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Old 08-25-2006, 02:37 AM #1
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Default John Scully: New Duke of Hartford Boxing

New Duke Of Hartford Boxing
August 23, 2006

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The last time there was a professional card in our town, John Scully spent much of the bout trying to close his opponent's bloodied left eye. On Tuesday, during a press conference to announce the return of boxing to Hartford, Scully spent much of his time trying to reopen eyes to a sport he loves.

"Maybe," Scully said at one point, "maybe I'll be the next Johnny Duke."

He is 39. Old, Scully says. For a boxer, yes, but for a trainer and a caretaker of the sport, he is a pup. There is time to be the next Johnny Duke.

Scully remembers his technical knockout of Scott Lopeck as if it were yesterday. There were maybe 550 fans squeezed into the San Juan Center that night of Dec. 18, 1997. The card was on ESPN, and Angel Vazquez pounded Bernardo Quinones into submission after the ringside physician had forced Lopeck, his left eye slammed shut, to retire after the sixth round of the co-feature.

"Eric Harding won, too," Scully remembered.

Boxing, with a rich history in Hartford, went dark after that night. Oh, the two casinos, an hour away, have carried the torch in their own way. There have been big-name fighters, too - Roy Jones Jr., Lennox Lewis, James Toney, Antonio Tarver, Evander Holyfield - although, truth be told, big names have become scarce in recent years.

Gone, too, are so many of the grass roots cards. Television cherry-picks fighters. Vegas and the big casinos bully to get their way. It has become too much of an all or nothing sport. Folks have lost touch with much of the natural progression that fed boxing for a century: following a local kid up the ranks, through the challenges, to a possible world title and down the hill to retirement.

That's a lot of what the "Rising Stars" pro-am card at the Connecticut Convention Center ballroom on Sept. 23 is about.

Mike Oliver (15-0) from Hartford is going to fight. Matt Remillard (10-0) from Manchester is going to fight in the co-feature for the WBC youth super featherweight title.

"Both these young guys could be champions or contenders," Scully said. "They're legitimate."

Hartford's Pito Cardona, who got as far as an IBF title fight loss to Paul Spadafora in 1999, is out of retirement. Tony Grano, a heavyweight from Hebron, will fight, too.

"There is not a fighter in the world who doesn't want to fight in his hometown," Cardona said.

The main event will be a cruiserweight bout between Matt Godfrey of Providence and Danny Batchelder of Greenwich, N.Y. Jason Estrada, the 2004 Olympian from Providence, is on the card, too.

"It's an area All-Star team," Scully said. "Everybody is somebody."

Said event promoter Jimmy Burchfield, "There is so much history - from Willie Pep on - and we're going to give Hartford a chance to prove itself as a boxing capital. Too bad on us if we don't pack 2,500 people into this beautiful building."

That's the delicious irony in this card. They're going old-time local boxing in one of New England's spiffiest new buildings. Burchfield, from Rhode Island, has proved to be an earnest promoter over the years and he wants to follow up this card with a steady diet of Hartford cards. There's dreamy talk of Remillard, Oliver, even Harding or Cardona getting "the big fight" here one day. But you've got to test the water first, see if the interest is here. Sept. 23 will tell us plenty.

Burchfield is dedicating the night to the legendary Duke, the boxer, mentor, trainer who died in March at 81. Burchfield's company, Classic Entertainment & Sports, has a ring of honor. Vinny Paz, Mickey Ward and Marlon Starling are in it. On Sept. 23, Scully will enter.

Scully is training Oliver and Cardona. He trains WBA junior middleweight champion Jose Rivera from Worcester. He is helping with Remillard. Scully has developed into one of the top young trainers in the world, Burchfield says.

"I was skeptical about that," Cardona said. "But it's like Burchfield said. He's one of the top trainers out there now."

The truth is Scully has helped train kids since he was 18 in Stowe Village. He would bring them to national amateur events and because of limited funds sleep seven on the floor in a hotel room.

"All the time I'd be thinking, `Man, this is the stuff Duke used to do,'" Scully said. "There's a famous picture where Duke had an old car, one with a rumble-seat. He had like 16 kids lined up for a trip. That stuff is as much fun as some of your own fights."

When Scully started fighting in the early '80s, there were cards all the time in and around Hartford, mostly at the Agora Ballroom. For a young kid, it was like Madison Square Garden."

"The first fight I ever went to live in my life was Papo Figueroa vs. Felix Nance," Scully said. "Great fight. Troy Wortham fought. Tyrone Booze fought. Man, they were my heroes."

Scully loves the sport. He knows the history. He looks young and he looks strong, but there is an old man's love of boxing that he carries in his heart. He has hundreds of his own stories, but he has hundreds more that he has heard second- and thirdhand. He was Duke's protege, and Duke was introduced to boxing by Pep. That means he can trace his roots to the heart of Hartford boxing.

"When I first started boxing at Bellevue Square [Boys Club], the first name I knew other than Marlon Starling was Johnny Duke," Scully said. "Meeting him was like meeting a superstar. I was 14 and it was like I met Muhammad Ali or Santa Claus."

More than two decades later, when Oliver won the USBO title on Feb. 18, Oliver brought the belt to an ailing Duke. Scully brought a picture of Oliver with the belt. That picture was lying on Duke's belly when he died a few weeks later.

"Thousands of boxers passed through Bellevue Square," Scully said. "Mike is a bridge to all those guys. He started boxing when he was 2 or 3 and he represents the last of them. He's Duke's last fighter."

That's why Scully is asking the old Bellevue Square fighters to come and bring their families to the card on Sept. 23. He says Wortham will be there, but wants to see Herbie Cox, Figueroa and goes off on a long list.

"I'd love to see a sellout that night," Scully said. "I want to spark something."

He says he wants to carry on Johnny Duke's legacy.

And on this day, it seems as if he already has.

Contact Jeff Jacobs at [Link View Has Been Removed. Click Here To Unlock This Content.].
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