Boxing: HIV positive Morrison makes `no risk' return

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The Independent Online
Tomorrow's promotion here in Tokyo, headlined by George Foreman's World Boxing Union heavyweight title defence against Crawford Grimsley, becomes a test case for HIV in boxing when the former World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison, diagnosed HIV positive in February this year, makes a comeback bout.

Morrison, 27, claims he is fighting on to provide funds for his HIV children's foundation. But the sad possibility exists that here is another example of a fighter who just cannot say goodbye.

Morrison, from Jay, Oklahoma, has been fighting since the age of 13 and perhaps he does not know what else to do with his life. His presence in Tokyo has caused considerable controversy. The indications are that some Japanese did not realise Morrison's predicament at first. Morrison has become something of a freak show for the local media, who have turned out in force to question him on Aids-related issues.

"One thing I want to make clear is that I don't want to put anyone's life in danger - including my own," he told a packed press conference yesterday. "We feel we have taken every suitable precaution to protect everyone involved in this event."

The major fear is that Morrison will be cut during the fight and that his blood might come into contact with others. If a cut occurs, he will be given a one-minute "time out" for his corner to try to stop the bleeding. If they cannot, the fight will be terminated and the winner will be decided by the judges' scores up to that point in the contest. "That's the only way I'm willing to do this," Morrison said.

"But I've had 49 fights and I've only been cut four times. There's no way I could be described as a bleeder. And if there's no blood, there's no danger."

Morrison claimed that since announcing that he wished to box again "four or five" American states had contacted him with a view to his fighting under their jurisdiction, but that 21 others had outlawed him due to his condition. He denied that fighting in Japan, on a show which is not recognised by the Japanese Boxing Commission, was his only realistic option, saying rather unconvincingly that he had always wanted to visit the Land of the Rising Sun.

Morrison added that "some of the best doctors in the world" have told him there is "absolutely no risk" to his opponent, to the fight's referee, or to spectators at ringside. "Once your body's controlling the virus - which mine is - this stuff is extremely hard to catch," Morrison said.

Medical opinion is divided on this issue and there has been considerable criticism of Morrison, most notably from fellow HIV victim Magic Johnson, the LA Lakers basketball player who discovered he had contracted the virus five years ago but resumed playing last year.

Morrison appears to have experienced little difficulty in finding an opponent for this fight. When the journeyman Anthony Cooks was forced to pull out (wanted by the police seemingly for every crime bar the kidnapping of Shergar), 24-year-old Marcus Rhode, a fighter with a promising record of 15 victories, 15 knock-outs and one defeat, stepped in at a moment's notice.

"This guy doesn't need to worry about my virus, he needs to worry about my left hook trying to take his head off," Morrison said. "He's a much better standard of opponent than I planned to meet after a year's lay- off, but I'm looking forward to it - I feel healthy; everything's fine." If only it were.