Best I Faced: ‘Iceman’ John Scully
Long before he became a boxing personality and trainer, John Scully was a contender in his own right.
Scully was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 28, 1967. He grew up in nearby Windsor, a small, middle-class town.
“It was not a particularly tough place to grow up, especially compared to inner-city Hartford, but it did have its difficult people and situations,” Scully told The Ring. “My mother and father were divorced when I was 5 years old, and from that point on I kind of lived a double life until I was 17 or so.
“After many months of watching me box against imaginary opposition, my father finally brought me to a boxing gym in March of 1982 when I was 14, and essentially I’ve been there ever since.”
“My father moved into a very run-down, cheap motel on the city line in my town because he wanted to be close to myself and my brother. My father was a salesman for a company that sold soda, candy and cigarettes, and very frequently when I was a kid I would go with him on his route, which would take all day as he would drive all the way to the shoreline in Connecticut and to Rhode Island, where he would go to store after store and take their orders.”
Scully would spend the week living with his mother and the weekend and school holidays with his father.
“[My father] grew up in the depression, and kind of roughing it was nothing new to him,” said Scully. “In a certain manner of speaking and thinking, when I was with my father we lived much, much differently than what my middle-class upbringing was used to. He had no refrigerator or stove, so we ate boxes and boxes of cereal, different kinds of cookies and sandwiches. In the winter he would keep the milk cold by putting the carton into a bucket and he would keep it right outside the door in the snow.”
Before Scully was interested in boxing, he played baseball and football in the local leagues. When he was 12, he began to take part in a boxing league.
“I would fight against other kids my age; I had nine fights and won them all,” he recalled. “I used to also pretend to box against imaginary opponents when I would stay with my father on the weekends, and I would do everything from score the rounds to announce the winner to doing the post-fight interviews in the mirror with a hairbrush doubling as a microphone. After many months of watching me box against imaginary opposition, my father finally brought me to a boxing gym in March of 1982 when I was 14, and essentially I’ve been there ever since.”
Scully was the runner-up at the 1987 and 1988 Golden Gloves and lost at the semifinal stage of the Olympic Trials in 1988. After going 57-13 in the amateur ranks, he turned professional with a first-round stoppage over Paulino Falcone in September 1988.
“My pro debut was at the Hartford Civic Center, the same building where I had gone as a kid to watch the Hartford Whalers [hockey team] play. And for this fight, I was using their dressing room to get ready,” Scully vividly recalled. “I knew that Paulino had actually won a Golden Gloves title in 1983. I caught him with some very hard bodyshots and either broke or fractured one of his ribs and stopped him early on. For me, the excitement didn’t just come from winning my pro debut, but it was also because it was held inside the Civic Center specifically and because it was fought in front of a record number of fans in the crowd in that building.”
“The Iceman” reeled off 12 more wins in relatively quick succession on the East Coast before stepping up to face the more-experienced Brett Lally in Atlantic City in July 1989.
“Lally was a very rough and determined professional with almost 30 fights under his belt, while I had been a pro for only nine months,” explained Scully, who lost a 10-round unanimous decision. “Having me fight at 160 pounds was a really horrible mistake on my trainer’s part, because the fact was that I hadn’t been at 160 pounds since I was a 16-year-old amateur and had recently even struggled to make 165 at the Olympic trials. I told him I needed to be at 168, but he insisted that middleweight was the most lucrative class to be in.
“Bret was a ranked contender and a rough guy, but there is no way on this earth I was supposed to lose to him. I was the favorite going in, but he introduced me to real professional boxing. He fought his fight; he fought hard from the opening bell and he won the fight.”
A move to super middleweight brought success at first, but after suffering back-to-back defeats against unbeaten USBA titlist Tim Littles (UD 12) and savvy veteran Tony Thornton (UD 10) in 1992 and ’93, Scully decided to try light heavyweight.
Following an eight-win rebound, his next big fight came against the supremely talented Michael Nunn in December 1995.
“Michael Nunn obviously had elite footwork, but when we fought I think he was trying to break me down and get me out of there,” said Scully, who lost a 12-round unanimous decision. It was enough, however, for Scully to get a world title opportunity in Germany against IBF 175-pound ruler Henry Maske in May 1996.
“When I used to watch all the fights on TV as a kid, I always kind of assumed that both guys were at their best and came in fully prepared and that everything went perfectly in training camp and they were able to give their best, but that fight showed me that it’s not always that simple,” said Scully.
“So many things go into performing properly in a fight at that level. The timing of that fight was a bit off for me because my mother was at home dying from cancer, and I was also being sued via a bogus lawsuit against me that I only found out about a couple days before I left for the fight. It eventually got thrown out in court a few months later.
“I can remember there were so many people there — 14,000. I remember Henry walking to the ring and it kind of reminded me of Drago walking to the ring to fight Rocky.
via Solaris on YouTube:
“During the fight, at times I felt pretty good, but his height and southpaw style gave me trouble. It was hard to time him and to let my hands go like I wanted to, because he was so tall and had a very good jab.”
Scully would be defeated via a near-shutout decision. Unperturbed, he fought on against quality opposition like Graciano Rocchigiani (L UD 10) and Ernest Mateen (L UD 10/ L UD 8) and was stopped for the only time in his career by Drake Thadzi (L TKO 7).
Scully retired from boxing in June 2001 with a record of 38-11 (21 knockouts). He remains heavily involved in boxing and has been the trainer of former WBA 154-pound titlist Jose Antonio Rivera and three-time light heavyweight titleholder Chad Dawson, and he is currently part of the team of unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev.
And Scully himself still spars. “I like the feeling of it and I can still do it well enough,” he said. “I’ve sparred with well over 900 people in my life, including 36 world champions. Everyone from Roy Jones and James Toney to Vinny Paz, Henry Maske, Sven Ottke, Charles Brewer and many others in between.”
Ever the good guy, Scully regularly raises funds and sends them to stricken former fighters such as Prichard Colon, Wilfred Benitez and Gerald McClellan.
“A few years ago, I had heard that Wilfred was in need of something and I had a piece of memorabilia at my house that I didn’t really need, so I sold it online and sent him the money,” he explained. “I realized that I knew so many great people in the game that I had access to and realized if I could get them to sign different things, I could raise even more money for Wilfred.
“From there, it led to Gerald and then Prichard and also a group of other former fighters whose situations are not widely known, and I prefer to keep it that way as long as possible.”
Scully, now 55, lives in Windsor and is married to his high-school sweetheart after reconnecting in their mid-30s.
He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Henry Maske: “Maske was a southpaw, very tall, and most effectively he used his height (6-foot-4) to full advantage; he used every bit of it. And with me being just under 5-foot-10, it was difficult to time and counter him. Most guys used a jab to set up other punches and to get closer to you, but Henry constantly, consistently used his jab to maintain full distance.”
Randy Smith: “I would say Randy Smith had the best defensive skills and instincts. Randy fought a couple dozen contenders and champions, and I see why he was never stopped or even knocked down. Before our fight, Johnny Bos warned me not to waste too many punches trying to hit Randy in the head, and he was right. I had to be more aggressive than usual and throw punches in bunches to the body to set up a few headshots, because Randy was very tricky, very slick and an excellent counterpuncher.”
Tim Littles: “Looking back I think Billy Bridges and Michael Nunn had fast hands, but Tim Littles probably had the fastest. Tim was very energetic, very busy and had that youthful vigor. He was at his best and was able to let his hands go very reactively. His speed was hard to time and deal with.”
Maske: “Maske showed a great deal of excellent footwork. One of the main things I noticed about him is that he used his legs to get himself at the proper distance that he needed, just stepping back and around me, just slightly out of my range as often as he could.”
Maske: “Henry Maske was definitely the smartest of all the guys I fought as a pro. I say that because of his discipline and the fact that he was able to stick to his game plan without any veering off track even a little bit. He wasn’t interested in being macho or impressing the fans. Every time I worked my way inside, he would instantly tie me up and wait for the ref to break us up. I think it’s a bit of a cultural thing in that regard. American fighters are much easier to get out of their game plans and lure into rougher type fights either by being rough with them first or through a bit of trash talking, but Henry was very disciplined. I remember at one point I had worked my way inside and when he tied me up, I intentionally stepped on his toes with a lot of force, but he never acknowledged it, never got mad and tried to pay me back. He just got back outside, got back behind his jab and kept doing what worked so well for him.”
Tony Thornton: “I had a tough time making weight for the Tony Thornton fight as well, but I do remember thinking that he was not only very strong but also very consistent. Most guys, you can feel their energy and strength decrease as the rounds go, but I do remember Tony being very, very consistently strong for each and every round. He felt as strong in the 10th round as he did in the first.”
Jose Vera: “Jose ‘Kid Cuba’ Vera had a phenomenal chin. Truth is, he was an opponent and a club fighter, but he came to fight and his chin was way above average. I was never a big puncher where I would often get guys out of there with one shot or anything, but there were times when I sat down and caught Jose with three or four or even five of my biggest shots in one clip and he would swallow them like he was eating candy. He was the type of guy who could have you thinking something was wrong with you, because you couldn’t hurt him at all. I [beat him twice on points and] eventually stopped him [in our third fight], but I stopped him with bodyshots and not headshots. He fought all our best guys — Buster Drayton and Drake Thadzi — and if they stopped him, it was either from a cut or from body shots like I got him with.”
Tim Cooper: “I think I’ve always had a very solid defense in that I was able to catch punches on my gloves, arms and shoulders, so a lot of times I didn’t catch a lot of shots flush and never actually felt the full force of their power. I was told beforehand that Art ‘Breeze’ Bayliss was a very big puncher, and while I didn’t ever catch anything overly worrisome from him to the head in our fight, I do recall that I couldn’t eat any food for several hours after our fight because the short bodyshots he threw had caused me some very serious belly cramps. Believe it or not, the other guy who I felt the power of was a journeyman named Tim Cooper. He had scored an early KO of contender Rocky Gannon, but Tim didn’t have a great-looking record on paper, so I just didn’t go in thinking to expect above-average power from him. Early in the fight, though, I let him inside because I wanted to feel his power, and I remember him catching me with a four- or five-punch combination that landed on my arms and shoulders, and instantly I remember thinking that I didn’t want to let him get through with any of those same punches to anywhere but my arms, gloves or the air around me. I think Bayliss was probably a bigger puncher than Cooper, but I didn’t let him hit me cleanly like he wanted to. So it’s odd, but I felt Cooper’s punches more.”
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Maske: “I think for pure boxing skills, I was in with some very high-level boxers in Billy Bridges, Tim Littles and especially the two-division world champion Michael Nunn, but in terms of boxing the way it was meant to be done, I would have to give the top spot to Henry Maske. He consistently used his range, height and jab and boxing brain more effectively than anyone else I fought as a professional. He literally fought like a textbook boxer, keeping very good distance while using his jab as both a rangefinder and as a weapon. He knew how to box purely at the highest level.”
Maske: “I think Tim Littles and Michael Nunn were both magnificent and very sharp, skilled and talented, but I think Henry Maske was the overall best I faced. He was smart, very technical, had underrated power, put punches together and used the ring to his full advantage. He was an Olympic champion and 10 title defenses, undefeated world champion, and I saw up close why he was able to achieve these things.”
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].