Morrison not first to fight with HIV His confirmation puts light on lax state tests

February 13, 1996|By Ron Borges | Ron Borges,BOSTON GLOBE

Tommy Morrison is not the first professional boxer to test positive for HIV, and if he continues to fight, he would not be breaking ground there, either.

Only three states -- Nevada, Washington and Arizona -- test boxers for HIV, and because of privacy concerns, none releases the names of those who test positive. In 1991, that policy allowed Eduardo Castro, who had been suspended in Nevada for being HIV-positive, to cross the state line and fight twice in California.

The same was true of former No. 1 middleweight contender Lamar Parks, who fought while HIV-positive for several years before his condition came to light and he was forced out of the sport.

Morrison's promoter, Tony Holden, confirmed yesterday that a test administered in Las Vegas last week came back HIV-positive.

"He's taken it like a champ," Holden said. "He knows he's had a promiscuous lifestyle in the past. He's taking it better than his team [of handlers]."

Morrison, 27, did not attend the news conference. He remained in isolation at his home in Oklahoma, where he was providing blood samples so further tests could be run.

Morrison is hoping the original test was a false positive, but Nevada is thorough in its testing. If a boxer tests positive for HIV, a second vial of his blood is tested. If both come up positive, a more sophisticated test requiring a 24-hour waiting period is done. Thus, Morrison was tested Thursday but did not receive the results until his trainer informed him Saturday afternoon in the middle of the casino at the MGM Grand, where Morrison was to fight that night.

Holden said results of the latest tests are expected within 48 hours. He said that Morrison still held out hope, but that the fighter already has talked about getting involved in AIDS awareness activities.

"If it is true, I don't see us ever fighting again or ever wanting to," Holden said. "But right now we're not concerned about that."

But in many states, if Morrison were less famous, he'd be able to.

Generally, states honor suspensions from other states, but not all do, and many do not even have a full-time boxing commission, so it can be relatively easy for a fighter to dodge a suspension like that imposed on Morrison on Saturday.

Obviously, the former World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion would find such subterfuge nearly impossible because he is well-known in boxing circles.

Morrison last fought Oct. 7 in a bloody battle with former World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis in Atlantic City. Although New Jersey is one of the busiest fight centers in the country, its commission does not test for HIV. Morrison has not fought in Nevada since 1993.

Lewis' handlers originally said they would ask the former champion to be tested as soon as possible, but when he was reached in Jamaica yesterday, Lewis said he was unconcerned and would not take an HIV test until next month. As a British-based boxer, Lewis is required to take a battery of tests, including for HIV, once a year. His next tests are due in March.

"I'm not running out to get one right now," Lewis told manager Frank Maloney. "My tests are due in March. I'll do it then."

Morrison is the seventh boxer known to have tested HIV-positive. Former WBC junior feather-weight champion Paul Banke recently revealed he is HIV-positive; ex-WBO titleholder Ruben Palacios was stripped of his title when he tested positive and is now in a Colombian jail; one-time African heavyweight champion Proud Kilimanjaro tested positive in London and disappeared; former lightweight champion Esteban De Jesus died of AIDS in a Puerto Rico prison after a long history of heroin addiction; and Parks was forced into retirement.

"It's a very sorry situation," promoter Bob Arum said yesterday. "It's preposterous that in a sport like boxing that testing isn't mandatory. You should think of the other fighter first."

In Parks' case, he was only days from fighting Gerald McClellan for the WBC middleweight title when he abruptly pulled out of the March 1994 fight with what he said was a bad shoulder.

In actuality, he was avoiding the Nevada blood test that he knew would reveal he was HIV-positive.

Days earlier, he had tried to pass off a blood test taken by a friend who was wearing a necklace with Parks' "Kidfire" nickname.

Nevada officials wouldn't bite. They refused the test.

Parks' former fiancee died a few months later of AIDS-related complications, but not before telling a newspaper that Parks had given her the virus, effectively ending his career.

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