MIAMI — Tony Holden calls the documentary “Tommy” “dark and sobering.”
The ESPN Films “30 for 30” production which traced the life of former heavyweight champ — and Jay resident — Tommy Morrison, made its debut at the Coleman Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
“I would have liked to have seen a little bit more of the positive side of Tommy, but I thought they did a fantastic job,” said Holden, who was Morrison’s promoter throughout his career. “These people didn’t know him that put this together, but I was impressed.”
The 1 hour, 25 minute documentary directed by Gentry Kirby and Erin Leyden, runs the gamut, from the highs to the lows, his childhood in Gravette, Arkansas, and Jay, fighting in tough man contests when he was 13, a major role in “Rocky V,” huge wins and crushing losses.
“When I got pregnant with Tommy, I was very sad,” his mother, Diane Morrison, said early in the documentary. “I didn’t want any more children. I had two. That was all I wanted. He kinda snuck up on us.”
But after his birth, his mother embraced him.
“The first time I held him, it was a feeling I had never felt before with my other kids,” she said. “He was perfect.”
She and several Morrison family members were in the large crowd at the Coleman.
Things turned into a downward spiral in 1996 after Tommy Morrison tested positive for HIV and then served time in prison.
He died from complications of the disease on Sept. 1, 2013.
“Tommy” is available for streaming and on-demand at espn.com and then will make its broadcast premier at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27 on ESPN2.
“On a personal note, you bury these feelings for 25 years — this showed a lot of the dark stuff, but I always reminisce on the fun stuff,” Holden said. ‘It was tough. It brought out a lot of emotions. Thank God I got to watch it before tonight, because it would have been extremely hard to see it the first time.”
Holden said he received a link to the show a week ago and made some suggestions.
“I insisted they put the Ruddick fight in, and they did, because I thought they left the big comeback (out),” he said. “That was such an important part of Tommy’s life to be down then come back to win that Ruddick fight and set up Lewis.”
Morrison was knocked down in the first round, but recovered and scored a sixth-round TKO against Donovan “Razor” Ruddick on June 10, 1995, to win the vacant IBC heavyweight title.
That set up a championship fight with Lennox Lewis, which Morrison lost by TKO.
He fought only three times after that, the last coming in 2008.
“It didn’t emphasize enough the personality of Tommy Morrison, the fact that he had so much charisma,” said Tom Virgits, who spent eight years as Morrison’s trainer and now is senior associate athletic director/physical mission at the U.S. Naval Academy. “You saw the dark side of Tommy in this, but there was a great fun side of Tommy also.”
Leyden said she, Kirby and others on the project went though a lot of Morrison’s 52 pro fights.
“There were a lot of fights we were able to get,” she said. “We were lucky because ESPN already had a ton of his fights because they covered his fights early on.”
Leyden said the production team tried to find as many interviews with Morrison as possible because they wanted him to have a voice in the film.
“We were able to find some good pre-fight interviews and tried to mine those as much as we could,” she said.
Leyden and Kirby were with a team that shot some preliminary footage that was used in the film during Lippe Morrison’s pro debut at Buffalo Run Casino in 2015.
“It’s always hard to do a story on someone who has passed,” Leyden said. “You do want them to have their voice in it. We were really lucky sometimes. A couple of them he opened up a bit and you got to know him.”
“They were great people to work with,” Holden said. “I didn’t know what was going to come out of it. It’s hard to realize it was 25 years ago. It’s just like it was yesterday.”
This was the first time in 25 years that he had seen Virgits.
“We just laughed — ‘remember this?” and ‘remember that?,” Holden said. “It was all good stuff. It was nice.”
A movie based on Morrison’s life — “Oklahoma Sun” — is currently in production, according to the website imbd.com.
German-born Rokki James is listed as the actor portraying Morrison.
It originally was targeted for a 2016 release date, according imbd.com.
“I know there is a movie coming, but I have said before that I don’t do Tommy interviews. I did this documentary because I wanted to lay it all out and be done,” Holden said. “I don’t really plan on doing any more, being involved with any more Tommy projects. But on the other hand, it’s scary because you know how Hollywood spins things. God knows what they can make out of it. I am a little nervous about a movie.
“It was good to see the documentary, but extremely sad how Tommy could be here with us right now if it wasn’t for his own choices. It was a train wreck,” Holden said. “Now everybody knows what we went through. They know the story to the ‘t.’ This was Tommy.”