By Lyle Fitzsimmons
John Scully’s name has been out there for years.
He was an in-ring professional for 13 years and challenged for two world titles, and his dubbed-in voice is recognizable as a color analyst alongside Joe Tessitore on the ESPN Classic Boxing Series.
But he’s more recently made news as the trainer – and now ex-trainer – of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, whose drop in weight to meet super middleweight kingpin Andre Ward last September ended disastrously in the form of a 10th-round TKO loss.
The two parted company afterward and Dawson announced in January that he’d return to the camp of another 175-pound claimant, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, with whom he’d worked previously along with others including Emanuel Steward, Dan Birmingham and Floyd Mayweather Sr.
Scully said the two haven’t spoken since the night of the Ward fight.
“It's not that I hold any grudge or anything like that, and it's not that I didn't try to reach him, either,” he said. “As it stands, I just choose to do as he does and consider it like our relationship never existed.”
The trainer was not at all shy about criticizing his ex-client’s decision to take the fight at 168, rather than demanding that Ward move up to challenge him for his title at 175.
“Taking that fight at 168 and choosing to make the weight in the manner that he was made to do so was a huge mistake. There is no disputing that and he knows that,” Scully said. “Everyone saw that fight and people who know about such things certainly know that it was. If making the weight was no big deal, he'd still be fighting at that weight. But it doesn't take a genius to know that he will never ever even consider going down to the much more lucrative 168 again. That's all the proof I need.”
We caught up with Scully to discuss his own pro career, some of the biggest mental hurdles he had to face as a pro and which of his current training prospects he’s most enthused about.
Fitzbitz: You had a 13-year pro career. You’ve been a high-end trainer for quite a bit of the time since. Can you talk about the differences in the competitive buzz that you get from each role? Has being a trainer replaced that adrenaline jolt? Do you miss the feeling of the locker room before a fight?
Scully: First of all, no, I don't miss that feeling of being in the locker room before a fight at all. It's one of the few things I really don't miss at all about being a fighter. I think most fighters wish they could just drive to the arena on fight night and go straight to the ring after a quick loosening up session. Sitting in that dressing room thinking all those crazy thoughts waiting for them to call your name? They can have that.
Waiting in the dressing room as a trainer now is similar, though, but not nearly as intense. There are only two people in the building who fully, 1,000 percent, feel the effects of that anticipation and that's the two fighters. Everyone else is merely trying to imagine what it's like.
As a trainer who was once a fighter himself I can imagine it pretty well and it helps me deal with the fighters before the fight. I know better than most what to say and what not to say, when to say it and when to keep quiet. It's definitely time period that needs to be navigated through.
Fitzbitz: When you look back at your ring career, what’s the first memory that comes back? Why? What was John Scully’s best night in a ring? Why? What was the worst? Who was the best fighter you ever shared a ring with?
Scully: I usually think of the Michael Nunn fight. That was kind of the highlight for me, even though I didn't get the decision. He was Michael "Second To" Nunn. They still show that fight on ESPN Classic sometimes and it's probably the fight people know me for more than any other. I fought a good fight, showed that I could be at that level. It was like a dream come true to be able to fight a name like that on a stage like that.
Nunn and IBF champ Henry Maske were the two best I fought. Billy Bridges was a very good technical boxer, Art Baylis was a very big strong puncher and Scott Lopeck hit very hard, too, but Nunn and Maske were the overall best.
The worst night of my entire career thus far, since I started boxing in 1982, maybe the worst night of my entire life, was the night I lost to Drake Thadzi in 1998 for the IBO title at 175. What I went through to even make it to the ring that night was something I wouldn't wish on anyone, except maybe one of the guys one of my fighters was about to fight. In a nutshell, besides losing 30 pounds to make weight, including eight-and-a-half on the last night, it was a thing where 12 days before the fight I suffered a broken blood vessel in my nose that literally bled for more than 15 hours straight. I finally ended up in the hospital at 5 a.m. because the blood and coagulation just seemed to be never-ending. I ended up pretty much passing out in the hospital due to the blood loss.
It was one of the handful of times in my career where I literally, 1,000 percent, wished on fight night that I was anywhere else on earth but in a boxing ring. I was defeated way before that first bell ever rang.
Fitzbitz: If you had the tools to still get in there and fight now, would you be better than you were when you fought full-time in the 1990's? Has being a trainer helped you learn the game better? Do you ever look back and say, “Man, I wish I'd have known that trick back then”?
Scully: My knowledge of the game right now is much, much deeper than it was back then. I have soaked in a lot since my last fight because, as they say, hindsight is always 20-20. I frequently, as I'm sure most fighters do, find myself saying, "If I only knew then what I know now." Not just in terms of fighting but in terms of nutrition, maturity, in terms of knowing myself and the game now as I do. One of the only good things about it now is that I can use most of my failures from back then as a way to prevent guys I work with now from falling into the same pits and trips.
Fitzbitz: You had a career that 99 percent of professionals would envy. You beat some name fighters. You fought for a world title. But when you look back, did you do everything that you set out to do? Are there any regrets from the career? Anything you wish you'd done, or accomplished?
Scully: I have a lot of regrets, really. Unfortunately I, like many other fighters, never really had a good grasp on how to lose weight properly for fights until it was too late. I didn't have people around me who knew how to do it properly, either, so as a result of that I repeatedly found myself having to go through terrible ordeals just to make weight. Too many times it was a thing where training for fights consisted more of just trying to lose weight than actually getting ready to come up with a game plan for the specific opponent I was about to face.
If I could go back, there are certain fights I would go back to and either train better for or would never have even walked into the ring when I did.
In many ways I am still very satisfied. I did pretty good for someone who never really had an established promoter or big-time manager behind him or full access to the type of training camps that others have. The best training camps I was in, other than the one we had in Florida for my Michael Nunn fight, was when I was away sparring with guys like Roy Jones, James Toney, Henry Maske or Vinny Pazienza for their fights.
Fitzbitz: How would John Scully on his best day have competed with the super middleweights, light heavyweights and cruiserweights out there now? Do you think you’d have been a world champion in one of the current weight classes? Who’s the best fighter out there now, in your view?
Scully: In this era, I'd say my chances would have been better to win a version of it, but at the same time the elite guys, the most legitimate champions out there, are just as much of a handful as they were in my era. Back then we had Roy Jones and Henry Maske and Virgil Hill, while today we have guys like Hopkins and Froch and Andre Ward. I believe there have been recent world champions I could defeat on my best night, but at the same time, just like in any era, it doesn't mean much to me if you can't be the absolute best of the champions.
Fitzbitz: Many people criticize Dawson for being an athlete, but not a fighter. You know him better than most people ever have, what are your views of his mettle in the ring? Clearly he’s got the skills, but does he have the inside fire to be a fighter? Will he ever get back to a pound-for-pound level again?
Scully: Well, on the one hand it will be hard to come back from losing a fight like that and being seen as a top-three pound-for-pound guy again. At light heavyweight, it isn't such a deep class where even the biggest victories there will qualify you. But on the other hand, if he were to recover fully from what happened mentally and physically and show the form that he showed in previous times then he could certainly crack the top 10, I suppose. My perceptions and impressions tell me that he wants to do it, he would like to be at that level, but at the same time his life has changed in terms of family, in terms of money, in terms of attitude. There were differences in him and his overall program that I saw in our last camp together that tell me he sort of turned a corner in his life that it would take a lot to recover from. People change, their thoughts and priorities and attitudes change. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's really not.
Fitzbitz: Chad’s last successful night in the ring was the Hopkins rematch. Since then, Bernard has obviously surprised a lot of people again. Did you think he’d beat Tavoris Cloud? You’re actually a couple years younger than Hopkins. How do you think he’s been able to accomplish what he’s done? Does he ever make you think, even for a second, “Hey, I could still do this”?
Scully: I am happy to say that I went on record before that fight as picking Hopkins to beat Cloud. I felt even on the night he lost to Chad that Bernard showed me he still had the skills and tools to beat a lot of good guys. Chad with his range and speed and athleticism was always going to be a problem for Bernard's particular game but there are so many other guys who just don't have the acumen yet to deal with the guile and savvy he brings to the table. Bernard has always reminded me of those guys everyone in the boxing game knows from the gyms. Those slick old veteran pros who no longer are even in the game, but they can still walk in off the street anytime they want, in jeans and a wife beater and someone else's gloves and mouthpiece, and take the local young hotshot pro to school for six rounds of sparring.
Fitzbitz: Who is your favorite fighter out there these days? Whose fights will you not miss when they’re on? Why?
Scully: Well, I have plans to drive to New York City and attend the Rigondeaux-Donaire fight because I think it is a superfight-level match up. I like watching Mayweather. I still like watching Pacman. I like when Sergio Martinez fights and he uses that slick boxing style where he moves around with his hands down, almost like he's daring people to try and hit him. Reminds me of old Nico Locche fights.
Fitzbitz: You sign off your emails with the quote about the last hour before a fight being able to strip away whatever confidence a fighter thought he had. Most people who read this will never experience anything remotely close to that feeling. Can you put it into words? Is it anxiety, adrenaline, fear… something else? Did you like the feeling, or hate it?
Scully: I hated it. Despised it. The only two things I absolutely do not miss about being a professional fighter are waiting in the dressing room for them to come get me and making weight. That wait is the time period where fights are often won or lost, really. You get a normally rational guy, a usually sharp and confident guy, and put him in that dressing room 20 minutes before the fight and he will tell you out of nowhere that he's going to lose his fight that night because his laces broke while he was tying his boxing shoes up a minute ago. It's like being on some type of mind-altering drug that forces you to deal with your mind constantly trying to play tricks on you from the moment you enter the room. They bring those little 10-ounce Cleto-Reyes gloves in for you and you're feeling your knuckles through the padding and you're thinking, "They want me to get punched with these little gloves tonight?"
After the fight everyone is back to normal, but in those minutes before the fighters leave the dressing room to head to the ring? They're often maybe one or two small steps above being a paranoid schizophrenic.
Fitzbitz: What team of fighters are you working with these days? What’s a typical day or week like for you? Who’s a fighter that we might not have heard of yet, but we’ll all know within a year or two?
Scully: Right now I have a group of amateur kids I'm working with as well as a couple of pros. I trained George Foreman III for his last fight in Cancun and I'm basically waiting to see what's next for him. He's 16-0 as a heavyweight right now. I also have a very solid and promising welterweight who is 9-0 by the name of Javier "El Chino" Flores from Puerto Rico. He's 9-0 with a huge punch and is definitely someone to keep your eyes on.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF mini-flyweight title – Guasave, Mexico
Mario Rodriguez (champion) vs. Katsunari Takayama (No. 6 contender)
Rodriguez (15-6-4, 11 KO): First title defense; Four straight wins by KO (17 total rounds)
Takayama (24-6, 10 KO): Seventh title fight; Held WBC title at 105 (2005, no defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Japanese veteran has a habit of losing close when it comes to the highest level, but he’ll reverse course by beating Mexican slugger on home turf.” Takayama by decision
IBO/WBA middleweight titles – Monte Carlo, Monaco
Gennady Golovkin (IBF/WBA champion) vs. Nobuhiro Ishida (No. 18 IBO/No. 15 WBA)
Golovkin (25-0, 22 KO): Fourth IBO title defense; Twelve straight wins by KO (42 total rounds)
Ishida (24-8-2, 9 KO): Second title fight; Two wins in five fights since 2010
Fitzbitz says: “Challenger has neither the power nor the skill to hold off a powerful champion with all sorts of credibility-building momentum and a tendency to end work quickly.” Golovkin in 6
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 1-1
2013 picks record: 10-9 (52.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 473-161 (74.6 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.