CAMP VERDE, Ariz., June 9 -- Nestled in Arizona's red rock mountains, former heavyweight boxing champion Tommy Morrison made what was billed as his mixed martial arts debut Saturday night.
Out of reach of the Arizona State Athletic Commission on the Yavapai-Apache Nation, unheralded John Stover of South Dakota stood as Morrison's first opponent.
In action that took place in the cage, Morrison dispatched Stover at the 2:08 mark of round number one.
Rules prohibited any kind of ground fighting, and as the card at the Cliff Castle Casino was about to commence it was announced that knees, elbows, or kicks of any kind would be disallowed during the Morrison-Stover fight, which was scheduled for three three-minute rounds.
"Yeah they switched up the rules," said the 35-year-old Stover. "At first it was strikes only knees, elbows, and kicks. They switched them up about a half hour before the show. We tried to barter around it, but Tommy, he doesn't want to do MMA. He needs to get paid. He needs his money. He needs to get his name back out there and this is basically all he's doing."
The six-foot-two, 340-pound Stover entered the cage first, where he waited 10 minutes for Morrison to make his entrance. A restless crowd of 2,500 greeted the former champ with a mixture of cheers and boos as he joined Stover in the cage.
Morrison, dressed in Everlast boxing trunks, also wore regulation boxing shoes during his customized MMA debut. It was Stover who came out the aggressor, posting Morrison up against the cage and landing a barrage of tight inside punches to the boxer's head.
Morrison, 38, slipped out the larger man's grip and circled back to the center of the cage. The sequence that followed showcased the boxer's superior hand speed.
Stover's nose was broken by a swift overhand right, however the rugged sheetrock worker would not go quietly and responded by slamming Morrison against the fencing for a second time.
Morrison escaped again and would end the fight soon thereafter. Repeated punches to the body had Stover hunched over, and Morrison delivered shots until the referee stepped in to stop the bout.
"I went into this fight knowing I'm not a strong boxer at all," said Stover. "Right now for a guy my size I need to take somebody to the ground and tie them in a knot."
Morrison showed no signs of the fight on his face, and did not bleed during the quick contest.
After the fight Stover addressed the media and claimed the rule changes played a role in the eventually outcome of the fight.
"If the fight went to the ground he would have been done in like a minute. A little less than that, about 30 seconds. That's kind of arrogant. I don't know," he laughed.
A fact that cannot be ignored is that Stover stepped into the cage Saturday night still not sure if his opponent was HIV positive or negative.
It was first reported that Morrison tested positive for HIV in 1996 following a blood test conducted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The news removed Morrison from boxing for 11 years, but he returned to the ring this February in West Virginia.
Varying reports leading into tonight's bout stated that Morrison's former agent Randy Lang said the fighter had repeatedly tested positive for the HIV virus in mandatory blood tests in attempts to a acquire a boxing license.
Saturday pre-fight Morrison's current advisor Peter McKinn, who also promoted tonight's Worldwide Fighting Championship event, refuted an Arizona Republic story published Friday citing Lang's allegations that documents used to get the license in West Virginia were fraudulent, or the blood sample had been tampered with.
Saying Dr. Carl E. Ferguson at the Lab Corps testing facility tested Morrison on Feb. 12, 2007, McKinn presented Sherdog.com with copies of a signed letter by Ferguson confirming that Morrison has tested negative for HIV 1 and 2 as well as hepatitis B and C.
"The reason we've been real quiet is the letters (questioning Lang's status as a attorney) went to the Arizona states' attorney general, Maricopa County's attorney's office," McKinn told Sherdog.com.
Legal action against Lang by the Morrison camp is pending, the promoter said.
"The reason we have not given this blood to anybody is because Tommy is going to launch a lawsuit," McKinn said.
The circus-like environment continued in the days leading up to the bout.
At Thursday's press conference it was revealed that no heart, blood, or eyes exams were required of the fighters at the promoter's digression.
Hours before the weigh-in on Friday, Stover learned during an interview with the Sherdog Radio Network that the fight would not take place under the jurisdiction of the ASAC.
The upbeat fighter from Pine Ridge, South Dakota issued himself a clean bill of health after the brief battle with the former pro boxer.
"Some people would be terrified of the rumors," said Stover, "but I gave him a shot."
Following the match Morrison was unavailable for comment.
Joe Leyva def. Jason Zern TKO 2:57 R1
Ryan Bader def. Tim Peacock TKO 2:50 R2
Danny Wren def. Mike Vacshon submission (armbar) 1:30 R1
Dan Wilson def. JT Tsosie submission (rear-naked choke) 1:40 R1
Travos Degrout def. Adrian Valdez TKO 0:32 R2
Rosco McClellan def. John Sargent (Pictures) submission (triangle choke) 1:00 R1
Yaotzin Mesa def. Pete Vandervort (Pictures) TKO 2:25 R1
Billie Bozier def. Tyler Brooks TKO 2:01 R1
Brendan Tierney def. Eric Hrjes KO 0:44 R1
*Tommy Morrison def. John Stover TKO 2:08 R1
Steve Sharp (Pictures) def. Bob Calnin unanimous decision 3R
Dan Severn (Pictures) def. Victor Vincelette submission (choke) 1:35 R1
*Morrison vs. Stover is not considered a mixed martial arts contest, as rules were modified to prohibit ground fighting and any strikes save punching.