Exclusive Interview: "Iceman" John Scully

By James Alden


Exclusive Interview: "Iceman" John Scully

JA: What’s the good word, Scully?  "Everything is going really good. I just came back from an amateur show on Saturday night where I had a kid win his bout. I was training him for six months and he won his first fight. It's funny, too, because it occurred to me that the day of May 20th, the same day that he won his fight, was the same day that I had my first fight exactly 23 years ago."

JA: Your getting old, huh Scully?

JS: [laughs] Yeah, but I'm still in better shape than he is, though.

JA: Can you remember when you were in his shoes?

JS: That, to me, is what makes me a good trainer, if I am a good trainer, because I fought before and I definitely my time in those shoes. Some people may say that you can be a good trainer if you never fought before and that's obviously true because there have been great trainers that haven’t fought. For me personally, though, the things that I think are my strong points are in fact strong points because of the fact that I was a fighter for so long. I would say the majority of positive things that I am able to get across to my fighters are things that my trainers didn't teach me as much as I learned them from actually being in the ring. I feel that I relate well to the guys I work with in a way that a guy who never fought before couldn't. That's why I still spar a lot of rounds now to this day, so I can teach the young guys first hand but also to keep the same feeling inside of me as a fighter. I can relate better that way. I have to keep that edge to me, that feeling of being in the ring and keeping a competitive nature for the sport is what helps me keep in tune with the guys and what they are seeing and feeling. I can't forget what it really is in that ring if I am still there.

JA: What do you think makes a good trainer Scully?

JS: People point at certain guys and say "this guy is a great trainer" or "that guy is a good trainer." Eddie Futch is a great trainer, Cus D’Mato was a great trainer, Angelo Dundee was a great trainer, that is true but you only hear about all the great fighters that they had. You never hear of the guys that they trained that maybe were 6-6 or 1-6 and got knocked out or outclassed in fights so it's all relative. There are people out there that couldn't fathom the fact that guys like this actually trained fighters that didn't pan out to be world champions and legends.

I don't know if I am considered a good trainer yet or not or if I ever even will be but, in my opinion, a big part of being a good trainer is relating to the fighter that you are with because I am sure that as great as he is Emmanuel Steward probably worked with guys that didn’t make it anywhere or that he wouldn't call "successful" compared to his other fighters. Take me for example. I had Chad Dawson for a while and I now have Mike Oliver, Pito Cardona and Jose Rivera that I work with and I certainly think that I have made a positive contribution to their careers. A lot of people may say "that's great work you did with those guys, you must really be a great trainer," but by the same token I worked with Scott Pemberton for a few weeks for one fight and he lost by a second round stoppage (to Jeff Lacy), so whatever magic I might have had didn’t help him any. Obviously, also, the fighter is a big part of it all. A very good boxer can make a decent trainer look great. Or I could be a genius as a trainer but if the fighter is not going out there to do it or does not have the physical and mental tools to grasp what I teach or tell him to do then it just may not work out in the end.

JA: How do you adapt from being a fighter to a trainer?

JS: Me personally it has been easy because I was a fighter and I still spar so I really feel like I am a fighter that is also training fighters. That's my mindset. I don’t feel like a trainer. When people call me a trainer it sounds funny to me. It’s like someone calling you "Mister" for the first time and you look around because you think there talking to your dad. I still train a lot of amateur kids, too, and what a lot of people don’t realize is that when I was a ranked professional I was training four very good amateurs from Hartford. I mean, when I fought Michael Nunn back in 1995, three weeks later I was sleeping on the floor in a hotel room at the silver gloves in Saratoga where I had four kids boxing in the regionals. It’s not a new thing for me to be working with boxers cause I've been doing this for years, since I was an active professional.

JA: How do you learn to use the mitts and pads, is that from learning from your past trainers?

JS: The way I use the pads is actually a method I devised on my own because I notice that a lot of people use the pads more in the line of making it a showcase for the fighter to look flashy. A lot of guys have their boxers throw these combinations on the pads that they never in a million years would do in a fight. I try to make my pad workouts something that makes the fighter feel, physically, more like he would in a pro fight. Also, to tell you the honest truth, most of the stuff that I teach my fighters is the stuff that I used to do when I was a fighter or that I learned from being a fighter because the best teacher of the aspects of boxing that I like to teach is the one who fought before. And, to add to that, I have so many things that I can tell my fighters that come from the fact that I didn't make it in the game to the heights  I wanted to. A champion that turns trainer would only be good if he could properly relay why and how he became a champion. On the flip side, I know exactly why I lost certain fights or couldn't or didn't beat certain guys and I use those experiences now to my advantage as well.

People, for some reason I will never understand, will get mad at me for saying these things and I hope they realize the context that I am saying this in but it is very clear to me that there are certainly aspects of boxing that a guy that never fought before either cannot teach or cannot teach or relate to on the level of someone that has. Maybe they never come into play and are never needed but if they are, these specific things I speak of, it certainly doesn't hurt that a guy that has been there before is relaying them to you. I noticed when I am talking to a fighter I could suggest something based on how I feel from what I felt like when I fought and they say "Yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you mean." I think that you have more of an advantage in certain aspects of the game when you have fought before than the average trainer that has not. There are exceptions to the rule but, still, in general it’s like a guy who has never been divorced before and is a marriage counselor. He can't say how someone feels that is in the middle of divorce. He can only treat the guy with things he learned in a book or from another person. You can't know how a guy getting divorced would actually feel because you yourself have never been divorced. You can tell me what you think I should do or what other people that have dealt with it have done to get through but the one thing you could never, ever tell me is how it actually feels. If  I want to know how it feels to be in outer space do I ask the guy that built the space shuttle and knows every component of the engine and the air pressure and all those details or do I  want to hear it from the guy that actually flew the thing?? Who would know better, the guy on the ground or the guy in the air? I believe that most of the most helpful stuff that I teach is stuff that I picked up over the years being in the ring and being in fights or sparring for the thousands of rounds that I have. A lot of my strengths as a trainer is telling the boxers things that I know because I was in the ring for so long. I like the relationships I have with boxers that I train because we are speaking on the same level and when they describe something they are feeling or seeing in the ring I usually know exactly what they mean, even if they don't verbalize it perfectly. It might be different for other coaches but, put it this way, I can think of times when I had a trainer that never fought pro before and it often got to be a thing where he would try to impart his ideologies on me and it was very apparent that he never boxed before and didn't relate or, in some instances, he would try to come off like he knew what it felt like in the ring and he made it out like it was so easy, even telling me what he would have done in certain situations that I was in, and all that did was make any connection between us get weaker because I felt like I honestly knew more than he did. Now, before anybody gets crazy and emails me in anger because they never fought before and they are a trainer now, let me just say that OF COURSE there are people that never fought pro before that have been very accomplished trainers, much more than I have so far, and I know that. Russ Anber in Montreal, for example, never fought before and yet I consider him one of the most underrated trainers in all of boxing and he is one of many that has a greater track record as a coach than I do. I am only saying that for me, personally, that I believe it is my in the ring experience that is going to carry me -John Scully- down the line and up the ladder. 

JA: Name some good trainers and name some bad trainers.

JS: You tell me a guy that the people will say is a so called great and I can probably tell you another guy not nearly as well known that is as good or better. Sometimes people say "that a guy is a great trainer" and then you see him on TV in the corner between rounds and he seems like he doesn't know what to say or he seems nervous or even clueless in the corner. There are a lot of  good trainers but there are a lot of guys that are good only with certain boxers. I just came off working really well with Chad Dawson up until Gary Shaw maneuvered him away from his previous promoter Jimmy Birchfield and I know that I made a positive impact in his career and his style that he has and it will certainly help take him to whatever heights he may reach in the future and right now I am working with Mike Oliver (USBO 122 pound champion) and he probably fought the best that he ever fought in his career two months ago. Jose Rivera (WBA 154 pound champion) is coming off the biggest victory in the best performance of his career. So in those cases I have done pretty good but, on the other side of the coin, you might bring me a guy to work with and we just don’t gel together right and he gets on TV and doesn’t do well. So the relationship between the boxer and his trainer has a lot of bearing, too.

I grew up as a young boxer hearing that Ray Arcel, Cus D’Amato and Eddie Futch were great trainers and all I can base that on is the success that guys they worked with enjoyed.  There are guys today that are known as top of the line trainers but I think most of them are known for their work with one or two guys only. Sometimes you say "so and so is a great trainer" but then you see him in the corner on TV it's a thing where they don't say anything better or more intelligent than a hundred other trainers that you never even heard of before would say. Nazzim Richardson and Willie Rush from Philly or George Washington from Brooklyn, for example. Those probably aren't the names that come to your mind when you think of knowledgeable boxing people or top trainers but anybody familiar with boxing on a level deeper than what annual boxing awards dinners tell you will know who they are and  would likely put them and their knowledge up against anybody. How about Roy Jones Senior? He is known only as the guy that pushed Roy as a kid and you never hear people put his name in there among the great teachers but I would put his knowledge with anybody in boxing. Anybody!! Russ (Anber) in Montreal is another top trainer that most American fans do not know. Russ is unique to me, too, because he never fought as a pro or an amateur but he has been in the gyms and working with fighters since he was just a teenager himself and he is a good example of someone that never boxed but seems to have learned his lessons and has a  real grasp at what being a fighter and, more importantly, actually being in a fight is all about. He is also one of the few guys that can say he started a fighter, in this case Otis Grant, from when he was a kid and brought him all the way to a world championship. There are many, many top level, hall of fame trainers that cannot say they ever did that. More than most realize. I have known Russ since I was an amateur boxer and have worked with him throughout the years but it wasn't until my final professional fight that he ever got the chance to work my corner and I not only won the fight impressively but I came away wishing that I had him working with me since early on in my pro career. And contrary to what I said a few minutes ago, Russ actually showed me a very helpful technique later on in my career that I use to help fighters with their jab. (Going along with what I said, though, I am sure Russ learned that technique from someone that actually fought before and used it. So, like I said, it's all relevant).

I think maybe, by the same token, that I want a lot of people to realize now is that there is a big difference between a cornerman and a trainer. There are guys who are great trainers in the gym but they get in the ring on fight night and they seem somewhat lost. Other guys aren't super sharp in the gym but on fight night they are excellent in the corner, they wrap hands good, they do cuts good, they know the rules inside and out. Some of the guys who have reputations as the "best trainers" in the world should probably be categorized as a great cornermen more than anything. You need to find a guy who is good at both.

JA: Give me your thoughts on the Collazo-Hatton fight?

JS: Being there live I thought Collazo won the fight, especially being the defending champion. I thought that he outpunched Hatton in most of the exchanges in terms of the sharper, better shots. I thought that he showed a lot of versatility in the fight with slick moves and sharp counter punches. I think if that was a fight between two guys that you never heard of I think Collazo gets the decision but it could have been a thing where, because of the situation with the promotion being built around Hatton, I think that they gave the fight to him based on what they thought was supposed to happen rather than what actually did happen. It’s messed up in a way and a lot of people are coming to me and saying that the fight looked like this or that on TV but it doesn’t really matter what the fight looks like on TV because you have to go by watching the fight live in person as it happens, watching the fight live and on TV is totally two different things. Even though Ricky kept coming on all night long and had his moments, I think most of the people in the live audience thought that Collazo won the fight.

JA: I heard some things that it was because Collazo beat Rivera in his hometown and that Boston is getting back at him.

JS: That never occurred to me until you said it, but that would be completely stupid if you ask me. I don't think there is any connection whatsoever. If anything, Luis was at Jose's fight the week before, lending his support, and on the night Luis fought Collazo Jose was one of the guys that walked him into the ring.

JA: When is that book coming out Scully?

JS: I have been working hard on it (The Iceman Diaries) when I can but  I had a baby girl about fifteen months ago and apparently she doesn’t like me being on the computer in the daytime because she always finds a way to pull the plug out fifteen times a day. I am definitely getting close to finishing the book, though, but I have just been busy with training fighters and going to fights. I am not going to make any promises but the book is almost done. It will be worth that wait, trust me!!

I also want to thank you, James, and www.boxingtalk.com for even allowing me the chance to be interviewed by you in the first place. A lot of guys in New England boxing, in particular, are getting the chance to be heard more and I know we all appreciate it. 


Send questions and comments to: jamesalden@boxingtalk.com