Tommy Morrison comes back after battling drugs, drink and HIV

Tommy Morrison was in his hotel room, talking about life, love and Mike Tyson when he suddenly grew silent for a couple of seconds.

"Sorry," he said, "I was just watching myself on the news."

The news on this day in the hamlet of Chester, West Virginia was positive. Morrison was ready to return to the ring for the first time in 11 years, eager to resume his former career as a heavyweight fighter.

Even more important was what was negative. He had taken several HIV tests, Morrison said, and they showed no trace of the virus that causes AIDS.

Gone, just like the last 11 years of his life.

"The bottom line is we passed every test on the market, even one they don't have on the market," Morrison said. "That tells me it was never there."

He's 38 now, with nothing left to lose.

The wife, the kids, and the house are all gone. So is the $16 million (Ђ12 million) he earned in the ring, and the manager he claims took a big portion of it.

He's in a hotel room far from the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip, a new fiance at his side and what he says is a new lease on his life. He fights on Thursday in a scheduled four-rounder for a few hundred dollars (euros), hoping it will lead to a contract for bigger fights with promoter Bob Arum.

He's been training seriously for a few months now. He believes he can win the heavyweight title, believes he can be bigger than ever.

"I was one of the most popular fighters of my era," Morrison says. "I believe this time around it will be even bigger."

The day before the fight he talked about the time he spent in prison, including 125 days of solitary confinement, the drugs he took, and the ones he refused to take for a disease he now claims he never had.

He wants this to be about what is ahead. But he realizes people will pay attention only because of what is behind.

"It's such a positive story, I don't know why people are not behind it," Morrison said. "It's not like Anna Nicole Smith or Britney Spears, tragic things that sell. This is a positive story, a good story."

The story hasn't always been a pretty one.

The Duke, as he was known, had flowing blonde hair, and a big left hook. The combination took him near the top of the heavyweight division, and landed him a role opposite Sylvester Stallone on the silver screen in Rocky V.

In real life, Morrison beat George Foreman, stopped Razor Ruddock and fought Lennox Lewis. Not only could he fight, he was a white fighter one big reason Don King wanted to give him $4 million (EUR3 million) to meet Mike Tyson in 1996.

That February in Las Vegas, he was getting ready to fight a tuneup for Tyson Stormy Weathers when he refused a doctor's request for a blood sample a few days before the bout. Nevada boxing authorities said he couldn't fight without the blood test, so he came back the next day to have blood drawn, reports AP.

A few hours before the fight, it was suddenly called off. Morrison had tested positive for the HIV virus.

He fought only once more, knocking out a human punching bag named Marcus Rhode a few months later in Japan.

Then things got really bad.

"Life is awfully quiet when you retire," Morrison said. "My life started spinning out of control. People thought I was crazy. My own family turned against me because I wouldn't take the medication that they were giving me because it would have killed me."

Twice he was arrested for drunken driving, one time shortly after speaking to high school students about AIDS. He got a two-year prison sentence in Arkansas after pleading guilty to cocaine and firearms possession, and his health got so bad he was hospitalized on several occasions.

He says he's clean now, and HIV free.

"I believe it was just a misdiagnosis," Morrison says. "People do make mistakes."

Dr. Jeff Kirchner of the American Academy of HIV Medicine said three separate tests would have had to be done to confirm Morrison's original sample, and that once a person tests positive he is positive for life.

More likely, Kirchner said, is that Morrison, like Magic Johnson, has been taking HIV drugs and they have worked so well that the disease is more or less in remission. Kirchner said such patients can often function at a high level athletically, and are not at great risk to others, reports AP.

"If the virus level is undetectable, the risk of passing that virus to another person is close to zero," he said.

Morrison's opponent is John Castle, who was knocked out in the first round of his last fight and has had only six fights in his career.

The Duke can't wait to get going.

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