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Morrison Studied at School of Hard Knocks

August 7, 1993

JAY, Okla. (AP) _ The baseball field at Jay High School may never be known as ″The Field That Tommy Morrison Built.″ It’s more likely to be remembered as ″The Field That Tommy Morrison Torched.″

The Toughman boxing contests he dominated as early as age 13 will never be his legacy. He had to alter his birth certificate to make him old enough to compete, then fight under an alias to protect his amateur status.

This small northeastern Oklahoma town didn’t have the amenities to teach Morrison how to become a fine-tuned boxer, but it provided him enough hard knocks to teach him how to fight.

″I didn’t have the greatest equipment or the greatest facilities,″ Morrison said. ″I would see people with new shoes and better cars. I knew what I wanted, and what I had to do to get what I wanted. I became a very Spartan person at a young age because of that.″

Now 23, Morrison is 37-1 with 32 knockouts and is the World Boxing Organization heavyweight champ because of his 12-round decision over George Foreman in June.

He fights Aug. 30 against an undetermined opponent in Kansas City, and Oct. 30 against unbeaten Francois Botha of South Africa before a spring title fight against WBC champion Lennox Lewis.

″I could see him heading in that direction,″ says Diana Morrison, who used a hot needle to etch a tattoo of boxing gloves on her son’s shoulder when he was 10 and who held his spit bucket during the Toughman fights.

Morrison comes from a boxing family. Both grandfathers, his father, two uncles and his older brother all delved into amateur boxing. When the Morrisons moved to Jay, they converted a shed into a gym by installing a speed bag. The heavy bag was nothing more than a duffel bag filled with clothes and sawdust.

″It got us by,″ Morrison says. ″I was pretty easily satisfied.″

He fought in his first Toughman fight at 13 using an altered birth certificate and beat a man twice his age. He lost just once in 21 fights.

″When I saw him win a Toughman contest in the eighth grade, I knew something special was going on,″ said Andy Hudson, his best friend. ″Fourteen-year-olds just don’t beat the hell out of guys in their 20s and 30s.″

His mother was not surprised. Of all the boxers in the family, she always considered him to be the most natural.

″He just had to control his emotions,″ she said.

That took some doing.

Morrison decided his senior year to try out for the baseball team. After one day of practice, he says, the coach told him he couldn’t play ″because my reputation was not becoming to the image of the team.″

That night, he and a buddy were polishing off a 12-pack of beer when they drove by the baseball field. Morrison said he intended only to burn a derogatory statement about the coach into the grass.

″But about that time, a big gust of wind comes, burns down the field and the outfield fence,″ he said. ″I think they knew who did it, but they could never prove it.″

During the football season, when Morrison earned all-state honors as a linebacker, he would spar with Hudson in the weight room.

″We’d finish practice, put on the gloves, work up a sweat, and go drink a beer,″ Hudson says. ″What the hell else is there to do in Jay?″

Not much, which is why Morrison and company went elsewhere for some action. Besides, assistant football coach Ron Turner says, ″no one would mess with him in Jay.″

Morrison admits he got into a few scrapes, and while he wasn’t looking for trouble, ″it didn’t take much - just one smart-ass remark.″

Hudson recalls one venture across the state line into Decatur, Ark.

″We were at a restaurant. A couple of guys were getting loud and mishandling a waitress, and Tommy asked this guy to settle down,″ Hudson said. ″Words were exchanged and Tommy said, ‘Why don’t you come over here?’

″He knocked him out with one punch. His buddies took him to the bathroom and on the way back, the guy lifted his hand like he was going to apologize and Tommy busted him again.″

Mrs. Morrison considers her youngest son ″a little ornery,″ but says the reputation came from a small town where ″they consider a rabble-rouser someone who drinks a beer and has a few laughs.″

″If you stay home every night, you turn into a couch potato,″ she says. ″And that’s a good kid?″

At his mother’s urging, Morrison won the Kansas City Golden Gloves his senior year in high school. He was invited to the U.S. Olympic trials, where he lost a first-round bout to Olympic gold medalist Ray Mercer, who later handed Morrison his only loss as a pro.

He was set to go to Emporia State in Kansas on a football scholarship when he decided two days before fall practice to pursue boxing and moved to Kansas City to begin his career.

Boxing took a slight detour when he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone in ″Rocky V,″ and although Morrison said he was offered other roles, ″boxing was in my blood.″

Morrison and Lewis are each guaranteed $7.25 million and a percentage of pay-per-view proceeds, said John Brown, Morrison’s co-manager.

That’s a far cry from the money he got in Toughman contests, anywhere from $100 to $2,500, enough to buy a used car and give his mother ″one less mouth to worry about.″

″The one thing that made me somewhat of an animal is I didn’t have anything growing up,″ Morrison said. ″When Christmas would roll around, we’d all have one or two presents under the tree year after year.

″I always wanted to have money in my pockets, even if it was just $5,″ he said. ″I got very dangerous when I didn’t have any money.″

As Hudson left the weight room recently after a day of work at the poultry plant, he remembered the one boast Morrison made often.

″Tommy always said he was going to have money someday,″ Hudson said. ″He didn’t know how, but he said he knew he was going to have it. And we believed him.″

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