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Newsday Staff Writer

June 11, 2006
Tommy Morrison has twice claimed a version of the world heavyweight championship, and he will go down in history as one of only five men to defeat George Foreman.

But there is one title Morrison wants no part of: In 1996, he became the first prominent professional boxer to test positive for HIV.
Now, depending upon when you speak with him, Morrison claims he was: a) the recipient of a false diagnosis; b) the victim of boxing dirty tricks, in which a promoter wanted him out of the way; c) duped by the government as part of a vast conspiracy; or d) all of the above.

Now 37, Morrison claims he is healthy, happy and HIV-free. He says he is training for a comeback and plans to fight at least three times before 2006 is over. And he hints that if his boxing license is not reinstated, big lawsuits are on the way.

"I don't believe I ever really had it," Morrison said by telephone from his mother's home in Jay, Okla. "It's been 10 years and I've never had a problem, a symptom, nothing. I believe, I've always believed, that it was a false positive. I think there's millions of people out there who think they got it, and they don't."

To which John Brown, Morrison's estranged former manager, replies: "Are those legal or illegal drugs he's on? It sounds like something from the fields of Mexico he's been smoking."

The announcement that Morrison had failed a pre-fight blood test before a tuneup bout in Las Vegas on Feb. 10, 1996, rocked the boxing world. Six boxers had tested positive before Morrison, and a handful have since, but Morrison was by far the biggest name.

Although he had recently lost a heavyweight title fight to Lennox Lewis, Morrison, 27 and white, was still a hugely marketable commodity in 1996. The bout he had been scheduled to fight was the first in a three-fight deal for Don King, who had signed Morrison with the intention of making a blockbuster bout with Mike Tyson later that year.

But it all came to an end in a suite at the MGM Grand Hotel when Tony Holden, Morrison's promoter, broke the news to his fighter about two hours before he was scheduled to fight Arthur Weathers in a 10-round bout.

"Look, Tommy, I don't know how to tell you this," Holden recalled saying. "You tested positive for HIV."

Morrison got quiet for a moment, then responded, "Well, let's just get through this fight and we'll worry about it later."

But there wasn't going to be any fight. Nevada rules prohibited any boxer who tested positive for HIV from being licensed in the state, and placed him on immediate, and indefinite, medical suspension. Because of reciprocity agreements in place with the other state boxing commissions, Morrison's boxing career was effectively over.

Morrison returned to Tulsa, Okla., where he had additional tests. All came back the same. Three days after the original announcement, he appeared at a news conference and read a statement acknowledging a reckless and promiscuous lifestyle. He asked for prayers on behalf of children with HIV, then walked offstage without taking questions from the horde of assembled media.

But Morrison had plenty of questions of his own. Although Holden enlisted the help of Magic Johnson to persuade Dr. David Ho, the world's foremost HIV authority, to accept Morrison as a patient, Morrison began independently investigating the disease. According to friends, he became enamored of unproven alternative treatments, and began lurking on Web sites that promoted the theory that HIV didn't really exist -- that it had been concocted as part of a nefarious government conspiracy.

"I did a lot of research," he said. "Now I know more about it than most doctors."

Meanwhile, the man who just months before had lived "the life of a rock star," according to Holden, experienced another side effect of HIV infection.

"People wouldn't shake my hand anymore," Morrison said. "The owner of the gym where I worked out said I was costing him money, that people were canceling their memberships because they didn't want to touch the same equipment I used. My best friend for 22 years wouldn't return my phone calls. Someone even burned my house down. It was just horrible. People don't have any idea the discrimination involved when you're dealing with something like this."

Within months of his diagnosis, Morrison had rejected Ho's treatment and advice, although he continued to take his medication, telling friends, "I'm only taking it to make my family happy."

From there, Morrison's life took an incredible downward turn. He managed to get a license to fight in Japan, where he knocked out Marcus Rhode, but unable to box in the United States, he turned increasingly to drugs and crime. He was arrested for drunken driving and in 1999, served 14 months in an Arkansas prison on drug charges.

"My life went into a tailspin because of this," he said. "I had plenty of money and then suddenly I had nothing. But the truth is, the only thing that changed about my life is that I couldn't make a living."

Recently, Morrison had his attorney, Randy Lang, contact Keith Kizer of the Nevada commission in a preliminary attempt to obtain a boxing license. " told me Tommy either thinks he can provide us with a negative test, or he wants to argue that his HIV level is so low that he's not contagious," Kizer said. "We'd have to be convinced of that. An even bigger issue might be that he hasn't fought in 10 years. It's an interesting case and a sad case."

Morrison claims he has not taken any HIV medication in more than a year. Still, he says recent blood tests show his HIV levels to be "nearly undetectable.",0,2487088.story?coll=ny-sports-mezz
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