“Iceman” John Scully is a man with a multidimensional personality: boxer, trainer, sparring partner, analyst and author. Yet under all the layers you will find a genuine, down to earth, super nice guy. (Who also happens to be quite a handsome devil.)
It is a rarity in my interviewing when all my questions do not get answered in the time provided because the outcome of the conversation is one so enjoyable, informative and stimulating with the element of nostalgia an added bonus. Enter “Iceman” John Scully.
You will not hear one complaint from me about this rare event it only means a second chance to speak with Ice in order to tie up the loose ends and hear him share more words of boxing wisdom from a man with a truly mesmerizing persona and for that I am truly grateful.
As far as first impressions go John had a willingness to tell it all- straight up, no excuses, no baloney. Every questioned answered even some I hadn’t asked. He’s a definite character with a great sense of humor.
Let’s begin with the professional side of ” Iceman” John Scully. His thoughts, experiences and recollections from his boxing career, becoming a trainer, sparring over 500 rounds in 2008, doing analysis for ESPN, and author of “The Iceman Diaries.”
What attracted you to boxing?
When I was a kid my father had a collection of books that I used to read and one of them was Muhammad Ali’s autobiography, “The Greatest” and I have not only read it 100 times but I still have it in my trophy room as we speak. His personality really came through and he talks about how never did drugs and didn’t drink alcohol so it knew it was okay to follow that path despite any peer pressure that came my way. All these years later and I still have never had a drink, drug or cigarette.
How did you get your nickname, Iceman?
When I was younger in my neighborhood there was a thing we did called “ranking.” It was a way of making fun of your friends. Some people call it “gunning” or “capping.” My head was supposedly square like a block of ice so that’s how it came about.
Also, I sometimes now tell kids who ask the same question of me that it’s because I’m the coolest person on the face of the earth.
What do you consider your best performance in your career?
Amateur wise I would say it was my performance against future top ranked professional Lamar “Kidfire” Parks at the 1988 nationals in Omaha and professionally I go with my fight with Michael Nunn. That’s the one I seem to be most remembered for at least.
You biggest boxing regret?
It wasn’t about any particular opponent, really, it’s more about me and my unusual trouble with making weight. I believe I lost several key fights in large part to the serious effects on my body and mind of making weight the wrong way and that’s hard to take sometimes. I would love to be able to go back and fight each one of those guys again with the knowledge and mind set that I have now.
Why did you decide to retire?
I never actually retired. After my last fight, a victory in June 2001, I had nine fights fall out on me right in a row over the next 18 months but I kept sparring and training the whole time. In the meantime I was asked to help train a professional fighter and I took the job and that set me on my way.
How was the transition from boxer to trainer for you?
Very smooth, really. Was ridiculously easy, to tell you the truth. By the end there boxing wasn’t much fun anymore with all the cancellations and I didn’t like to keep making weight every day with no fight coming up so it all worked out. It was time.
What did you learn about yourself from boxing?
That there comes a point in a fight when you can quit in the ring or you keep going. I always kept going. I wanted to keep going even when the common sense of a rational human being would say that it was time to stop. Not everyone always makes that choice. I learned that I have a certain level of toughness that’s unusual to a certain degree.
What are some of your favorite fights?
My three favorite fights in history are Ali-Frazier 3 in 1975, The Thrilla’ In Manila. That’s number one, by far the greatest heavyweight title fight of all times. Then it’s Arquello-Pryor (in Miami) in 1982, and the first Leonard-Hearns fight on September 16, 1981. I also love the 9th round of the first Gatti-Ward fight and all three rounds of Hagler and Hearns.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who loves boxing 100 percent. A super fan of boxing. Someone who lived and breathed it from day one to the last day. Sometimes I still can’t grasp who I was and am. A fighter on TV and now a trainer, writer and broadcaster who sometimes has fans wanting me to sign autographs. It’s funny to me.
What made you realize you wanted to become a trainer?
I was always a student of the game and I was always involved. Even when I didn’t have fights coming up I would be in the gym either working out or just hanging out. It got in my blood very early on. It was just the next step in the natural progression of a lifelong boxing person.
What makes a good trainer?
Plenty of things but the one thing that trumps everything else is that the trainer MUST be able to relay info to the boxer in a way the boxer understands, comprehends and respects. Some boxing men have great knowledge but literally have no idea how to relay and communicate it. It’s like trying to learn by reading a book with invisible ink. The knowledge is there but it just can’t be transferred.
How does your ring experience help you train?
My knowledge and experience are a great help. My forte is relating to the boxer since I have been there in their shoes and done that. There aren’t many moments that can arise where I won’t have a good idea as to what my boxer is feeling and thinking at that very moment. That all absolutely comes from my experience as an amateur and a professional and as someone who has fought and sparred the best on this earth. You can become a good trainer without real boxing experience, of course, but for me I always go with what I know first hand. A fighter can believe in one thing from me. If I’m in that corner and I’m passionately telling you something, you can guarantee I got it from personal experience.
How do you keep yourself sharp as a trainer?
I’m a very hands on trainer. I often still spar with my boxers and I have a very hands on approach to mitt work. Not like a set and flashy routine or anything but I’m in there digging in with the fighters on a physical level. I pride myself on my physicality.
Who do you think are the 3 best trainers in boxing today?
You really can’t say who the best trainer is. There are a lot of good trainers and there are also a lot of great trainers you’ve never heard about. Also, you can show me a great trainer right now and I’ll show you a particular fighter that he won’t be able to reach and he will be able to do nothing with. It’s all about the chemistry on top of the skills, believe that.
I read a quote about you that said you “have an old time boxing mind.” Do you take that as a compliment?
Yes, I’m an old soul and I definitely take that with a smile. I appreciate history and truly respect and sometimes idolize the men from our history. Some guys today actually consider guys like Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns as ancient, like they fought 150 years ago! But they are still new to me. I watch them still and l love them but I also like to pick up the moves and the trickery of guys like Georgie Benton and Jersey Joe Walcott as well.
You have also been known to say “It doesn’t matter how you feel but it’s how you look.” Can you explain this?
Being a boxer let me figure that out. You may feel good in there and like you’re winning by making a guy miss but in reality your not throwing enough punches so it doesn’t look like your winning. You have to put out enough of offense because the simple fact is that it doesn’t matter how you think you’re doing, it only matters how it looks. We aren’t judged by how good we feel, we are judged by three men at ringside who are watching to see how we look. You’ve got to put out, bottom line.
Who are you training right now?
My main fighter right now is former IBF Super Middleweight champion Lucien Bute and we are looking at most likely fighting again in July. I am also working with Mike Oliver when he appears in the finale’ to our reality show “KNOCKOUT” that starts airing soon on NUVO-TV. The finale’ is July 18th at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
What do you think about undefeated records?
There are two types of undefeated records. One is where the boxer might be really nasty and can really fight. Then you have the type that is compiled on very careful matchmaking. It doesn’t mean he isn’t good, it just means he hasn’t been tested yet. But he will be. Everyone gets tested sooner or later.
What amazes you about boxing?
I’m amazed that people who never boxed before think they could last three rounds with a real fighter if they wanted to. I’m amazed that there are still people who don’t think Floyd Mayweather is a great fighter but it also amazes me that some people believe his spiel when he says he’s the best ever when the simple fact is the same people who repeat this couldn’t pick Roberto Duran out of a line-up and they couldn’t tell you one single opponent that Sugar Ray Robinson ever fought. I’m also amazed that some fighters still let their foolish looking friend with the sunglasses on enter the ring and stand behind him on TV. Those are some of the things that amaze me about the game today.
What is the best quality a boxer can have?
Mental toughness. Someone hurts you, you hurt them right back. Or at least you refuse to allow it to deter you. It’s a kind of tunnel vision. It’s something that not everyone truly has or if they do have it, they all don’t have it in the same amounts. You’ve got to be willing to get hurt to be a great fighter. Bottom line.
What do you think about MMA and Women’s boxing?
I never watch MMA but I have some trained some MMA fighter with their boxing skills. Women fighters are great to work with from my experience. They listen to directions well, are always dedicated and hard-working. However, very few have that one punch knockout ability. Fans generally want to see a KO and women’s bouts usually go the distance. Action packed on a regular basis, yes, but just like with men boxing. People want to a big KO now and again.
Do you still have your warrior mentality?
Yes. Even when I spar today. It’s more pride than anything. It’s like, I felt like I was a great amateur fighter in the 80’s and a contender in the 90’s and that was a while ago in boxers years but in my own mind I feel like it was recent. I mean, I guess I amuse some of the people who know me sometimes. I was sparring the other day with a young guy and he let loose with around a six or seven punch combination of hard shots. I stopped and put my hands down and I was yelling at him, “Are you crazy? Trying to go off on the coach?!? Now you done did it, man!”
Everyone was laughing at ringside and I got very aggressive and he kind of froze and panicked in a corner as I jumped all over him because he didn’t expect that from me. He’s only 20 years old. I’m going to hold Father Time off as long as possible, definitely.
What makes you tough?
Something ingrained in me since childhood. If someone wants to fight me I would say okay but we will have to fight all night long until someone gives in. Those are the rules. If we’re gonna’ do it then let’s do it until one of us just can’t anymore.
What do you think about the state of boxing today?
Not as bad as MMA fans would have you believe. We have big matchups and I think boxing is strong. The big fight on May 2nd proved that. Sanctioning bodies are a problem, though. Having three world champs in the same weight class is insane. Judging needs to better also. Maybe the criteria to become a judge needs to be addressed, I don’t know.
How did your analysis on the ESPN Classic Boxing series come about?
Joe Tessitore was a local sportscaster in Hartford and knew me well. He suggested me as his co-host. I said yes and thought I would do it for fun but they paid me good for it so that was even better!
What do you bring to your ringside analysis?
My goal is to explain fights from a boxer’s standpoint without bias. To communicate things the fans want to hear about. I also try and tell what each fighter needs to do to win and try and determine if he has the skills or the different intangibles need to achieve that.
Tell me a little about your book, “The Iceman Diaries”?
I feel it will be the realest boxing book ever. It will tell what it would be like to be a fighter. The deepest thoughts on what it is to be a fighter, what we think about during the fight, what’s it like to be cut and suffer and what’s it like to win and lose. I also go way behind the scenes into some of the nasty stuff that goes on that most people, fighters included, don’t ever hear about. It’s taking me so long because it’s like I’ve wanted to just include everything that’s ever happened to me in this game and I realize its gotten too jumbled and full. So there’s a lot of editing and re-writing going on. It’s all mine, though. It is a book that only a fighter and a boxing person like me could write. It’s from our perspective. I could write a historians book but he could never write mine.
How can we keep boxing strong?
Take some of the PPV fights we have now and put them on network TV. Save PPV for only the truly elite fights. Like it was in the 80’s when the only fights that made it to Closed Circuit were the likes of Leonard-Hearns and Leonard-Hagler. Also definitely 100 percent get rid of the Regular, Super and Interim titles. No one even knows what they are anymore. There have been more Interim champions in our sport in the last 10 years than there were in the previous 100!!