EDITOR’S NOTE: Iceman John Scully is the former world light heavyweight contender and a trainer on the team of current unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterviev. At age 55 he still spars with pros and amateurs at the Charter Oak Boxing Academy in Hartford, where he also works as a trainer. In recent years Scully has raised money from many small donors to help aging boxers who have been damaged beyond repair. Iceman’s manuscript, The Iceman Diaries, develops many of the points made in his remarks to Howard Schatz during an interview in New York in 2008, published below.
I wanted to be famous like Muhammad Ali. That’s it. Even as a pro, all the way to the end of my pro career, I never cared about money, never. I went to spar Roy Jones and they paid me at the end of the first week and I didn’t even know what it was.
I said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, my paycheck. Yeah, yeah,” like I had forgotten about it. I would have gone for free for a chance to box with Roy Jones.
James Toney, Vinny Pazienza, to box with the guys I did, I would have done it for nothing. Actually most of the times I sparred with Vinny it was for free. So when they paid me I thought, “Oh yeah, OK, Good, good.” It was like an added extra bonus. I just wanted to be famous. I wanted to be on TV. That’s it.
I read Ali’s autobiography when it came out late in 1975, early 76. He had just fought the Thrilla’ In Manila at the end of 1975 so I was at least 10 when I read it for the first time. From Ali I got the idea that you should be your own man. As a person I’ve never really followed the crowd or the latest trends and I believe some of that is Ali’s influence.
When Ali got stopped by Larry Holmes I was 13 and I couldn’t stop looking at the morning paper the next day. I just couldn’t fathom that he had been stopped. I didn’t think he would ever get stopped.
From that moment on, even before I started boxing, I thought to myself, “I’m never going to get stopped.”
Later on, even in fights that I never should have fought, ones that I should have backed out of but didn’t, I always said to myself, “They’re not going to stop me.”
I was weak from making weight, I was miserable. I am coming in. I am going to keep on coming. I am going to keep working. Even if I got cut in the fight. If I got cut in a fight, I mean really cut bad, I thought to myself. “Oh, man, this is a test. This is the test.”
You know a lot of guys quit. You see guys quitting on the stool with a cut. Which boggles my mind you know? So I was always saying, “I never want to get stopped.”
One technique I mastered pretty well over the years was a hands high defense – like Winky Wright, Marlon Starling, Donald Curry, with the hands up. It’s not like you just put your hands up. There is an art, there is a technique to it. What I would do is I would keep my hands up properly, and they would try to hit me and they wouldn’t get through and they would be so preoccupied with hitting me.
I said, “Maybe I will get this guy so tired from throwing punches at me that he will eventually wilt and I will come out in the 12th and stop him.”
It didn’t really work out that way. I never had a last round KO, but I was able to win a lot of fights and do really well in sparring based on the simple fact that I didn’t usually get hit a lot square on the button with shots back then.
I had 70 amateur fights, plus two Junior Olympic bouts and two exhibitions. So, I had 74 bouts in all as an amateur. Then I had 49 pro fights plus two more exhibitions. First amateur fight was on May 20, 1983 and last professional match was in October of 2002. I could go from that very first fight 1983 with Isidro Roman, and my very last one, an exhibition in Montreal in 2002 with Martin Berthiume. I could go from first to last in order and tell you who it was against, where it was and when and what happened. That’s how much I am into this game.
When I started boxing I developed a headache that must have lasted nine months. It was a headache, just one headache. I had it every day. I was 14 and 15 years old. The funny thing is, the only time it wouldn’t hurt was when I was sparring.
Maybe the adrenaline killed it, I don’t know but I always knew that as soon as we got in the car to go home that it was going to return.
It got to the point where I actually considered that I might be getting brain damage from the punches. Around that time there were brain-related deaths in the ring. Willie Classen had just died. Charlie Newell had just died. Johnny Owen, Michael De La Rue, lots of bad happenings around that time. Duk Koo-Kim. There was a point where I could actually put my index finger on my temple and I could actually feel a vein throbbing. It would be, like, vibrating.
I thought, “Man, this must be the beginning stages of brain damage. This must be how it starts. I might be getting hurt now.”
I never stopped boxing.
I said, “You know what? If I have to get brain damage then it’s going to be from doing this.” So it will be okay. Like, in my mind, I was willing to get hurt. At 15 years old I was willing to get hurt rather than quit the game. I figured I would rather stay in boxing and get hurt than quit and not be able to go to the gym anymore.
“The wait in the dressing room before a professional boxing match -that last hour- could be enough to strip a man who never fought before of whatever pride, desire, heart or courage he thought he had.”
– Iceman John Scully.