3. Tommy Morrison KO 9 Joe Hipp – June 27, 1992, Reno, Nevada
Injuries: Broken jaw, two broken hands. Cut eye
This was a crossroads fight that saw both men on the comeback trail. Hipp (24-2, 16 KOs) had won three consecutive fights since losing by fifth round TKO to Bert Cooper nine months earlier due to excessive swelling around the eyes while Morrison (32-1, 28 KOs) was riding a four-fight win streak since being brutally stopped by Ray Mercer the previous October.
All of Morrison’s victories since the Mercer loss had been by knockout, all in five rounds or less, and as a result “The Duke” had regained rankings in two of the four sanctioning bodies. Morrison was hoping to secure a showdown with George Foreman for the vacant WBO strap later in the year, and Hipp was the vehicle by which he hoped to make his case.
Following the loss to Cooper, Hipp formed a new management team that emphasized improved conditioning. Under a regimen of running, weightlifting, aerobics and three-a-day workouts, the 223-pound Hipp entered the Morrison fight 20 pounds lighter than in the Cooper bout, and though he still appeared fleshy he was a much better prepared athlete. The muscular Morrison, one pound lighter at 222, was his usual ripped self, but going in his concerns were twofold – Hipp’s southpaw style and his well-chronicled problems with stamina. Luckily for Morrison, left hooks and straight rights are the best weapons against left-handers and Morrison just happened to own one of history’s most formidable hooks. As for his stamina issues, trainer Tommy Virgets emphasized patience in the early rounds so that he would have more gas in the tank for the middle and late rounds.
Morrison enjoyed a strong start, as a hook to the body just 34 seconds in appeared to stun Hipp. But Morrison refrained from going for the quickie KO in favor of working his jab while methodically mixing in hooks and rights. Morrison picked up the pace in round two, putting more mustard behind his jab while digging hard rights to the body and moving away from Hipp’s left cross. Meanwhile, Hipp stayed busy and focused as he unleashed plenty of two- and three-punch bursts while standing his ground.
Sometime during that round, according to Morrison’s co-manager John Brown, “The Duke’s” jaw was broken, perhaps by a sharp inside left around the midway point. For the rest of the round Morrison slowed his pace, allowing Hipp to out-hustle him.
Morrison moved into closer range in the third, using his hand speed and accuracy to great effect, especially with jabs and rights to the head and body. But the sturdy Hipp remained unmoved and he gave as good as he got throughout the round. In the fourth, it was Hipp’s turn to surge as a sharp right-left-right had Morrison holding on. In the final minute Hipp had Morrison on the retreat with a five-punch salvo capped off by two big left crosses, and moments later he rocked Morrison with another cross that tore open a gash over the right eye. Suddenly Morrison looked battle-worn, weary and a bit confused – and who could blame him?
Morrison’s resourcefulness came to the fore during the opening moments of the fifth. The Oklahoman unleashed a huge right uppercut that stunned Hipp and a follow-up side-winding right put Hipp flat on his back. Hipp rose at referee Vic Drakulich’s count of eight and used a hard left cross to buy enough time to slap on a much-needed clinch. Morrison stayed on the attack behind a pair of right uppercut-right hook combos and blood soon was coming out of Hipp’s mouth. But Morrison’s attack eventually slowed and Hipp took advantage by firing left crosses and using his upper body to push Morrison back.
As if Morrison didn’t have enough problems with the cut eye and the broken jaw, he suffered a broken right hand in the fifth, and he winced ever so slightly when he landed one early in the sixth. With so many injuries to fight through Morrison throttled down his attack by either staying on the move or working the clock with clinches. Meanwhile, Hipp enjoyed his best round in the sixth by landing left crosses with regularity. The pendulum was swinging big-time toward Hipp, and Morrison needed to conjure a solution quickly if he wanted to stay on track for the Foreman fight.
Morrison came up with an interesting answer beginning in the seventh. He departed completely from his customary come-forward style in favor of hand speed and lateral movement. In short, this powerfully built heavyweight now was trying to fight like a sleek middleweight. Hipp continued to come forward fearlessly behind heavy left crosses and sharp right-lefts in the seventh and eighth rounds, but Morrison landed enough blows to raise a swelling under Hipp’s right eye.
Hipp’s surge continued in the ninth as a right landed cleanly on the forehead and a follow up combination connected flush on Morrison’s injured jaw. A big left forced Morrison to clinch and for the first time dark blood flowed from his mouth. Two more right uppercuts by Hipp smashed through and thoughts of an upset became more real.
But all that changed instantly with 30 seconds remaining in the round – courtesy of Morrison’s broken right hand. A torrid right uppercut stiffened Hipp’s legs and a follow-up right-left-right sent Hipp toppling forward before rolling on his back. Hipp managed to make it to his feet, but Drakulich waved off the fight.
Morrison couldn’t have asked for a bigger gut check, and he came up with all the right answers.
“I had to not only overcome fear but I had to also overcome the physical limitation I had,” Morrison told Doghouse Boxing’s Benny Henderson Jr. years later, saying that both his hands, not just the right, was fractured. “I had to forget about my hands that were broke even though it hurt every time I hit him. Every time I hit him I would get sharp pain but it was something I got used to. In terms of being able to do it I really never thought about it; how did I do it, how am I going to do it? I just did it. The harder you work the harder it is to quit and that’s the bottom line. I never really thought of anything other than that, you got to do what you got to do, you know. Yeah it was painful and it was difficult to do, but it always goes back to how bad you want it.”
Spoken like a true fighter.