On June 27, a warm Saturday afternoon in Reno, Bally’s Hotel and Casino hosted an exciting Heavyweight matchup as Tommy “The Duke” Morrison squared off against Joe “The Boss” Hipp.
The year was 1992.
Morrison, just two years removed as Tommy Gunn, was back in the ring doing what he did best. A crowd-pleasing power puncher, along with his fame from Rocky V, had made him a household name.
With just one loss on his record, a devastating fifth-round shellacking at the hands of Ray Mercer, Morrison, 23, was now on the comeback trail. Since the loss to Mercer in October of 1991, he was fighting more and more often.
Morrison (32-1, 28 KOs) had landed four knockout victories in 1992, winning bouts in February, March, April and May. On this day, just six weeks after his last win, Morrison was poised to meet his toughest test of the year in Hipp.
At 29, Hipp (24-2, 16 KOs) was a rugged, durable contender with only two losses on his dossier. He lost the second bout of his professional career in 1987 and, more recently had suffered a TKO loss to the surging “Smokin’” Bert Cooper.
After piecing together a three-fight win streak, Hipp, like Morrison, was staring at his toughest test since tasting defeat.
Scheduled for 10 rounds, the bout would air live on ABC Wide World of Sports with Alex Wallau and Dan Dierdorf ringside to call the action.
Ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced referee Vic Drakulich and then the fighters.
Just before the opening bell, Wallau laid out the game plan. “Tommy Morrison has never been past six rounds. He tired dramatically against Mercer. Can Joe Hipp avoid Tommy’s power, get through early rounds and take Tommy Morrison into the late rounds?”
Morrison, wearing black trunks with red, white and blue stars and bars, attacked Hipp at the opening bell. It was clear from the get-go that there would be no feeling out process by either man.
Hipp, a southpaw, was outfitted in red trunks with white trim. Clearly cautious of Morrison’s biggest weapon, his mammoth left hook, Hipp looked to trade in spots and counter Morrison’s opening assault.
Early on, Morrison was landing the cleaner punches and outclassed Hipp with his hand speed and crisp combinations. Redness and swelling had already begun to form on the right side of Hipp’s face. His hopes of dragging Morrison into the late rounds where he could test his stamina looked in serious doubt.
Hipp picked up the pace and became more active in the second and third rounds. Morrison, measured and under control, was now eating more and more leather, particularly a long right jab from an opponent who was now moving laterally.
Morrison had a trickle of blood under his left eye in the fourth round. He looked determined to pick up the pace, however, Hipp was doing more than just hanging around. Coming forward very slowly, The Boss was now backing Morrison up.
The two began trading with Hipp getting the better of it. As the punches flew, Dierdorf shrieked, “There’s a good combination by Joe Hipp! A left landed right on Morrison’s chin. Oh! Another left hand by Hipp!”
The Duke was now bleeding from over his right eye to go along with the mouse under his left. Determined to reverse the tide, Morrison stepped in and pelted Hipp with a straight right hand just 20 seconds into Round 5.
Hipp crashed to the deck as Dierdorf’s voice rose. “Oh! And a right to the chin puts Joe down!” Morrison had dropped Hipp to the canvas and busted his mouth as blood was now spilling freely from it. Both fighters were showing their will and determination as Morrison had reclaimed tactical command.
With the bout advancing into Rounds 7 and 8, Morrison was breathing heavily with his mouth wide open. Hipp was now the aggressor as he moved forward and connected at will with lead left hands to Morrison’s face.
A chant of “Tommy! Tommy! Tommy!” began to resonate from the ringside crowd in Round 8. Hipp responded by stepping forward and unloading a fierce combination culminating with a straight left hand that backed Morrison into the ropes.
The crowd groaned as the punches landed with Dierdorf feeling that Hipp may have seized command. “And there was a good scoring combination by Joe Hipp!” A gassed Morrison survived the round.
Now in the ninth, Hipp was attacking and had all burners going. A 10-1 underdog, he smelled victory as he stalked Morrison and strafed him to the head and to the body.
While Morrison gasped for air, he continued eating solid left hands from Hipp. With just under a minute to go, Wallau noticed a deep, dark red flow that began to spill from Morrison’s mouth. “Wide open the mouth of Tommy Morrison. Absolutely exhausted. And that mouth has been open for so long, it’s all busted up.”
With just 30 seconds remaining in the ninth, Morrison reached down deep and fired a blistering right uppercut. The punch landed flush under the chin of Hipp stopping him dead in his tracks. His legs buckled as he began to reel backwards.
Morrison seized the moment and threw everything he had left at Hipp. Dierdorf went berserk. “Oh, a good right hand by Morrison! And that hurts Joe Hipp! Joe Hipp is in trouble! Joe Hipp is down!”
The crowd roared as Hipp crashed to the canvas. Hipp rose to his feet at the count of 10 prompting Drakulich to call a halt to the action.
Morrison had rescued himself, dramatically, ending the affair at 2:47 of Round 9. At the time of the stoppage, Morrison was up 76-75 on two of the three scorecards. The third scorecard had him down by the same score, 76-75.
The bout was a memorable war with both men suffering significant injuries. Morrison suffered a broken jaw and a broken hand while Hipp had suffered a broken cheek bone.
Both men proved to be warriors while putting it all on the line. It was dramatic stuff.