The home remedies have poured into the post office in Jay, Okla., and Tommy Morrison has considered all of them. A desperate man, like a desperate fighter, explores all options.
It has been only a few weeks since Morrison tested positive for HIV the virus that causes AIDS on the eve of a scheduled fight with a journeyman named Arthur Weathers. Faster than a Joe Frazier left hook, Morrison's career was over.
Morrison had just signed a promotional agreement with Don King and it was to have been his first appearance on a King card, but Morrison's dream of one day fighting Mike Tyson for the heavyweight title had been turned into a nightmare in which he was banned from boxing by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, a ban with which he has no quarrel.
Since then, Morrison has tried to overcome the shock. He has sought out Magic Johnson, who is similarly afflicted, and he has begun to cope with his new life, a life without boxing but not without hope.
Last weekend, Morrison returned to Las Vegas for the first time since he failed Nevada's HIV test to work as a Showtime commentator on the Tyson-Frank Bruno pay-per-view card. Before he went on the air, Morrison talked about how he intends to conduct his new life, and his conclusions were the kind only a boxer could reach because the fight game is the sport of false hopes and grand dreams.
Morrison talked the way a defeated boxer talks about his next fight. He talked about the future, about overcoming this "setback," about winning once again even though there has been no known long-term winner against an opponent called AIDS.
"This is not something that has to change your life," Morrison inexplicably insisted. "If I was going to have this disease I would rather have it now than 10 years ago. This is not a death sentence by any means.
"I've gotten all kinds of letters with home remedies. Hundreds of letters. Things like drinking vinegar or this and that."
Morrison has eschewed those suggestions and he also has declined to take the route Johnson and most others diagnosed with HIV have followed. He has not begun a regimen of AZT, a drug that must be taken at four-hour intervals, 24 hours a day, to retard the virus' progress.
Rather, he explained, he is seeking more "natural" treatments like large dosages of juice, vitamins and antioxidants. He said he will follow that formula until "I don't see any improvement. Then I'll resort to medication. But I'm in no danger zone right now."
Several days later, Morrison would tell a live chat group on ESPN SportZone on the Internet that he not only would follow such a regimen but he believed "this virus is going to disappear from my body. I believe that in about eight months I'll return to the ring. I believe it's going to puzzle a lot of people, but I believe I know how I got it and I believe I know how to get it to disappear."
If he does, Morrison will prove to be a better fighter outside the ring than he ever was inside it.
The hope is that he is right, though. The hope is that he can come back, that he can find a way to win his biggest fight, that he can overcome the most imposing opponent he ever has faced, death itself.
Few hold out much hope for him, but in a fight like this it is only the opinion of the fighter that matters, and Morrison sees himself winning this last, great fight of his life.
"The first thing I wanted to do [after hearing he had HIV] was get on a plane and get the hell out of town," Morrison said. "When I hit Tulsa three hours later, it was all over the news already so I didn't have a whole lot of time to reflect on how this was going to affect my life.
"Finally, I just had to get up there and speak from the heart, so that's what I did. I'm sure there are more HIV positive boxers. I'm sure there are plenty in other sports, too. I'm just glad I found out when I did."
The prizefighter always is looking for the opening, for the edge, for the weakness in his opponent that will allow him to impose his will. To date, medical science says there is no such weakness in the opponent Morrison is fighting on the inside. It says there may be ways to retard the disease's progress, but that eventually it will get you with the relentlessness of Rocky Marciano in his youth.
Tommy Morrison knows this, but The Fighter doesn't consider the length of the odds. He comes to fight until the fight is over.
Pub Date: 3/24/96