Saturday, June 9, 2007
Morrison faces new allegations from former associate
By Elizabeth Merrill
They ate lunch at Hooter's, laughed and dreamed last fall about the day when Tommy Morrison would pull off the biggest comeback in the history of boxing.
On Saturday night, Morrison stepped into a cage to fight a 325-pound sheet rock worker while a former associate, Randy Lang, is hurling allegations that Morrison is still HIV positive.
Lang, who spent roughly 10 months in Morrison's camp, lodged accusations of possible blood tampering and fraud and said the boxer tested positive for HIV as late as January but still fought a month later in West Virginia -- claims Morrison strongly denies.
"I only know what the doctor told me and what Randy told me -- I am negative," Morrison said. "I went and took all the tests. They told me I am fine, the doctor and Randy. Randy is a greedy person. He got exposed, and now he's trying to hurt me."
The latest round of "Is he or isn't he" was played out with the backdrop of the Arizona desert where Morrison defeated John Stover in Morrison's unsanctioned mixed martial arts debut.
Fighting in a cage on a clear night in the desert, Morrison knocked out Stover (7-2) at 2:08 of the first round. Boos rained down as a panting Morrison raised his hand after breaking Stover's nose with a straight right.
Since the fight was being held on the Yavapai-Apache Nation reservation -- outside the Arizona State Boxing Commission's jurisdiction -- Morrison did not need a blood test. That much was known.
The rest is jumbled.
Lang said Morrison was a chain-smoking 194-pound shell of a former heavyweight champ last September when he began training in a gym in Phoenix. He said he wanted to restore Morrison's health, then help him continue his livelihood -- boxing.
Lang said he cut ties with Morrison Feb. 25 when he suspected the Morrison camp was either doctoring blood tests or falsifying documents. Morrison said he fired Lang when he realized Lang, who has been identified by numerous media outlets as an attorney from Glendale, Ariz., wasn't a lawyer.
Lang, who acknowledged later that he isn't licensed in the State of Arizona, is known at the State Bar of Arizona as a man who's been reprimanded for representing clients without a license. Yvette Gray, an attorney for the Arizona bar, said they are investigating Morrison's complaints about Lang.
Lang described himself as an international lawyer who practices discrimination law and said Morrison knew he wasn't licensed in Arizona when they signed on together last fall.
"I'm not the issue," Lang said. "The issue is, does Tommy Morrison have HIV?"
That question has been floating for a year, hanging in the West Virginia air, dogging Morrison from Texas to Arizona. Morrison's publicist, Lisa Woodard, said Friday that they're ready to "put an end to this once and for all."
Later this month, Morrison and promoter Peter McKinn hope to conduct a public blood test in Las Vegas complete with doctors and a press conference.
"We're going to try to kill this issue," McKinn said, "so that Tom can move on."
The Morrison saga started 11 years ago in Las Vegas when he was told two hours before a scheduled fight with Arthur Weathers that he had tested positive for HIV. Before that day, Morrison, who starred in Rocky V, seemed destined for riches and a mega bout with Mike Tyson. Morrison called the HIV results a death sentence that cost him millions of dollars he could have earned in the ring.
Morrison has been candid about how his life spiraled out of control after that diagnosis, with drugs and jail and financial troubles. He said he refused to take the drug AZT because "that was killing people."
In 2006, he resurfaced, saying he was the victim of a false-positive test or a conspiracy by a rival. He began training for a comeback. The first stop was in West Virginia this past February because, Lang said, the state's requirements for a license weren't as stringent as other states'.
Morrison's camp had hoped to have him make his return in a four-round bout in mid-January. It was reported at the time the fight was called off because Morrison suffered a hand injury. Lang claimed the fight was scrapped when Morrison's blood tests submitted to Arizona came back HIV positive.
On Friday, after ESPN.com requested documentation of Lang's claims, Lang provided what he said were Morrison's test results from blood collected Jan. 5, 2007. Lang said the documents were provided to the Arizona State Boxing Commission and indicated Morrison tested positive for HIV-1 antibodies.
Specialty Laboratories in Valencia, Calif., the lab listed on the documents Lang provided, did not return a call to ESPN.com on Friday.
John Montano, head of the Arizona State Boxing Commission declined to comment on anything that was not considered public record.
Before Morrison returned to the ring in February, West Virginia athletic commissioner Steve Allred approved his participation after reviewing medical records and talking to the Association of Boxing Commissions' medical review committee.
Lang alleges the test results West Virginia officials reviewed were doctored or that documents were falsified by the Morrison camp.
When reached Friday, promoter McKinn said Lang was the only person in the Morrison camp with access to the fighter's blood. McKinn denied any wrongdoing on the part of those now in Morrison's camp.
In the days before the fight, Morrison's opponent, John Castle, pondered the risks. Castle said as the father of two kids, he was reluctant because of the possibility of being infected. But Castle's trainer, Wesley Ramey, said they were reassured after seeing multiple test results.
"Personally, I think he's a shot guy and needs to play checkers or get a day job," Ramey said of Morrison. "[But] you can't make something out of nothing, and nobody's been tested more than Morrison. I've been in boxing for 52 years, and I haven't seen a guy tested more in my life."
Morrison knocked out Castle in the second round.
Allred hasn't returned several calls from ESPN.com.
Morrison was fit and strong in February, a result, Lang said, of taking HIV medicine. Lang said he believed Morrison had the right to box because his virus levels were so low that he didn't pose a real risk of transmission.
Their business relationship had dissolved by April, when Morrison was scheduled for a fight with Dale Ortiz in Houston. The bout was scrapped when Texas boxing officials said they didn't get Morrison's lab tests in time.
Lang said he called Texas to warn them of his concerns of blood tampering.
"I told them there's no way Morrison can test negative," Lang said.
Patrick Shaughnessy, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, confirmed that his office did get a call from someone in April who identified himself as either a current or former representative or Morrison's and made allegations of test doctoring. But that call, Shaughnessy said, didn't have an impact on their final decision.
When Morrison applied for his license, he initially presented bloodwork that had been done in Arizona, the same paperwork that West Virginia used to grant him a boxing license. But because of Morrison's HIV history, Shaughnessy said, Texas asked him to do additional tests in an in-state lab familiar to the commission.
When the written results didn't arrive in the hours before Morrison's scheduled bout, the fight was cancelled. A few days later, Morrison withdrew his request for a license in Texas.
Asked if it was odd that Morrison would withdraw a license request that would be good for a year, Shaughnessy said, "It's unusual."
"That's not the way our licensing process usually works."
Saturday night's MMA bout, on the surface, was perhaps not what Morrison or Lang expected last fall when they laughed and worked and Morrison talked about staging one of the biggest comebacks in the history of boxing.
Before he weighed in Friday, Morrison said he was fighting in Arizona to polish his skills and to make money.
"I got to eat like everybody else," he said.
Soon, he might be fighting for his livelihood again.
Woodard, who is also Morrison's fiance, said Lang's allegations have seeped all the way into her personal life.
At one point Friday, McKinn said that because Lang handled Morrison's blood test paperwork, the Morrison camp can't be completely sure of anything.
"If he's not a real lawyer," McKinn said, "then how could you believe the paperwork?"
In another controversial weekend for Morrison, can anyone be positive that he's negative?
"I do believe if he was HIV positive, I would know that," Woodard said. "And I know he's not."
Elizabeth Merrill writes for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPN.com boxing writer Dan Rafael and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
I only know what the doctor told me and what Randy [Morrison's ex-agent, Randy Lang] told me -- I am negative. I went and took all the tests. They told me I am fine, the doctor and Randy.
-- Tommy Morrison