Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday | Tommy “The Duke” Morrison vs. Tim “Doughboy” Tomashek

Tommy Morrison - AP

On January 20, President-elect Bill Clinton was officially sworn into office as the nation’s 42nd President.

After his inauguration, many Americans were closely following the events, as they unfolded daily in real time, transpiring near Waco, Texas.

In a standoff that began in February and lasted through mid-April, a group known as the Branch Davidians lived on a ranch named the Mount Carmel Center. Believing that firearm laws had been violated, ATF officials attempted to serve search and arrest warrants.

A firefight ensued and four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed in the initial raid. A standoff then ensued that lasted 51 days. The end result was nothing short of tragedy as fire was set to the compound. Controversy ensued on who and how the fire was set that resulted in the deaths of 76 people.

The year was 1993.

On the lighter side of news and sports, the Dallas Cowboys had defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII and the Chicago Bulls handled the Phoenix Suns in six games to win their third straight NBA championship.

In the world of boxing, alphabet soup ruled the day as there were three recognized Heavyweight champions. Riddick Bowe, who defeated the undisputed kingpin Evander Holyfield in November of 1992, was now the WBA and IBF champion.

Rather than defend his WBC title against the No.1 contender, Lennox Lewis, Bowe relinquished that title by dropping it into a trash can. The WBC responded by awarding its title to Lewis.

While Lewis and Bowe tended to their business, boxing fans awaited an unusual rematch involving the “other” Heavyweight champion. Well, sort of.

In 1990, moviegoers saw Tommy “The Machine” Gunn knockout champion Union Cane in Rocky V to win the Heavyweight championship.

In present day real-life, Tommy “The Duke” Morrison, the third of the three champions, was the WBO Heavyweight champion of the world.

In June, Morrison (36-1, 32 KOs) won a 12-round unanimous decision over “Big” George Foreman and earned the vacant WBO strap in the process.

Armed with a thunderous left hook, Morrison had only one loss on his record to “Merciless” Ray Mercer. He rebounded from a devastating fifth-round stoppage with nine consecutive victories that was culminated with the win over Foreman.

As summer was winding down, Morrison, now living in Kansas City, was looking to remain active and treat the hometown faithful to a nationally televised event.

On Monday night, August 30, Morrison was back in the ring in front of a partisan home crowd to battle Mike Williams, the man who played Kane in Rocky V. Once seen as a top prospect, Williams had won his first 13 bouts before losing to Tim Witherspoon and James “Buster” Douglas.

The fight would be televised live on ESPN from Kemper Arena in downtown Kansas City.

Late Monday evening, events began to unravel in front of Morrison’s adopted hometown crowd. Williams refused to take a pre-fight drug test and, subsequently, refused to fight Morrison.

Now enter Tim “Dough Boy” Tomashek.

A four-time Golden Gloves champion, Tomashek was seated ringside watching the undercard bouts. Stories were spawned that Tomashek was seen enjoying a hot dog while taking in the action.

Tomashek was flown in as a precaution because Williams had failed to appear at a number of scheduled pre-fight events. He was initially paid $2,500 to be, for all intents and purposes, an insurance policy.

After Williams’ refusal to enter the ring, Tomashek was approached while watching an undercard fight.

In a watershed moment born right out of Rocky, in stepped the journeyman with the Cinderella opportunity to win a share of the Heavyweight crown. As Barry Tompkins colorfully put it, “We’ll see if the glass slipper fits.”

Al Bernstein, calling the fights with Tompkins, explained to viewers that the Kansas City fans in attendance were updated on Morrison’s new opponent by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum.

“An audible groan from them when Bob Arum had to announce Mike Williams had skipped out. Interestingly, he offered a refund to people who would leave.”

None of the partisan faithful left as most were there to see Morrison defend his title. Who the opponent was seemed inconsequential.

Tomashek (34-10, 11 KOs) was the epitome of a blue-collar character. He worked loading trucks at ShopKo in his hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. With tonight’s opportunity now a reality, Bernstein quipped, “He’s gonna go back and have something to tell the boys.”

His moment in the sun now upon him, Tomashek exited his dressing room and made his way down the aisle. Wearing blue trunks with red trim, the 205 pound challenger appeared to be loose and relaxed while speakers inside Kemper Arena blared Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

With Tomashek now inside the ring, the theme song from “2001, A Space Odyssey” thundered through the arena. The champion, led by trainer Tommy Virgets, had a focused, serious look on his face. Morrison wore his trademark black trunks with the stars and bars painted around the trim.

With both fighters now in the ring, Michael Buffer began the introductions. The likable Tomashek received polite applause from the packed house in Kemper Arena. In contrast, the crowd boomed when Morrison was introduced.

Referee Danny Campbell provided final instructions and the bell sounded for Round 1. Scheduled for 12 rounds, the two stood at close quarters early.

As was the usual for both men, Morrison was chiselled and looked in very good shape whereas Tomashek demonstrated to viewers why he had the nickname “Dough Boy.”

Tomashek, showing a solid chin early, had swelling around his right eye early from the Morrison left hand. That left hand, primarily a jab, was pumped repeatedly as Morrison soon began to fire left hooks off it.

In the second round, Morrison charged in at Tomashek. Circling to his left in hopes of avoiding the Morrison left hook, Tomashek found himself in a clinch with Morrison’s head under his left arm.

With his right hand, Tomashek administered the first noogie many had seen in the prize ring while smiling in the direction of a ringside cameraman.

Amazed, Bernstein readily admitted he had bared witness to something he had never seen in the ring. “In 13 years of doing Top Rank boxing, a noogie and a mug to the camera? That was a Kodak moment.”

Unamused, Morrison went on the attack firing combinations and driving Tomashek into the ropes. Gamely, the challenger tried to fight back, often throwing lefts and rights to “The Duke’s” body.

Cleary outclassed, Tomashek was using what he had. His movement early on was preventing Morrison from cleanly landing his left hook bomb.

As the bout entered the fourth round, Morrison continued to be very workmanlike. He had a decided edge in the number of punches thrown and landed and was clearly in firm control of the action.

With 30 seconds to go in the fourth, Morrison unloaded a vicious combination and finally bombed Tomashek with a pair left hooks. Tompkins cried, “Good double left hand again! That hurt Tomashek and down goes Tomashek! A barrage.”

The bell ended the round as a shaken Tomashek then walked to the wrong corner. Once his handlers got him seated on his stool, he found a doctor waiting in his corner. After the fusillade from Morrison, the challenger’s left eye was now cut to go along with his swelling right eye.

Tomashek passionately argued his case to continue. It was to no avail as the verdict was in and Campbell waived his arm signalling an end to the bout.

Clearly not what fans, or Morrison, had expected, the champion earned a TKO victory and retained the WBO Heavyweight title.

Bernstein then interviewed each of the fighters in the ring. Morrison was frustrated that Williams pulled out on such short notice, “I expected a good, tough fight from Williams. Unfortunately, something happened. I did what I had to do. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”

A folk hero was born when Bernstein interviewed Tomashek. Pointing to his cut left eye, the challenger joked, “Oh jeepers creepers. I’m a good lookin’ guy, can’t you see? He’s too strong, he’s very good. They tricked me.”

A curious Bernstein asked how he was tricked to which Tomashek replied, “Free wine on the plane.”

His cult status grew when, just days later, his story caught the eye of David Letterman. Tomashek was then invited to be a guest on his late night show.

After being introduced to the audience and now seated with Letterman, Letterman asked him what his record is to which Tomashek sheepishly smiled and answered, “35-11.”

Quickly, Lettermen responded, “That’s not too bad, is it?” The audience roared when Tomashek replied, “Not too good, either.”

The night of August 30 proved, as is so frequently the case in boxing, that often the best laid plans come undone.

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