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Were Joe Mesi and Tommy Morrison’s Careers Falsely Diagnosed?

Image: Were Joe Mesi and Tommy Morrison’s Careers Falsely Diagnosed?

By Ken Hissner: Both heavyweights “Baby” Joe Mesi and Tommy “The Duke” Morrison were diagnosed with having health conditions to halt their careers. Were they diagnosed correctly? They both eventually fought again after being diagnosed.

Mesi, the pride of Buffalo, New York, turned pro in November of 1997 and won 28 straight wins, including wins over Gary Winmon, 25-2, Joey Guy, 27-4, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, 31-6, Keith McKnight, 41-3, David Izon, 27-4, DaVarryl Williamson, 18-1 and Monte Barrett, 29-2.
In March of 2004, Mesi defeated former IBF World Cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov, 31-1. It was rumored afterward Mesi had suffered brain damage. Though winning the fight, it was costly. He didn’t fight again for twenty-five months.

To prove the physicians were wrong, Mesi returned to the ring on April Fool’s Day 2006, defeating Ronald Bellamy, 14-4-4, winning all eight rounds in Puerto Rico. He would win four more fights. In February of 2007, he stopped George Linberger, 29-8-1, in the first round. Two months later, he scored another first round stoppage over Ron Johnson, 21-20. Six months later, he would have his final fight with another first round stoppage over Shannon Miller, 15-3, for the vacant WBC United States title.

Mesi ended his career at 36-0 with 29 knockouts.

From Kansas City, Missouri, Tommy “The Duke” Morrison was 28-0 when he was stopped by Ray “Merciless” Mercer, 17-0, for the WBO title in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in October of 1991.

Morrison would win his next four fights, including stopping Joe Hipp, 24-2, despite suffering a broken jaw and hand during the fight. He would return to the ring six months later, posting three straight wins, including one over Carl “The Truth” Williams, 26-5, earning another world title shot. In June of 1993, he won the vacant WBO World title defeating former world champion “Big” George Foreman, 72-3, over 12 rounds, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Morrison went to the UK defending his title, losing to Michael Bentt, 10-1, in the first round. He would go on to post a 7-0-1 record, including stopping Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, 28-4-1. In his next fight, he was stopped by former WBC World champion Lennox “The Lion” Lewis, 27-1, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In February of 1996, Morrison was scheduled to fight in Las Vegas, but the fight was canceled after Morrison tested HIV-positive. He retired from boxing, but returned in November of 1996, saying, “HIV cannot be spread in the ring.” It would be thirteen months since his last fight when he stopped Marcus Rhode, 15-1, in Japan, where there were no rules prohibiting an HIV-positive boxer from fighting.

Morrison returned to the ring in 2007, saying he never had HIV. He said he was a victim of a false-positive test or a conspiracy by a rival promoter. Morrison also claimed that HIV was a conspiracy by the government. He received a boxing license in West Virginia after passing a series of medical tests in Arizona. It was in February 2007 when he knocked out John Castle, 4-2, at the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Casino. It would be another year when he stopped Matt Weishaar, 3-0-2, in Mexico, where blood tests were not required, which was his final bout.

Morrison attempted to fight in Montreal in February 2011 but refused the boxing commission’s request to undergo testing at an approved Montreal institution with a member of the commission present. The fight was canceled.

Morrison died on September 1, 2013, at a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. According to his death certificate, he died from cardiac arrest stemming from a blood infection known as Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Septicemia, which is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in HIV-infected patients.

Morrison’s final record was 48-3-1, with 42 knockouts.

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