It's been more than six years since heavyweight Tommy Morrison's last fight, a 98-second knockout of a last-minute stand-in named Marcus Rhode. The bout was held in Tokyo because nine months earlier, in February 1996, Morrison had tested positive for HIV and no sanctioning body in the U.S. would license him. The disease turned the man who had beaten George Foreman and appeared as Tommy (Machine) Gunn in Rocky V into a virtual outcast, scotching a potential bout with Mike Tyson. In retirement Morrison's tale worsened: He spent 14 months in prison on drug-possession charges.
Now 34, Morrison is making a comeback worthy of the Italian Stallion. The former contender has remarried his high school sweetheart, Dawn, and they're living in sleepy Sparta, Tenn. Morrison, who's just over his fighting weight of 227 pounds, trains regularly and says the HIV virus, which he treats daily with antiviral medication, has been undetectable in his blood for three years. But the most striking thing about his rebirth is that thanks to a rare medical procedure that enables HIV-infected fathers to conceive, Dawn is pregnant with their second child. (The Morrisons won't say how their three-year-old son was conceived.) "This seemed so out of reach a few years ago," says Tommy.
It still seemed impossible in early 2001 when Morrison called Dr. Ann Kiessling, a specialist at the Bedford Research Foundation outside Boston. "Tommy said he wanted to have a child," Kiessling says. "He just had two problems: He'd had a vasectomy, and he was HIV-positive." Morrison underwent a testicular biopsy to retrieve sperm; then doctors separated those cells from the seminal fluid, which is more likely to contain HIV. They fertilized Dawn's eggs, and after two tries the Morrisons learned in December that she was pregnant. The process cost about $20,000, which the couple financed through a loan.
Morrison, who is 46-3-1, says he won't fight again but wants to return to acting. He's contacted Sylvester Stallone about a role in the planned Rocky VI. Until then Morrison is writing his autobiography and is happy playing house in Sparta, where he and Dawn moved 10 months ago. "We wanted to start over," he says. "We had to go someplace where neither of us knew a soul." If all goes well, there will be one more soul to get to know this fall.