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01/03/2007 Archived Entry: "John Scully: From the Iceman Diaries..."

John Scully: From the Iceman Diaries...

Photo from

nunnScull (54k image)

John Scully (right) tags Michael Nunn in losing a 12 round decision for the WBO NABO Super Middleweight Title in 1995

NOW I know that many people who held an interest in my career often watched me with a great deal of frustration and if you are one of those people then here is an explanation for you:

Later in my career, beginning with the [Brett] Lally fight, I was often criticized because of my tendency to so often wrap my gloves around my face and tuck my elbows in tight in that Starling peek-a-boo fashion. I had a very hard time making weight for that fight and when that was combined with my certain level of nervousness and stage fright that came with fighting under the bright lights of Atlantic City for the first time I instinctively thought I needed some extra help in there. Enter the peek-a-boo.

Sometimes in fights I would use that style without throwing a lot of punches back and would ultimately lose decisions because of it. People would say to me "Why do you do that so much? Whenever you throw punches you look great but you just don't throw enough."

I know that it was very frustrating for fans -and especially the trainers- of mine to watch me let fights slip away that appeared to be winnable for me. The thing is, I started doing that in the late 80's after seeing hometown hero [Marlon] Starling (and Donald Curry) do it so well on TV and I got hooked on the fact that the defense allowed me to stay calm and deflect even the strongest of power shots.

People often see myself or other fighters put our gloves up and block punches with them and they think you are just simply putting your hands up to your face, like anybody could do it, but picking off punches properly is something you have to be proficient at. It is definitely a skill and a technique and not something that any fighter can just do well. I have seen many fighters to try to emulate guys like Starling that did it well and it was obvious that they hadn't mastered the art of it. It is not as easy as it looks, trust me.

Anyway, It got to the point where I felt I had perfected it so well that I could spar or fight guys and they could throw all the punches they wanted and I wouldn't get hit cleanly more than a few times. Sometimes I could go through three or four rounds in the gym or in a fight having deflected almost all of my opponents blows and little by little, over time, I think I got so relaxed and comfortable with my defensive skills that I gradually threw fewer punches than I needed to as a result because, even without a lot of offense, I had no worries about my opponents offense.

And when weight loss problems became an issue it was perfect for me because I always knew in the back of my mind that if I ran into trouble I wasn't going to be like other guys that were forced to take dozens of flush shots on their faces when they got tired. You can look back on any one of my professional fights, wins and losses, and even when I was defeated cleanly I really wasn't taking all that many flush shots in the face.

The very first time I ever used that style in a real fight was at the 1986 National PAL tournament in Buffalo against a real rough and tough Syrian kid from New York that was a sparring partner for Doug Dewitt by the name of Sal DiFiore. We both made it to the semifinals (he had scored a big upset over the top ten rated Donald Gray the day before) and the winner of our bout would advance to the 165 pound finals the following day.

I started out using a lot of lateral movement in the fight, imitating Nino LaRocca, and he had a great deal of trouble hitting me. For two rounds I boxed him beautifully, making his miss so many punches and countering very sharply. I was bouncing up on my toes, dancing like Cassius Clay and feeling very loose, but what happened was that he kept constant pressure on me and by the third round my legs were fatigued and I found myself with my back to the ropes and Sal was all over me, letting loose with bunches of power shots. I instinctively put my gloves up to my face like Marlon always did and it was quickly apparent that my opponent couldn't hit me cleanly.

Initially I was a bit worried because the energy had drained from my legs and I was forced to lay on the ropes but when I realized my defense wasn't going to allow him to take advantage of me it was as if I was looking at him through a bullet proof window, sticking my tongue out and taunting his inability to get me while I was fatigued. It was like I had a force field around me.

All of a sudden, after he let loose with a flurry of shots that caught nothing but gloves, I instantly retaliated with a flurry of my own that landed flush on his face and headgear. This happened several times in a row, I could hear the crowd going crazy every time I did it, and I began realizing I was on to something here. I stayed on the ropes for the remainder of the round and not only won the fight going away but for the first time in my amateur career I had put on a performance that had apparently captured the entire crowds attention.

After I won the decision I was walking from the ring to the dressing room and people were clapping and cheering for me and when I walked past this group of fighters I heard one of them loudly exclaim "Man, that's the white Sugar Ray right there!"

It was a great feeling to have my peers and the audience compliment me so highly on a particular aspect of my game and from that point on I made it a point to block and catch punches on my gloves when the need arose.

Three months later I matched up in the Golden Gloves tournament with the very talented and strong Roberto Perez out of Hartford in a fight that was highly anticipated in Holyoke as we were both defending New England Champions and, in the nationals the previous year, he had scored a huge upset over the #1 ranked light middleweight in the country, a kid out of Monessan, Pennsylvania you may have heard of by the name of Michael Moorer.

Perez and I were actually good friends despite the fact that we had faced each other once previously in a fight that saw me win a decision and at the nationals where he beat Michael we were roommates and had a blast together for a whole week out in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Boxing is what it is, though, and here we were about to face each other for the right to advance to the Golden Gloves finals.

The fight was less than fifteen seconds old when I landed a sharp right hand that knocked him off balance and as he kind of stumbled to his right side away from me I jumped in and tried to capitalize as he blasted away in retaliation and from that moment on the fight was an all out WAR!! Numerous times in the fight saw the whole crowd jump to their feet and the electricity in the air that night at the Holyoke Boys Club was so wild that I felt like we were in one of the greatest fights of all time! I was loving every second of it, too, because it isn't too often that you find an opponent that has a style that meshes so perfectly with yours that the fight can fall in to such a back and forth war. This was such a time.

What eventually carried the fight was the fact that I started going back to the ropes and falling into my peek-a-boo style with great effect. Robert would blast away at my arms and gloves with big shots and, time and time again, as soon as he would stop his assault, I would blast back with big shots of my own. Just like in the DiFiore fight my shots were landing flush while his were mostly hitting gloves, arms and elbows. I was so excited during the fight, I felt so safe with my gloves up high, it was like I had an unpenetratable (Is that even a word? Either way, you know what I mean) force field protecting me from his punches and when the bell rang to end the fight it seemed like every person in the building shot up to their feet in unison, cheering and clapping in appreciation.

I was so hyped up knowing that I had won such a big fight in such fashion that I walked over to the ropes that faced the back of the arena and pointed my glove at my next opponent, Denie Irizzary, in a "You're next" gesture.

The very next day in the "Springfield-Union News" their Golden Gloves article carried a recap of my fight written by Carlo Imelio:

"The scene stealer turned out to be John Scully, the defending 165 pound WM and New England champion from Central City. Scully thrilled the crowd with an eye-catching war against Hartford reigning 156 pound champion Roberto Perez. The obviously skilled boxer-puncher did everything but put Perez away as he unleashed lightning like combinations to the head. Fighting in a departure from his usual style, Scully gave a clinic on how to fight off the ropes as he outlasted Perez for the hard fought victory. With his back to the ropes often in the bout against the aggressive and powerful Perez, Scully shot hard rights and lefts to the head before effectively covering up. Clearly it was the most exciting fight of the tournament and it was won by probably the best fighter, one who advanced to the national quarterfinals last year. Scully is currently ranked 10th in the nation at 165 pounds."

Reactions like that and the one I got from the guys in the audience after my similar victory in Buffalo at the PAL tournament made me feel like I was starting to come into my own as a fighter and the sudden recognition made me feel as though I was separating myself from the pack, so to speak. For better or worse, I began to implement the peek-a-boo style into my game more and more.

Sometimes it worked very well for me but, unfortunately it didn't work so well on other occasions when I began to rely on it more and more, especially when I eventually came to rely on it when I was going into fights with so much trouble losing weight properly. At times it had morphed from a brilliant technique into a survival mode. It got to be where I had no fear of going in with anyone because even if I was weak from losing weight or for whatever reason I could always deflect shots with my gloves and arms rather than take them flush on the face or chin. Even in sparring, I became so adept at it that I could spar contenders and world champions while being totally out of shape and I still felt as though I had that built in force field protecting me the whole time.

Looking back I can say that I did possess a very good defense and even now every once in a while someone will come up to me and comment on it. It sucks, though, that not everybody realizes what I was doing in there. When I fought Nunn, for example, more than nine years after fighting DiFiore there were actually people sitting up high in the bleachers that night that thought Nunn was really putting it on me with all those punches he threw (over 1,000) but the reality is that I was picking off most of them on my gloves, arms and shoulders. I knew better because I was in there with the man. I felt good doing it and I had no fear of standing in front of him or any man that I ever fought, including in the gym against great fighters like [Roy] Jones and [James] Toney, because I knew I had mastered that aspect of my game. Almost every guy that I fought had a very low connect percentage against me, including my big fights against Nunn and [Tim] Littles, and I almost always out landed the guys I fought, too, at least connect percentage wise if not in total punches. I felt that as long as I was picking off punches and landing at a good percentage I was doing fine in there.

I realize now that one problem, for example, was that I had gradually grown so accustomed and confident in my ability to not get hit flush on the mouth by these guys that I began to rely on it. I began to get way too comfortable in the ring because in my mind, if I could stay in there with you and make you hit nothing but gloves and arms then I was winning. My defense became my identity and, not to sound cocky or anything, but I had actually gotten to the point where I felt like I could spar or fight anybody in the world with no worries about taking their punches because in terms of getting hit flush on the face it wasn't really as much of an issue for me as it may have appeared.

Sometimes people would say that they saw me fight and that I had a good chin and I while believe I did I also realize that many times in fights I wasn't getting hit as flush as it sometimes may have appeared because I could keep my gloves up in way that they were almost form fitted to my face and chin. Even guys that were known as hard punchers had punches that felt to me like they were powder puffs and I often went through many rounds with particular guys and I never could really say if they hit hard or not afterwards. I also liked when I would be in the gyms and guys would complain (or just make comments) to their coaches, telling them they couldn't hit me flush.

Still, in a crazy way, it messed me up because I often didn't feel that real urgency to keep working and throwing a ton of punches back. I slowly became more and more complacent and satisfied.

I know now though, that I should have developed much better counter punching skills off of the blocks like Curry, Livingstone Bramble, and Starling were masters at. (Or as I tell my fighters now, "Defense is a wonderful thing but you still have to hit your opponent to win.")

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