The CBZ Newswire

The Passing of a Legend — Muhammad Ali Has Left Us. Reflections and Impressions with ‘Ice’ John Scully

by on Jun.04, 2016, under Boxing News

By Juan C. Ayllon


The late Muhammad Ali, at left, shakes hands with a young John Scully (photo courtesy of John Scully)

The late Muhammad Ali, at left, shakes hands with a young John Scully (photo courtesy of John Scully)

At 74 years old, the “Greatest” is dead.  Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942, according the Associated Press, the family of Muhammad Ali reported that he passed Friday night. He had been hospitalized in the Phoenix area with acute respiratory problems complicated by Parkinson’s Disease earlier this week, and his children had flown in from around the country.  Many regard him not only as the greatest heavyweight boxer to grace the ring, but also an amazing humanitarian.  He leaves behind an incredible legacy.

Some would liken him to today’s Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. in that, as a Gold Medal Olympian, he was an Uber-gifted African American boxer renowned and sometimes reviled for his braggadocio as the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the world in 1967.  

However, the similarities end with the Olympics, talent, success and self-promotion.

1967 is when the charismatic Ali was forced out of boxing and convicted for refusing induction into the U.S. Armed Forces. He was a lighting rod for controversy.  His inflammatory rhetoric in championing the Civil Rights movement, which went hand in glove with his  conversion to the Muslim faith following his championship win at 22 over Sony Liston (he changed his name to Cassius-X, then Muhammad Ali from Cassius Clay, which he referred to as his “slave name”) was not well received by mainstream America.  His anti-war stance, epitomized by his statement, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” was perceived by many to be Anti-American.

In the movie, I Am Ali, the all-time great football running back, Jim Brown, said, “He didn’t dislike white people; he just disliked what some white people stood for.”

Then, with the Supreme Court’s unanimous overturning of his conviction in 1971, his shift to a softer, more embracing view of his fellow man and a magnificent sequel to his boxing career, where he fought all comers in a talent rich heavyweight division, he became universally loved and admired.

His “O” was gone following his third fight back.  In March 1971, he’d lost half a step and proved his toughness in rising from a brutal knockdown in the 11th round of “The Fight of the Century” versus Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden.  However, he avenged that loss twice, had his jaw broken versus Ken Norton in a decision loss in 1973, revenged that loss later that year (and won a controversial third meeting in 1976) and regained the title via an epic upset knockout of George Foreman in Zaire, Africa in 1974.


New Beginnings

Most people nowadays have no clue how incredibly impressive that was. Like Sonny Liston (a seven to one favorite over Ali) before, George Forman was a savage killer in the ring.  He destroyed guys like Joe Frazier and Kenny Norton that gave Ali life and death struggles!  And as the three to one odds bore testament, Ali didn’t stand a chance — or so we thought.  As a 13 year-old, I went to bed and prayed fervently throughout the night that Foreman wouldn’t kill him.  To everyone’s surprise, Ali knocked him out in the eighth round.

Ali was now a media darling.  Endorsements, a Muhammad Ali action figure, a hit single bearing his name and people hanging on every televised word by this charismatic champion now characterized his stardom.  Yet, for all his strengths, he had a darker side.  His former wife, Monica Porche, with whom he’d infamously hooked up while in Zaire for his fight with George Foreman (while still married to second wife, Belinda), praised his ability to make predictions on his fights and delivering on them, but said that he was ultimately difficult to live with because he wasn’t a faithful husband.  And Marvis Frazier, son of Joe Frazier, while admiring their legendary rivalry, said that Ali hurt his father deeply with highly publicized comments about Joe being “ugly”, “a gorilla”and an Uncle Tom —  after Frazier had helped him out financially during his boxing hiatus.

Either way, following his win over George Foreman, Ali should have retired.  Unfortunately, he fought on.


The Downward Slide

Ali survived the bombs of Ernie Shavers (whom some say was the hardest one-shot puncher in heavyweight history) in winning a decision in 1977, lost and won back his championship against Leon Spinks in 1978.   A husk of the talent he once was, he retired in 1979, but came back in 1980 to lose against his former sparring partner, Larry Holmes, for his WBC title (retiring on his stool after the 10th round, this was his only knockout loss) and Trevor Berbick (by unanimous decision) to accumulate a record of 55-5 with 37 knockouts.

The onset of Parkinsons disease came quickly.  Gone were the reflexes and lightning quick diatribes.  His face a frozen mask, he suffered tremors, whispered and shuffled in slow motion. His decline was hard to bear.

Ron Lipton, at left, with Ali (photo courtesy of Ron Lipton).

Ron Lipton, at left, with Ali (photo courtesy of Ron Lipton).

Ron Lipton, who served as Ali’s sparring partner and is now a college boxing instructor and professional referee, shared an observation:  Ali fell into this habit of leaning back on the ropes and letting sparring partners tee off on him while he covered up.  “He felt it made him stronger,” Lipton said.  Guys like Michael Dokes, who was briefly a heavyweight champion in the 1980s, pounded on him.  No doubt, this contributed to his condition.

In one late life highpoint, he lit the Olympic Torch at the Atlantic Games in 1996. David Diaz, who participated in the games and went on to win the WBC Lightweight title 10 years later, wrote the following about the experience on Facebook:

“As I stood there with the US Olympic Team, we were honored that it was #MuhammadAli who lit the torch for the opening ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Games. He helped me realize that I was at a special place in my life, that many dream of but very few achieve. You were an inspiration to all. I am saddened by this great loss. Thank you for everything you did in and out of the ring. My prayers go out to The Ali Family. #MuhammadAli #RIPChamp

Ali, according to CNN, is survived by his fourth wife, Lonnie, and nine children.  One of them, Laila Ali, was a world champion female boxer.


A Young Fighter’s Impressions 

“Iceman” John Scully has seen a lot in boxing.  As an amateur, he won the Outstanding Boxer awards at the 1987 Western Massachusetts Golden Gloves and the 1988 Eastern U.S. Olympic Trials and as a professional, he accumulated a record of 38-11 (21 knockouts), with highlights including losses to WBO NABO Super Middleweight champion Michael Nunn (1995), IBO Light Heavyweight Champion Henry Maske (1996), and WBO Light Heavyweight champion Drake Thadzi (1998). He also served as sparring partner for James Toney and Roy Jones, Jr.  Nowadays he trains boxers (one of his proteges, Chad Dawson, was the IBO and WBC Light Heavyweight champion) and sometimes serves as a boxing color commentator.

In closing, I leave you with his impressions in meeting him as a young boxer:

Well, I’ll tell you:  I met him a few times.  The first time was June of 1990, and he was in Hartford, Connecticut.  He had a cologne, and he was promoting the cologne.  I went to the mall and was going to see him, but the line was like three hours long.  When you see Ali in person — it’s funny for me to think this, but other people have said the same thing — it’s almost like seeing a religious, a biblical figure.  There’s something about him, like an aura around him.  It’s weird; it’s very strange.  And that’s what it was like.

So, I’m standing there in the mall with like 500 people in line, and I went to the head of the line just so I could see him. I was standing there looking at him and all of a sudden, this guy comes up and he asks the security guard next to me where the best fish restaurant was in Hartford.  And I knew right then he was one of Ali’s guys.  I knew they were going to bring him to a fish restaurant that night and I already knew where it was:  It was Capital Fish in Hartford.

So I left the mall and went home.  At 5:00 o’clock, I drove by Capital Fish and I pulled up next door.  And there he was:  I could see him in the back room just sitting there in a private party.  So, I literally just barged in and didn’t ask.  He was with a group of people and he saw me, and he stood up, and he walked around the table.

I don’t know how he knew; maybe one of the people at the table — they were like Hartford politicians and they knew who I was.  Maybe somebody said something. I don’t know, but he walked around the table and he put his hands up like to start shadow boxing.  So, I started shadow boxing with him!  It was just out of the blue, and somebody took pictures.  I have pictures of him and I shadow boxing.  It was crazy!  That was our first interaction:  We just went right into shadow boxing!

Muhammad Ali, at left, shadow boxes John Scully (photo courtesy of John Scully).

Muhammad Ali, at left, shadow boxes John Scully (photo courtesy of John Scully).

So we did that, and then we talked, and he was cool.  His voice was just like a whisper at the time.  And I had my book with me with boxing pictures, and he was looking through it.  It was like my scrapbook. He was looking through it, pointing to different pictures, and then he signed the book.

Let me tell you a funny thing:  I was with a girlfriend at the time. She was with me, and here’s what I thought was unique about Ali:  That day, he had seen between 500 and a thousand people because he was at two malls that day signing autographs.  Each mall was packed, packed, packed! Then, he’d meet people on the street and people everywhere.  The next day, he was going to be at the other mall, so I go.  I’ve already met him, but I just want to go see him.

I waited at the door and I was with the same girl.  His limo pulled up and he walked by us, and as he walked by us, he leaned down to the girl and he whispered to her, “Take good care of him.”  That means he remembered us from the day before, which is pretty amazing.


On What Muhammad Ali Meant to Him

The thing about him for me, I read his book when I was 10 years old and today, I watched the videos.  I almost never watch the videos of him fighting — the boxing.  I watch him talking:  His mindset, the way he stood up to the draft and different things.  I’ll give you an example that nobody ever mentions about Ali.

I read a story and there was a big event. Hollywood stars were there, and I believe it was at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.  And one of the writers there noticed this:  he said Muhammad Ali was the only celebrity out of the hundreds that were there when he walked in, he went over to every single maitre d’, the doorman — all the people who worked there — waitresses, and he shook all their hands.  When he got in and when he left.  He shook all the workers’ hands.  Nobody else thought to do that, and I always thought that was pretty cool.

Let me tell you one more thing:  This one’s a similar thing.  When he was going to court in Houston, Texas in 1967 for the draft, they said he would walk in.  The police officers who were guarding the courthouse — he would walk over and shake their hands when he came in, out of respect.  He was just that type of person, that type of human being.  For being a famous person, he had that regular person mentality.


On Ali’s Shyness when meeting his friend, actress Ali McGraw

Let me tell you one more thing.  Ali McGraw, the actress — I know her and (actor) Ryan O’Neal.  We are friendly.  I talked to her and she said she knew Ali.  She said that she was struck by how shy he was.  And I’d heard that about Ali when he was in private settings away from cameras.  She said that he was very shy and a very sweet person away from the cameras.  And I always remember that.


Muhammad Ali, at right, with the late pop music icon, Prince.

The late Muhammad Ali, at right, with the late pop music icon, Prince — two legends who will sorely be missed!

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