|Interview with John “The Iceman” Scully - Man of Many Talents!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (July 1, 2009)
You knew when John “The Iceman” Scully entered the ring you were going to be entertained! From Hartford, Connecticut, this well conditioned boxer had a very good amateur career before entering the pay for punch ranks. He is a very good broadcaster and an excellent writer. He is a man of many talents!
Scully turned pro in September of 1988 going through 13 straight opponents, 12 by knockout until meeting Brett Lally (23-4) in July of 1989 in Atlantic City, losing a 10 round decision. He came back with 5 straight wins
being capped off by a split decision win over Billy Bridges (16-0), also in Atlantic City. Then came a loss to Kevin Watts (19-5-1), followed by 9 straight wins before losing to Tim Littles (19-0) for the USBA super middleweight title in Las Vegas. A follow up loss to Tony Thornton (32-5-1) at the legendary Blue Horizon in Philly sent Scully back to New England winning 8 straight and earning a WBO NABO super middleweight title bout with former WBA super middleweight champion Michael Nunn (47-3) at Foxwoods Resort, in Connecticut losing over 12 rounds.
Scully’s first fight after the Nunn loss was at 193½ scoring a 1st round knockout. Somehow this earned him a IBF light heavyweight title bout 2 months later in Germany with Henry Maske (29-0), losing the first of 3 in a row. They liked Scully enough to bring him back 10 months later against Graciano Rocchigiani (38-4-1) the former IBF Super middleweight champion, losing again over 10 rounds. Rocchigiani would win the vacant WBC light heavyweight title in his next fight over Nunn. In June of 1977 a third straight loss, this one to Ernest Mateen (23-7-1) in Hartford was a sign that it’s near the end of the line.
Scully would score a knockout win and again lose 3 straight including his first and only stoppage loss to Drake Thadzi and a rematch with Mateen as cruiserweights by decision. In June of 2001 Scully would score a win over Cleveland Nelson (13-1), in Ontario, Canada, not only ending his career, but Nelson’s as well. His final record was 38-11 with 21 knockouts from middleweight through the cruiserweight.
I had the good fortune to meet Scully in November of 2007 at the New Alhambra, in South Philly when he brought in Israel Cardona to meet Mike “MJ” Jones. Scully is a top trainer including Matt Godfrey and Mike Oliver among others. He can still put the gloves on with them at the age of 41. I recently had the pleasure to do a Q&A with Scully.
KH: John, I have admired your work as a writer and your ringside broadcasting for years. When did you start doing this kind of work?
Ice: Well, to be honest, I have been writing about boxing for as long as I can remember, since I first started boxing at around age twelve. I have actually been keeping a diary of sorts since way back then and that’s where I got the idea to call my book, “The Iceman Diaries.” It’s all based on my memories and writings from throughout my career, starting when I was twelve.
As far as the work I did on ESPN Classic that was a job I pretty much got through my friendship with Joe Tessitore. Joe and I have known each other for many years, since way, way before he ever got on Friday Night Fights. So when the opening came up for an analyst on ESPN he said he thought I would be very good at it, he put a good word in for me and the rest, as they say, is history. That job, man, that was really something interesting to do and I like to think I did a very good job with it. I have gotten a lot, and I mean a lot, of great feed back and compliments from some very big names in our sport. So I think a great many people know that I could handle a job like that if it were ever to come up. I am definitely, one hundred percent, available if anyone with some connections is reading this and wondering.
KH: Tell us something about your amateur career.
ICE: My amateur career was probably the best time of my entire boxing career. As an amateur you are boxing much more frequently and traveling on more of a regular basis. Sometimes at the nationals I fought five times in six days. One time I time I fought three times on one single show one night back in March of 1984. I also was able to fight against some of the best amateur middleweight in the world, everyone from Otis Grant and Lamar Parks to Joe Lipsey and Darin Allen. I competed against the best, won some and lost some, but winning much more than I lost. It all culminated with a semi-final finish at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. The 165 pound class ended with the top four being Anthony Hembrick, Darin Allen, William Guthrie and myself. For amateur boxing, that was an all-star line up and something I am very, very proud of to this very day.
KH: Who were your trainers, managers and promoters as you joined the pro ranks?
ICE: My manager, promoter and trainer the night I turned professional was a guy from Hartford named Mac Buckley.
KH: Do you ever run into Jose “Kid” Cuba Vera whom you beat 4 times or does he try to avoid you?
ICE: Jose only lives about an hour from me but doesn’t ever go to any of the area pro shows as far as I can tell. That’s OK, though, because the last time we fought, even though I beat him decisively, he broke my left ear drum with a big overhand right in the very first round. I stopped him at the end but he definitely had my respect in the ring.
KH: You won 18 of your first 19 fights with the lone loss to Brett Lally. Was it hard overcoming that first defeat?
ICE: Not really. I mean, I was only a pro for nine months at the time of the fight while Lally had been a pro for over nine years. 160 was not my weight and I told everyone that beforehand. My management didn’t want to hear it from me, though, and they made me lose the weight. I was literally forced to lose the weight to make 160 for that fight and that combined with my nerves from being on national TV in Atlantic City so quickly, literally pushed me into I guess what you could call performance anxiety. I didn’t feel ready and I wasn’t. Now the thing is, just like with any of my other losses, if I fought that fight the best that I could and lost then it might have been difficult to get over. But for me that wasn’t me in there. It just wasn’t me at all. And that’s what kept me going to be somewhat successful later on. I knew I had much more in me as a boxer than what I showed that night.
KH: Was Michael Nunn one of your better opponents?
ICE: Of course. He was a former two-time world champion and was rated #1 in the world at the time we fought. He was a guy I always looked up to and respected and when I found out I was fighting him I was very, very excited to say the least. I remember hurrying out into the gym so excited and happy jumping around like a kid on Christmas morning, telling everyone the fight was on. It was a very close fight to me, well fought on both sides. Win, lose or draw, no matter who people thought won, I definitely feel as though I got my respect after that fight in a way that no other fight of mine can take away from.
KH: How was the title bout with Henry Maske ever arranged? (He won 8 straight at 175 and drops to 168 to fight Nunn. Then goes up to 193 and back to 175 all in 5 months)
ICE: Well, to tell you the truth, I have no idea about the negotiation process for that fight. All I know is my people told me when and where and I was there.
KH: You were only stopped once in your career, that, by Drake Thadzi. What happened in that fight?
ICE: The Drake Thadzi fight was maybe the worst episode of my entire life. Certainly of my boxing career. It was just another fight that I found myself really struggling to make weight for an I went through so many other problems in the weeks, days and hours before that fight that destroyed me from the inside out. It’s all in my book, every detail, but to give you an idea of how bad it was for me I’ll tell you this. Less than twelve hours before the weigh-in for that fight I was nine and a half pounds over the light heavyweight limit and I lost it. I had a broken blood vessel in my nose from a terrible shot I took during a sparring session less than two weeks before the fight. I had boxing shoes with soles worn down so badly that they were like glass on the bottom that I had forgotten to replace and didn’t realize it until I put them on right before the fight. From the minor to the major, everything that could go wrong for that fight did. I retired in the ring out of total frustration immediately after the fight. If you asked me that night would I fight again I would have told you I was one thousand percent sure I wasn’t every going to. It’s like our drug and so hard to escape its clutches.
KH: You had two fights at the Blue Horizon against Tony Thornton and Sam Ahmad. Talk about them.
ICE: Fighting at The Blue Horizon was like a dream come true for me. I had watched so many fights live on TV from there and knew it was the place to be, as much as Madison Square Garden is for some people. Unfortunately both experiences are among the worst experiences of my life. The Tony Thornton fight was a fight I really, really wanted and had tried to get for quite awhile. I always, always felt that I matched up very favorable with him. No disrespect to him at all because he was a very, very solid pro but I just felt that my best style matched up well with his best style. Often times you don’t get to see the best of a person on fight night because of all the things they have to go through to get ready for a fight. Circumstances don’t always favor a person and when I fought Tony I quickly went from really, really looking forward to the fight to dreading it. I remember specifically, because of my keeping track of it on paper, that I sat in the steam room fourteen days in a row before that fight, right up until the day of the fight. In Philly they weigh-in the same day and not the day before so if you are having weight troubles then you are in big trouble. The problem with losing weight isn’t just the fact that your body is being depleted. It’s the fact that your mind goes through so much trauma, too. You have so many questions about yourself that wouldn’t be there if training and weight loss went well. “Am I going to get tired from being weak?” Or “Should I ease off in the early rounds so I don’t burn myself out?” You ask yourself, “Should I throw less punches and move less and not exert myself because the steam room weakened me?” I mean it is just something terrible. You are there thinking about everything but the opponent in front of you. Add that to the cuts I suffered in a fight just three months earlier than opened up in the first round of the fight with Tony and you have a major problem. It’s just one of those fights I wish I could go back and do over but its all water under the bridge now. He won, I lost.
As far as the Ahmad fight, listen, that was a fight for me to win and win impressively. I was extremely sharp in the gym every single day leading up to the fight. Sam was undefeated but he was untested at the time and I knew it was going to be my night. It’s always something, though, isn’t it? First round, end of first, maybe thirty seconds to go, and I let go a right hand-left hook combination. Instantly I feel the pain and instinctively turn away for a split second as I yell out in pain. I right myself up, though, almost instantly and turn back towards the center of the ring as I try to figure out what is going on. My left arm is numb. I cannot lift it above my waist. It’s as if it is dead. Like a jump rope hanging off my shoulder.
Turns out that I severely injured the rotator cuff in my shoulder and for the rest of the fight I was forced to fight with just my right hand. I didn’t want to complain, though, and I didn’t even tell my corner. I didn’t want anyone to get nervous and stop the fight. If the ref knew what was happening he would have stopped it for sure but, that’s not me. Injured or not you have to finish. So I fought with just my right hand. I went righty and threw right hands and went southpaw and threw right hooks. At least once a round I would try and throw my left hand, hoping maybe the feeling came back or something. It was dead, though. Fought with one hand and still only lost a majority decision. I tried so hard over the next few months to get a rematch. Even before I was finished with my physical therapy I was on the case, making phone calls, sending e-mails. I even sent a letter to his gym in Philadelphia, hoping to goad his team into a rematch. A couple times there it seemed like it might and I was ready to go to the Blue Horizon or anywhere on earth for that matter to get that fight again. I was one hundred percent certain I would win the rematch and I told everyone who would listen to that, including Russell Peltz (promoter) every chance I got. I even offered to go to Philadelphia to spar with him right in his gym. I told them we could spar each other with no bell and no rounds, we could just fight until one of us quit or was knocked out.
To tell you the truth it really wasn’t personal against Sam or anything, he seemed like a good guy, it’s just that after what happened against Thadzi I was so excited to be back and feeling good and I felt like that was my night to really shine on an awesome stage like the Blue Horizon. And when something like that happened that I had no control over and it caused me to lose I was just trying to do everything in my power to get one more chance at it. It was like being reborn as a boxer. I had new life in me. Hadn’t felt like that in years!
It just didn’t happen for me, though, and eventually I let it go. It took a while, though believe me. I mean, in all seriousness, if I was ever in the hometown of any guy I ever fought before, especially guys I lost to like Ahmad, and they were in their gym sparring I would be right there trying to get with them again. I’m competitive like that. Or crazy like that, depending on whom you talk to.
KH: You end your career in your 49th fight winning in Canada over Cleveland Nelson. Did you know it was to be your last fight?
ICE: I had no idea, no! I mean, I honestly expected that victory to be the beginning of something new for me. As a matter of fact I distinctly remember standing in the hallway outside the dressing rooms after that fight and thinking to myself how things were going to really start jumping for me again in the near future. I expected phone calls and e-mails from all over the potential fights. I stood there picturing a couple more fights, maybe just one more, and then getting right back into a big fight. But as it happened I literally had nine fights in a row fall out on me over the next two years. I trained, I sparred constantly. I stayed ready for two years and had several fights fall out just a few days prior to them taking place. After the ninth one I had the feeling maybe some bad karma was at work or something and I decided to concentrate full time on training Lawrence Clay-Bey.
For a while there I was actually trying to juggle my schedule and his and it even came to the point where I had to turn down a fight with Elvir Miriqi in 2002 because Clay had a fight of his own scheduled for the following day. I committed myself to him and I had to honor that. So, basically, I realized it was time for the next step to be taken.
KH: Who are the fighters you are now training?
ICE: I am still training former IBO 122 pound champion Mike Oliver and current NABF Cruiserweight champion Matt “Too Smooth” Godfrey. I also work in the corner of fight night with featherweight prospect Matt Remillard from here in Connecticut. I also have a group of amateurs I work closely with including six time Golden Gloves Champion Joe Perez and undefeated light heavyweight Jarin Clay-Bey, who also happens to be the son of 1996 Olympian Lawrence Clay-Bey.
KH: What was one of the funniest things to happen to you in boxing?
ICE: Many funny things have happened to me in the gym and in real fights over the years. Many things, too many to remember here but one that comes to mind came about during one of the late rounds of my final pro fight in Toronto against Cleveland Nelson back in 2001. It just goes to show you how a fighter’s mind works in unusual ways under the strain of battle. It was around the sixth or seventh round when all of a sudden I broke wind. And it was brutal, too. I am standing there in my boxing stance trying to ignore it but it got so bad that I actually danced all the way to the other side of the ring for no reason other than I didn’t want my opponent to catch wind of it. It was like I didn’t want him to know I did it or something, like we were standing on a crowded bus or something and I wanted someone else to catch the blame. I’m laughing now just thinking about it.
KH: John, it’s been all my pleasure finally getting to know you a little better and I’m looking forward to seeing you again.
ICE: I appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed by you. So thank you!
Since our interview Matt Godfrey, 18-1 (10), has signed to fight on ESPN2 on July 10th against Shawn “Sioux Warrior” Hawk, 18-0-1 (16), from South Dakota, at the Arena, in Philadelphia. This means I will get to see “The Iceman” sooner than I thought and he will be with his old friend Joe Tessitore who along with Teddy Atlas will be doing the broadcasting. The top of the card is a Jimmy Birchfield CES show and since the show at the Arena was already set prior to ESPN2 coming in there are currently 70 rounds of boxing scheduled for the debut of new promoter Blaine Garner of Shalyte Entertainment.
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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