimeter and back to the parking lot.
Although by then fans knew some rules had been changed for Morrison – no grounding or kneeing or kicking – everyone was surprised to see Morrison adorned in black boxing shoes, when unified MMA rules mandate that fighters be barefoot in the octagon.
Tommy Morrison’s MMA debut had effectively been regulated into a boxing match with fingerless gloves. Almost.
After a half minute of circling, Stover rushed Morrison and drove him to the cage’s netting. Stover pinned his head to Morrison’s chest and began to whack the indignant “Duke” with short punches. Morrison’s eyes bulged, and he beseeched the referee to do something about his opponent’s behavior. When the referee did nothing, Morrison escaped and landed a pair of right hands. A minute later, John Stover, bent and bleeding from a broken nose, was unable to continue.
That was when Tommy Morrison began to gasp for air. He coughed and shook his head and made Arizona’s worst respiratory-fitness display since Shannon Briggs, a severe asthmatic, fought at Chase Field. After that, still desperate for oxygen, Morrison stomped back to his van, looking surly and speaking to no media. So it ended.
Now, a note about Morrison’s HIV status. To rebut Randy Lang’s assertions in the Arizona Republic, Saturday, some of Morrison’s representatives waved a pound of papers that included facsimiles of hand-written notes and photo copies of emails. None of it was the least bit convincing. But here’s what would be:
If Tommy Morrison were to authorize the Arizona State Athletic Commission to release the results of the blood test the commission’s John Montaño witnessed in January.
Such an act would end all speculation. It’s what any rational, HIV-negative person would do.