He is one of the most hated characters in the entire Rocky saga, perhaps the most hated after the Russian Iván Drago, or perhaps head to head. Because he gave Rocky back the will to live at a very hard time in his life and then defrauded his trust for a few coins. His name, in Rocky V., is Tommy “Machine” Gunn, a play on words that refers to the machine gun. He approached Rocky on the street, told him that he admired him very much, and asked him to train him. Balboa did his best and taught him everything he knew. Meanwhile, Tommy Gunn won and won, taking advantage of his talent, his physical power and Rocky’s good advice. At one point in the film, the young man bitterly reproaches Balboa that he has a 24-0 record and yet he still hasn’t had the opportunity to fight for the world title. In real life, that was exactly the record held by Tommy Morrison, the boxer who played Tommy Gunn, at the time of the film’s release in November 1990.
This is not the only coincidence between the character and the actor: just like Tommy Gunn, Tommy Morrison became world champion. Like Tommy Gunn, Morrison won his title to a thunderous whistle from the crowd. Tommy Gunn won the title from Union Cane, a boxer who had taken the vacant title after Rocky’s retirement. The public chants Rocky’s name, reproaching Gunn’s attitude, who fired him as a coach to put himself under the orders of the mafia boxing promoter George Washington Duke, who offers him gold and a Moor, buys him a luxury car and he gets him obviously rented “girlfriends”. Anyone who knows a little about boxing will discover that “George Washington Duke” is a thinly veiled alter ego of Don King, resembling him in physique and attitude. Despite the lesson that the film should have given him, the truth is that Tommy Morrison did indeed sign a multimillion-dollar contract with Don King: $38.5 million for three fights, the third of which would be against Mike Tyson. But let’s not rush.
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Morrison captured the title by defeating George Foreman on points on June 12, 1993. Foreman was a boxing legend (thanks to his great fights with Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali) but, at the time of the fight, he was 43 years old. Tommy, who was 24, adopted a conservative strategy that helped him win the fight easily: he avoided crosses and stayed distant by taking advantage of his arms reach and “dancing” the fight, knowing that the only chance Foreman had to beat him was a KO punch.
In the film, Tommy Gunn describes a terrible childhood with a beating father. Morrison’s real life was the same or worse than that of his character: his father was an alcoholic and took him to a sexual “debut” at the age of 14 in a strip club; his mother was charged with murder and his older brother spent no less than 15 years in prison for rape. Given these circumstances, Tommy found a way out and solace in the sport of fists.
His career in amateurism was extraordinary: 220 wins and 20 losses. He was about to go to the Olympic Games in Seoul, but lost on points to Ray Mercer in the fight that would qualify him. Mercer would later obtain the gold medal in the “Heavy” category. When he turned pro, his first shot at his title came precisely against… Mercer! He lost by KO in the fifth round and thus said goodbye to an undefeated man of 28 fights, before an audience that mocked him for his participation in the film. It was then that he acquired an infamous nickname for a boxer: “Glass Jaw.” His next opportunity would come with Foreman, and he wouldn’t miss it. However, he would lose the title in a somewhat embarrassing way for his background and his record: in his second defense, an unknown named Michael Bentt, with just 11 fights as a professional (whom his representatives had put as a rival for the sole purpose of swelling his record with an easy defense) knocked him down three times in the first round and wrested the title from him.
A succession of victories allowed him a new chance, this time with the British Lennox Lewis, but he lost by KO in the sixth round.
And Don King? “I had just signed the most important contract of my life with Don King,” Morrison said. “Three fights. A couple of fights to warm up and then Tyson. That is what was going to happen. That was the plan. And then it collapsed.”
What happened? In the medical control prior to the first of the three fights, in 1996, Tommy tested positive for HIV. “It is the last thing one imagines could happen. I went back to my room and the answering machine light on the phone was on. My coach wanted to see me, to have a team meeting. I walked up to his room and my entire team was looking at me like I was a dead man. I thought my opponent had withdrawn from the fight. Then promoter Tony Holded came up to me and said, ‘I can’t think of any other way to tell you what I’m going to tell you. Your tests came back positive for HIV. We’ll get you out of here on the next plane out of Las Vegas.’ All I thought was ‘Where am I going?’ They wanted to hide me until they figured out what to say. I was dizzy. It was a time bomb. I knew what was happening but there was nothing I could do to change it. It was so strange… “I never felt so alone, like every friend I had had turned against me. Those were very hard moments.”
He did one more fight with special rules: if there was blood, it was stopped. Under those conditions he knocked out Marcus Rhode in the first round. After an eleven-year retirement, in 2007 he returned to fight in the state of West Virginia. He presented HIV tests, real or fake, we will never know, which had been negative. He never quite accepted that he was HIV positive. However, his gradual physical deterioration seemed to indicate so. Tommy died on September 1, 2013, at age 44. His record as a professional was 48 wins, one draw and three losses, although his detractors claim that he “inflated” him too much with inconsequential rivals. His official cause of death was respiratory acidosis and multiple organ failure, resulting from being HIV positive. His widow, Trisha, denies to this day that he had HIV and filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) and Quest Diagnostics, the agency and company that performed the analysis. The reason for the lawsuit is very simple: if Trisha can prove that Tommy died of something other than HIV, then they made him and his family lose $38.5 million. And someone will have to make it up to them.
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Tommy Morrison: the tragic story of the boxer who played Rocky Balboa’s “traitorous pupil” – Big Bang! News
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