Morrison begins comeback bid with KO

CHESTER, W.Va. -- Former heavyweight titlist Tommy Morrison stopped John Castle in the second round Thursday night in his return to the ring 11 years after testing positive for HIV, the virus known to cause AIDS.

Morrison, 38, who claims he has tested negative in several recent HIV tests, dropped Castle with a left hook to the head midway through the second of the scheduled four-round fight at Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort.

Castle (4-3) slowly got up and referee Dave Johnson counted to eight before stopping the match at 1:49.

Morrison (47-3-1, 41 KOs), who until that point had landed few punches, fell to his knees afterward and raised his arms skyward.

"I'm pretty happy with the way I fought," Morrison said. "I would rate myself about a 6½ considering how long I have been out of the ring. The last thing you lose as a heavyweight is your power."

Morrison said he hopes to stay active.

"I want to fight again, maybe twice in March," he said. "My timing was off, but timing is feeling it, getting the rhythm. That's the last thing you get back. I have a ways to go there. My power is still there. The rest will come. I am just excited to be back."

Castle landed some solid shots, but Morrison was able to take them well.

"I got hit with a right hand. It knocked me off balance," he said. "It was my first fight in almost 11 years. I needed this."

Castle, of Indianapolis, said he had reservations about facing Morrison because of his medical status.

"Wouldn't you? I was going to refuse to fight," Castle told the New York Daily News. "I asked to see his medical tests and they showed me three tests where he was negative for HIV. That's the only way I would fight."

Wesley Ramey, Castle's trainer, was also concerned, telling the Daily News, "I made up my mind ahead of time that I was going to stop it if Morrison got a bad cut. A guy with HIV and AIDS isn't going to bleed all over my guy. My guy has a wife and two kids at home. I couldn't let that happen to him."

Morrison, who received a small cut under his eye, said he sparred for only about three weeks in preparation for the fight, although he has been working to get back into shape for about nine months.

"I had to train to get in shape to train, if you know what I mean," he said. "I've kept a good diet, lifted weights and tried to get the cardiovascular back because I hadn't done much in 10 years."

Morrison, who shot to fame when he was featured in "Rocky V," won the vacant WBO title in 1993 by outpointing George Foreman.

On the eve of a February 1996 fight against Arthur "Stormy" Weathers, Morrison tested positive for HIV and was indefinitely suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Morrison fought once more later that year in Japan, where there were no rules prohibiting an HIV-positive boxer from fighting.

At the time, Morrison said he likely contracted the disease through a promiscuous sex life. However, Morrison was granted a license in West Virginia on Tuesday when a series of clean HIV test results taken in Arizona were forwarded to West Virginia officials.

In another fight Thursday night, heavyweight Joe Mesi stopped George Linberger in the first round.

Mesi also is making a comeback. He sustained a serious head injury in 2004 in winning a unanimous decision over Vassiliy Jirov at Las Vegas.

Information from ESPN.com boxing writer Dan Rafael and The Associated Press was used in this report.