Tommy “The Duke” Morrison (January 2, 1969 – September 1, 2013) was a professional boxer who held the WBO heavyweight title in 1993. More famous for his escapades around boxing, such as starting in Rocky V, or contracting HIV which would lead to the end of his in ring boxing career and ultimately his life, Morrison was a powerhouse with possibly the cleanest left hook of the nineties. Shockingly, Tommy Morrison was one of the few boxers in the modern era that had no problem taking on the best fighters. Ray Mercer, George Foreman, Razor Ruddock, and Lennox Lewis were all adversaries. This courage and willingness to trade punishment with his elite contemporaries, introduces a question never asked before; How would this boxer fare against the greatest of all time?
Vs. Joe Frazier
This is a battle of left hooks. Tommy Morrison’s best and most potent weapon was a favorite of Joe Frazier . Joe Frazier movement was centered around bobbing and weaving to slip punches and get underneath the bigger man. At 6’2 and in the 225 lb range, Tommy Morrison would enjoy a 20 lb and 3 inch height advantage. Joe was a slow starter. Tommy started very quickly and that would be bad here. Tommy Morrison has the propensity to bull rush opponent is to overpower them, leading to him walking into devastating counters or blowing threw his stamina and leaving himself open to prolonged beatings. After hurting Michael Bentt, an overly aggressive Morrison walked into a cheçk left hook and was deposited repeatedly on the canvas. After hurting Ray Mercer, Morrison was exhausted by the fifth round and was victimized by a Ray Mercer 16 punch combination along the ropes. Joe Frazier was a relentless pursuer and was only stopped or defeated by Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. His chin held up against everyone else. Morrison was dropped and stopped by Ray Mercer, Lennox Lewis, and Michael Bentt. With Frazier having better speed, stamina, durability, and the correct weapon to do damage Morrison’s only chance is to use his 87.5% knockout to win ratio to land a bomb. Frazier’s movement and activity make this unlikely.
Result: Joe Frazier wins by knockout in rounds 6-8.
Vs. George Foreman
A rematch of yesteryear, Tommy Morrison did defeat George Foreman. He beat the older more reserved Foreman. Against seventies George Foreman, Morrison would face a mirror match. Both men were power driven bombers with stamina depletion issues. Foreman famously ran out of steam against Muhammad Ali. Both men also had the issue of not taking power punches too well. Foreman was dropped by Ali, Ron Lyle, and Jimmy Young. Tommy Morrison’s three career losses are all by devastating knockout. George Foreman has the better chin as he was only finished by Ali and would get up from the canvas to send Ron Lyle there for good. I often tout older Foreman as the overall better boxer than younger Foreman, but there are some intricacies in his style that were better suited to dealing with powerful men in his youth. Younger Foreman was a doggedly volatile master of cutting the ring off and delivering bone shattering punches. He ended Ken Norton in two rounds. He dropped Joe Frazier six times in two rounds and another two times in the rematch. Younger George threw more punches with more ferocity than older George. While Tommy Morrison also was a bruiser, he did not get up when hurt often. His jaw was shattered against Joe Hipp, but Hipp was lightly regarded. Foreman’s pressure, output and power would force Morrison backwards. A backwards moving Morrison isn’t capable of delivering stopping power as his left hook came off of pivoting forward and full extension. If Joe Hipp can do surgical damage and six year pro Michael Bentt can send Morrison to the gulag, Olympic gold medalist and consensus hardest puncher in his prime, George Foreman, should be able to make a highlight happen.
Result: George Foreman wins via knockout in rounds 2-5.
Vs. Muhammad Ali.
Tommy Morrison wasn’t a defensive master. Morrison utilized a high guard to stifle offense. He was rudimentary but skilled. Slick boxers such as James Tillis, Carl Williams, and Razor Ruddock all added knockout losses against Morrison. Morrison actually recovered from being down against Ruddock. Ali presents a problem of movement. The Ali of the seventies was a tale of two fighters. Not exactly the blindingly fast track star of the decade prior, the Muhammad Ali of the seventies was more apt to avoid punches by slight sways or just lay on the ropes and counter as an opponent tires out. If Ali, chose to sway, he could risk getting clipped by a Morrison left hook as he did against Joe Frazier. Leaning on the ropes seems to be the safer bet. Muhammad Ali used this rope a dope strategy to stun George Foreman. Tommy Morrison is smaller and more cardio taxed than Foreman. Morrison could outwork Ali, but doing so would win rounds at the expense of conditioning. Morrison threw punches in the hopes of knocking his opponents out clean. Muhammad Ali was never down for a 10 count. His only TKO loss came against Larry Holmes, when Ali was returning from retirement and besieged by Parkinson’s. On the opposite end 100% of Morrison’s defeats came by KO. Aside from being open to counters when overly aggressive, Morrison’s lack of head movement made it easier to snap off straight punches. Lennox Lewis enjoyed using his six inch reach (81 in) to Morrison’s (75 in) in order to blast Morrison with straight long punches. Ali had a 78 inch reach. Muhammad Ali was well versed in jabs and crosses.
Result: Muhammad Ali wins via knockout after round 9.
Vs. Leon Spinks
Leon Spinks beat Ali to become champion. Morrison beat George Foreman for his belt. Both men were action fighter with a disdain for defense and chins prone to falter under heavy gusts of wind. Leon Spinks only knocked out fighters in 14 of his 26 wins. Conversely, he was knocked out 9 times in seventeen losses across heavyweight and light heavyweight. Styles aside, Leon Spinks wanted to punch and win by activity. His lack of power would leave no deterrent for Morrison and having been stopped three times as much as Morrison , and having one third of Morrison’s knockouts leaves Spinks in a gun fight. Only, instead of a gun, he’s blowing bubbles. Spinks had much more stamina, but for stamina to matter, the fight must go deep.
Result: Tommy Morrison wins via first round KO.
Vs. Ken Norton
Ken Norton was a tall, defensive counter punchers with very fast feet. He had a suspect chin, being knocked out four times in seven losses. Also, Norton was usually knocked out very early in losses. He lasted until Round 2 with George Foreman and was undone in the opening round with Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney. Norton did have an early loss to Jose Luis Garcia in 8 rounds. Morrison was a fast rushing bull. While Norton’s chin accounted for 4 of his 7 losses, his defensive capabilities and power carried him to 33 knockouts on 42 wins for a 78.5% knockout to win ratio. Coupled with ring savy that saw him win at two out of three against Muhammad Ali in the eyes of many, ( He is credited with one win in the trilogy), and fight Larry Holmes to a split decision loss, Norton possessed superior ring intelligence. His cross arm block worked to stifle straight punches. But Tommy Morrison was a hook throwing machine. Left kooks did major damage in fights with Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney. Foreman’s last shot on Norton was a left hook that sent him careening into the ropes. Though both men weren’t exactly known for durability, Ken Norton showed a susceptibility to brawlers who threw hooks. Norton was a tactician who could befuddle other tactical fighters. Morrison was a brawler with a early relentless pace. Norton’s proclivity to back pedal from power would give Tommy ample room to tee off.
Result: Tommy Morrison wins by knockout in rounds 2-4.
Vs. Larry Holmes
A straight punching workhorse of a boxing clinician, Larry Holmes possessed the greatest jab of his era. Working from behind the jab, Holmes would fire off straight rights and right uppercuts. Though Holmes notoriously kept his hands low, he was only knocked out once and that was by Mike Tyson in the eighties. Holmes of the seventies was undefeated and on a path to chasing Rocky Marciano’s undefeated 49-0 record. He would ultimately fail in his final bout of the venture. Holmes’ most famed bouts are his knockouts of Marvis Frazier, Gerry Cooney, and Muhammad Ali. But these are outliers. 44 of his 69 wins came by knockout for a rough 63%. Holmes was not a one punch and done fighter. Rather, he depended on accumulation of damage to wear an opponent down for the win. It is a similar strategy used by his training partner and future foe, Muhammad Ali. Tommy Morrison was a bomber. Tommy Morrison was a stamina burning demon. Earnie Shavers was the same. Gerry Cooney was the same. Both lost to Holmes. Having defeated more intelligent fighters in Ken Norton and Mike Weaver, Holmes proved capable against defensive minded fighters as well. The only clear path for Morrison to win is to land one clean bomb. And in 75 fights for Holmes, this happened once. For Morrison, he was caught three times out of three losses.
Result: Larry Holmes wins via late knockout.
Tommy Morrison could be a champion in this era. In order to do so, he would need opponents to possess a specific flaw, an adverse reaction to power. Tommy Morrison was champion in his era in part due to talent, and more so due to the lack of prominent heavyweights in the scene. By 1993, during Morrison’s WBO reign, Mike Tyson was in prison, Lennox Lewis was a year away from the world stage, and Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were resolute in killing one another. That is no knock on Morrison, however any of those aforementioned would give Tommy a nap. The heavyweights of the golden era all competed with at least decent power, a modicum of movement, and a toughness that made winning with regularity here hard for the most complete fighters. Morrison was flawed in durability and stamina and both of those would result in brutal encounters. Could Tommy Morrison be champion in the Golden Era? Yes, but only under favorable circumstances.