Tommy Morrison, who displayed his hard-hitting boxing style as a protege of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa in the 1990 movie Rocky V and defeated George Foreman to capture a heavyweight boxing championship, but was banned from the ring in 1996 when he tested positive for HIV, died Sunday in Omaha, Neb. He was 44.
His death was announced by Tony Holden, his former promoter, the Tulsa World said. No cause was given.
Mr. Morrison denied in his later years that he ever had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, although he acknowledged it when the diagnosis was first announced by Nevada boxing authorities. His wife, Trisha, told ESPN recently that he had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder.
Mr. Morrison won 48 fights (42 by knockout or technical knockout), lost three and fought one draw. He was arrested many times, served a prison term on drug and other charges, and made an abortive comeback in 2007 and 2008.
When Nevada barred Morrison after his positive test before a scheduled February 1996 bout in Las Vegas, it was the only state to test fighters for the virus. That finding led to testing for HIV by boxing commissions in other states because fighters were considered especially at risk of contracting the virus through contact with cuts.
Tommy David Morrison was born in Gravette, Ark., on Jan. 2, 1969. At age 13, he began fighting in "tough man" contests. Using a doctored birth certificate to compete in matches for 21-year-olds and up, he fought "bouncers and guys from motorcycle gangs" for a few hundred dollars a fight, and almost always won, as he told it.
He grew up in Jay, Okla., began boxing in grade school, and played football in high school. He turned pro in 1988 and won his first 28 fights — beating faded champs such as Pinklon Thomas along the way — before losing to Ray Mercer.
In 1990 he played Tommy Gunn in Rocky V, a character as described in the New York Times "who starts out talented and Rocky-worshiping only to have his head turned" by the big-time fight game.
In 1993, Morrison scored a unanimous decision over Foreman, 44, who was pursuing a comeback, to capture the vacant World Boxing Organization heavyweight title. He lost the title to Michael Bentt in his second defense.
He beat Razor Ruddock in June 1995 to win the International Boxing Council heavyweight title but lost it in October 1995 to Lennox Lewis.
He hoped for a big purse, envisioning a fight with Mike Tyson in 1996, but his boxing career collapsed with the HIV finding. He accepted it, saying that he had lived a "permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle" and that he would never fight again.
But in November 1996 he had a bout in Japan, which did not test boxers for HIV.
He later submitted blood tests from laboratories showing he was free of HIV, and he claimed that he had been victimized by a false positive test in Nevada. But the only places he could get a fight were in West Virginia and on an Indian reservation in Arizona, both in 2007, and in Mexico in 2008. He won each time on a knockout.
Apart from his wife, a list of survivors was not available.
Mr. Morrison started to fade from the public eye in the final years of his life. He tried to stay connected to the sport by opening a gym in Wichita, Kan., but the enterprise was short-lived.
"If Tommy was fighting today, he no doubt would be a world champion," Holden said. "You have to look at who he was fighting in the '90s, the guys in that division were Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, George Foreman. There's no one with that talent today. Tommy would absolutely dominate if he were in his prime boxing today."