Instead, he found himself hustled out a back alley into a van to the airport and onto a series of puddlejumpers back to Oklahoma. “It didn’t hit me though,” he says, “till I was walking in the Tulsa airport and there’s this crowd of men looking at me on TV, jaws dropped. I’d gone from being everything they aspired to, to everything they feared.”
By the following day, the signs reading jay, oklahoma, home of wbo heavyweight champ tommy Morrison had been ripped from both ends of the one-stoplight town. Friends no longer answered his calls, or they’d have a “Get the kids out of the room” look when he came over.
Then he was burned out of town. He came back from a ski trip in 1998 to find his ranch in ashes. To this day, Morrison suspects arson. He often used to wonder whether it was someone from his graduating class, the one that had voted him Least Likely to Survive.
Morrison was living up to that billing. When he got his first box of AZT, he couldn’t get past the list of crippling side effects. Just a “box of poison,” he says. “Did it kill the virus? Probably, but it also lowered the immune system so much that a common cold would take you off.”
“We begged him to reconsider,” his mother says, “but he flat told us, ‘I’ll lay down on the floor and die on the spot before taking AZT.’” According to Morrison, he hasn’t taken a single antiretroviral “except for those 125 days on the psych floor, where I never belonged.”
His T-cell count reportedly dropped to 18 low enough for doctors to diagnose full-blown AIDSthen he started forgetting things: One DUI came when he forgot to remove the pump after gassing up. Then he forgot to transfer a 9mm to his checked baggage at Newark airport.
“At first he was freewheeling, still with a pocketful of money,” his friend Brian Elder remembers. “Then his weight started droppinghis legs got particularly thin. His hair fell out, and he had these nagging coughs. We all figured he didn’t have long to go.”
“By 1998 Tommy was looking pretty bad,” his mother says. “I took him to a doctor in Kansas City. He sat him down and convinced him, and Tommy took the lightest possible cocktail until a couple of years agojust three little pills a day.”
I haven’t been sick a day since February 10, 1996,” Morrison insists, ringside at Munoz’s boxing studio. “My so-called symptoms were from street drugs.”
He begins wrapping tape onto his right hand, then his left hand. “I pretty much thought this thing into existence,” Morrison says of his comeback. “You think about something all the time. Eventually you become what you think about. They gave me a death sentence 11 years ago and I’m still here, still thinking,” he says, drawing blood as he removes a nipple ring with taped hands. “My whole life has been about declaring dominance. It didn’t happen the first time, but when I beat them all and get the belt back, you’ll know it too.”