By Matthew Hurley: “The wait in the dressing room before a professional boxing match – that last hour – could be enough to strip a man who never boxed before of whatever pride, desire and heart he THOUGHT he had.” So says Iceman John Scully.
Back in the 1980s Scully was one of the toughest super middleweight / light heavyweights in an era filled with exceptional talent. An outstanding amateur, Scully would become a sought after sparring partner for the likes of Roy Jones Jr., Mike McCallum and James Toney. His grit and determination would lead him to world title shots against Henry Maske and Michael Nunn – the latter being, perhaps, his best professional performance.
After retiring in 2001 with a record of 38-11 with 21 knockouts to his credit Scully made a smooth transition to accomplished trainer, commentator and writer. One of boxing’s consummate good guys, John Scully’s insight and passion for the sport remains inspiring.
MH: As a decorated amateur fighter in the 1980s you competed in an era filled with future standouts and stars. Was there any particular fighter you saw, trained with or got in the ring with who really impressed you?
ICE: That’s a very easy question to answer, really. Roy Jones Jr. remains the only boxer I saw as an amateur who I knew for sure, 100 percent, was going to go on to be a world champion as a professional. I came up with some great fighters in the amateurs, some real talents like Riddick Bowe, Junior Jones, Kenny Gould, Andrew Maynard, Gerald McClellan, Kevin Kelley and Bones Adams, but Roy was the one guy who I think we all knew was going to be a world champion. There was no doubt about it whatsoever. I sparred with Roy as an amateur, it’s on YouTube, and you can see I held my own with him at that time but being in there with him and feeling his punches and seeing him box so many times up close and speaking with him so many times, the vibe I always got from him was that he was really going to be something special.
MH: You won so many amateur championships and got to the finals in the National Golden Gloves twice, in 1987 and 1988. What was the proudest moment of your amateur career?
ICE: I have so many moments that I am extremely proud of and I could tell you some great stories behind each of them but if I have to choose one it would have to be defeating Darin Allen in 1988 to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials. Darin was a guy I really looked up to, he was a star in the amateur boxing world when I first came on the scene, and he was one of the first amateurs I ever saw box on national TV back when ABC used to televise our sport regularly. Darin was a world amateur champion, a national champion and one of the most well respected boxers in the world at the time and I always knew that a fight with him would be like a Super Bowl type event for me.
I defeated Darin in the finals of the 1988 U.S. Eastern Olympic trials, a tournament he was a two time defending champion in as well, and the feeling of accomplishment after that one, the feeling that I finally proved that I belonged at that level with that victory is probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire boxing life. It’s really hard to put into words, really, but I imagine that winning an Olympic gold or even a world championship would probably be the only things that could be comparable to me.
MH: After you turned professional you got two world title shots at super middleweight against Michael Nunn and light heavyweight against Henry Maske. I remember watching the Nunn fight and thought it came right down to the wire. What are you memories of that night?
ICE: When I fought Nunn it was probably the one time at that level that I really stepped up in the moment and produced some really positive results. I fought some other big type of fights and I trained hard and knew how important they were and all of that but there was something about the Nunn fight that was different in my mind. It was even kind of similar to my amateur title fight with Darin Allen in that I knew exactly who I was fighting and how much I respected him and I knew that I needed to either cut the nonsense and get fully prepared or else I was going to get overrun mentally and physically. I felt I had no choice but to step up strongly.
I believe it was a very good fight and that we both executed our own game plans pretty well and the mesh in style was perfect for us. He threw a lot of punches, he was the big name, he had everything in his favor going in and the judges said he won that battle but to this very day I feel like I won the overall war. I think anyone who really remembers that fight recalls it more favorably for me than for him, even if they happen to think he edged it out on the scorecards. It’s one of those fights where people run the whole gamut in their recollections of it and their opinions on it. Some say I won very clearly, some say I edged him out, many say it was a draw, some say he out hustled me but that I landed all the big shots.
Either way, I’m just happy to have fought the fight that I did and I let my performance speak for itself. Sometimes a loss isn’t always a loss, like we saw recently with Marcos Madaina and Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather won the fight and he’s still the champion but I’m sure years from now people will recall it with positivity for Marcos just as much as they will for Floyd.
They were just those kinds of fights.
MH: In your pro career, who was the best you ever took on? Who was the fastest? Who hit the hardest?
ICE: I put Nunn, Henry Maske and Tim Littles as the three overall best I matched up with. Billy Bridges may have been the best technical boxer of all. Tony "The Punching Postman" Thornton may have been the most professional and hard-nosed of them all, Randy Smith may have been the slipperiest and cagiest of them all, but Nunn, Maske and Littles were the three really elite forces at the time we matched up.
Tim was very fast and busy and a nice combination puncher, Billy was very precise and text book accurate. Maske was very disciplined and focused while Thornton was the most methodical and professional.
MH: You’ve made a very successful transition from fighter to trainer, among other endeavors. Is training fighters now your passion?
ICE: It’s definitely what I do now, amateurs and professionals. What many may not realize, though, is that I was training amateurs as far back as the 1980’s at a gym in Hartford, Connecticut when I was still an amateur boxer myself. I also had a squad of four amateurs from Hartford in the 1990’s that I used to travel with all over the country in between my own fights and between the four of them they won over 50 amateur championships, including numerous national titles.
I also worked with Terry Seay back in 1993 when he defeated Sydney Vanderpool when Goody Petronelli trained him and when Sydney later fought on HBO against Bernard Hopkins for the title his only loss going in with Bernard was against Terry.
So transitioning over full time was very easy after I stopped boxing as a professional. It was simply the next logical step for me.
MH: During your career as a trainer you’ve brought some fighters all the way to championship bouts, including Chad Dawson who won the WBC light heavyweight title against Bernard Hopkins. What do you think went wrong for Chad after he left you? The loss to Adonis Stevenson could be a career ender.
ICE: Well, it’s pretty clear to me that the weight loss he endured leading up to the Andre Ward fight greatly affected him and to come back against such a murderous puncher like Adonis right away was obviously a mistake. You don’t want your first time getting hit after being stopped at 168 to be with a punch from the guy at 175 who Emanuel Steward told me was the hardest puncher he’s ever seen. I think the decision to go all the way down to 168 at his age after being at 175 for so long was a real misjudgment that he paid for dearly and it remains to be seen if it caused irreparable damage or not.
MH: As a broadcaster you bring a keen insight into your commentary. What do you see as the biggest problems the sport must address and fix going forward?
ICE: I think the super duper regular interim world championships have got to go, that’s problem number one!
MH: Are there any active fighters you really enjoy watching simply from a fan’s perspective?
ICE: I was at the Mattysse-Molina fight live at ringside in California last month and after that war I’ll watch Mattysse anytime he’s on TV now! That was an amazing war of attrition to witness from so close to the ring and I have a great new respect for that guy. I’m definitely a fan. I’m also always going to watch Kovalev and Adonis when they’re on. There are also so many young guys out there now like Julian Williams who my friend Stephen "Breadman" Edwards trains in Philadelphia, and Gary Russell Jr. and Yuriorkis Gamboa and Keith Thurman, too. I really like Keith and what he’s doing and his attitude towards boxing and his willingness and fearlessness. I first saw him spar when he was 16, I tell the whole story in my book, and I can tell you that not only was I hugely impressed with him considering who he was sparring with but also that I had no idea he was only sixteen until much later on.
I’m definitely a Keith Thurman supporter.
MH: What upcoming fight are you most looking forward to?
ICE: I would like to play matchmaker and suggest that Sergei Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson go to war ASAP and a fight with Lucas Mattysee and either Danny Garcia or Thurman would be spectacular, too, as the co-main event. Or maybe Shawn Porter against Keith. At that general weight in the game today there are numerous hugely exciting fights to be made, definitely.
MH: Looking back, again strictly as a fan and then an up and coming fighter, who was your favorite boxer growing up? And what is you favorite fight?
ICE: Muhammad Ali is the boxer who first captured my attention as a kid and everything I did in boxing back then revolved around imitating that man. He was and remains my all time favorite in and out of the ring but I also had a large group of guys I religiously watched and studied back then, guys like "Sugar" Ray Leonard, Tyrone "The Butterfly" Crawley, Nino La Rocca, "Rockin"’ Robin Blake, Alexis Arguello, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Eusebio Pedroza, Donald Curry, Milton McCrory, Marlon Starling, Greg Page, Gerry Cooney, Larry Holmes.
The fights that stood out to me as being special and above average and memorable would definitely be the first fight with Ray and Tommy Hearns in 1981, Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello in November 1982 at Miami’s Orange Bowl and the cruiserweight title fight when Evander Holyfield fought Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1986 as a very inexperienced but such a game and determined young guy. The pace those two set and the action they put out, I think it stands at the top as the greatest cruiserweight title fight in history.
MH: After completing your book The Iceman Diaries, any thoughts of writing a follow up?
ICE: I am planning and hoping to release The Iceman Diaries in Las Vegas at the Boxing Fan Expo they have planned there for the weekend of September 13th. I’m planning on being out there the whole week advertising it and doing some promotion and publicity for it.
And if it is received as I hope it will be I could definitely use my remaining material for a second book. I’ll have enough.
MH: What do you think of the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s upcoming inductees, Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe? And will you be in attendance?
ICE: I was definitely planning on being there! I’ve attended the last few ceremonies and I’m sure this one is going to be one of the most electrifying ones yet but as luck would have it, I have three boxers on a professional card in Orlando, Florida the same weekend so duty calls of course. But I plan to be at every ceremony in the future provided that something doesn’t come up as it has this year.
Oscar and Tito and Calzaghe going in on the same day definitely is going to make for a spectacular weekend, one of the best they’ve ever had in Canastota, and I really wish I could be there with everyone but I’ll be having a great time at the show in Florida as well.
MH: How do you feel about the Hall of Fame insisting on inducting at least three present day boxers every year? Should the hall have stricter standards like the Baseball Hall of Fame?
ICE: I am kind of torn on the selection process to be honest with you. I’m not sure exactly what the criteria for entry is but I do know this. Either you deserve to be in or you do not and any such Hall Of Fame that requires a certain amount of people in a certain category each year means that sooner or later that someone is going to get the nod when maybe they don’t fully meet the requirements for entry. I don’t think you can force a pick based on anything other than actual accomplishments. Either you belong in there or you do not. No quotas should have to be met.
MH: Bermain Stiverne looks like a much needed breath of fresh air at heavyweight. Who should he fight next, Deontay Wilder, Wladimir Klitschko or someone else?
ICE: It depends on the finances I guess. Wlad could fight both of them and make twice the money or he could fight the winner of those two in what would be sort of a Superfight, especially if Deontay were to score yet another KO. I think a win over Bermain, especially a knockout, would get people really excited to see a Wilder-Wladimir fight. With Wilder’s KO record, a title on his resume and with Wladmir’s age I’d say it would be seen as the most intriguing fight of Klitschko’s in a long, long time. The heavyweight division would become the focal point of boxing again, at least for one night.
MH: What are your impressions of the title reigns of the Klitschko brothers?
ICE: They’ve definitely grown on me over the years. I mean these guys deserve to be seen as all time greats now. I didn’t used to think so. I didn’t see it, but we have to be realistic. Wlad came out of the 1996 Olympics and has been a force ever since. He’s been a champion and has numbers that are very much on par or surpass those of legends of the game. His longevity, his ability to win most rounds, his dedication and discipline. I know many people absolutely love to point to the great heavyweight era in the 1970’s and instinctively say that Wladmir wouldn’t stand a chance to live in that era, but I know enough and am open minded enough to know that’s just sentimentality talking. I don’t like to call out names or anything but I am quite sure Wladimir Klitschko at 6 foot 6 and 245 pounds with that jab and power of his and the body of Ivan Drago and the mentality and discipline of a Bernard Hopkins would bring more than enough to the table to overcome many of our favorite historical figures.
MH: What did you think of the performances of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather against Tim Bradley and Marcos Maidana? And with Manny signing a contract extension with Top Rank Promotions, is a Mayweather – Pacquiao bout effectively dead?
ICE: I thought Manny looked very good and that he showed that he has recovered from his knockout loss and that he is still a real handful. He neutralized a very good fighter in Tim Bradley, definitely.
As for Floyd, I think he was in a real dog fight and he responded like a world champion should. He was pushed relentlessly and he pushed back. He didn’t win in the dominating flawless fashion that we are used to but he still won. I think he was given a great battle and that Marcos deserves a tremendous amount of new respect but I think the people who are set on believing Marcos won the fight are people who probably didn’t like Floyd very much to begin with.
I’d love to see a rematch and see how Floyd adjusts his game to make it much clearer, that’s for sure.
MH: What’s next for Iceman John Scully?
ICE: My next two notable events on the horizon looks to be the four professional boxers I am cornering on the show here in Orlando, Florida on June 6th and my book release in September.
Boxing on the 6th are 2-0 super middleweight Craig "Danger" Duncan, undefeated middleweight "Phenomenal" Philip Penson, undefeated Jonathon "Fafa" Perez from Hartford, Connecticut and "Money" Mike Sawyer, a tough super middleweight who also happens to own the gym (UFC Fitness in Winter Springs, Florida) that I work and train fighters at.
As far as The Iceman Diaries goes, I’ve been writing it for literally over 11 years now. I’ve had many stops and starts with it, but I’m really trying to put the final touches on it for a September release. And, if I may say, I can honestly say that I truly believe this book is going to be what real boxing fans and fighters themselves have been looking for. A true look inside the life of a professional boxer, from the training camps to the sparring to the build up to a fight to the dirty sides and the business aspect of the game. I basically tell you what I’ve seen, where I’ve been and who I’ve met in this game over the last thirty years.
It’s a real inside look into the game and I’m very optimistic about the reception it will receive.
Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a voting member for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, can be purchased at Amazon.com.
May 26, 2014