By Mark Vester
In a recent interview with Chuck Johnson of USA Today , former WBO heavyweight champion Tommy "The Duke" Morrison (47-3-1, 41 KOs) said that using steroids is the likely cause for him testing positive for HIV in 1996.
Morrison, 38-years-old, recently returned to the ring, after being away for ten-years. It took three HIV negative test results, reviewed by the Arizona State Athletic Commission, for Morrison to step back in the ring on Feb. 22 at Chester's Mountaineer Race Track in West Virginia. He stopped John Castle (4-3-1, 2 KOs) in two rounds. Even after several blood tests came back negative for HIV, many in the sport are still unsure of Morrison's HIV status and want him to take additional tests to be safe.
"I never had it in the first place," Morrison told USA Today . "I was kicked to the curb and lost more than 10 years of my career because of a false positive. I was using steroids at the time. I believe that's why the test came back the way it did. But I've taken five or six different tests in the last three or four months and I passed them all. I've got my livelihood back and the timing couldn't be more perfect because as I look across the heavyweight division, there's nobody that can beat me. I'll be heavyweight champion of the world."
Steve Allred, chairman of the West Virginia Athletic Commission, consulted with Dr. Michael Schwartz, head of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians, and he does not believe that Morrison was given a false-positive when he was tested for HIV in 96.
"Once somebody tests positive for HIV, they should always test positive," Schwartz said. "If there's a negative result, then you can only assume that it's a one in a billion (miracle) where somebody goes from a positive to a negative or that the initial test was a false positive."
The paper then spoke with Dr. Eric Daar, division chief of HIV Medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, to get his opinion on whether or not Morrison's steroid usage would have caused a false-positive result for HIV. Daar had no idea where Morrison came up with his theory.
"I can't think of a biological explanation," Daar said. "I don't know where that comes from at all. The issue of a false positive is very unusual. Much more often what happens is it's a mistake. When someone tests positive and is found later to be negative, it's usually because somebody mixed up a vial in the lab or misinterpreted a result. Other than those situations, which are rare, most people who have a positive test stay positive forever."
The paper did note that Morrison's current fiance, and his four children, by three different women, ages 3½ to 17, all have tested negative for HIV.
Bob Arum, head honcho at Top Rank, still plans to move forward with Morrison's return. He is going to follow the same layout he used with former heavyweight champ George Foreman, who was under Arum's banner when he returned to the ring after a ten-year retirement.
"He's tested negative, so there is no medical concern and he is not at risk of infecting anybody," Arum says. "That leaves the question of whether after 10½ years, can he still fight? The jury is still out on that. What I got from that first fight … was that because of rust, he can't get out of the way of any punches. The guy punched the hell out of him. But I also learned that Tommy Morrison still retains at least a semblance of the left hook he used to have. He showed that when he knocked the guy out."
"By keeping him off television and putting him against mediocre opposition, we'll be able to see if he's making progress. If it doesn't pan out, he won't be embarrassed. I don't want anybody to say we're exploiting him."
Morrison, healing some sore ribs from the Castle fight, is planning a ring return in May.