"The wait in the dressing room before a Boxing match -- that last hour -- would be enough to strip a Man that never Boxed before of whatever Pride, Desire and Heart he THOUGHT he had."
- Iceman John Scully
By Ron DiMichele: The fighter has something to say and he wants you to hear it. Maybe that's why the above quote automatically accompanies every email sent out by veteran light-heavyweight Iceman John Scully.
"I've always wanted people to understand what we go through," says Scully. "I hate when people say, 'I would fight Mike Tyson for a million dollars! I'd let him hit me that one time!' When you got to that dressing room, it would be like someone telling you, 'Look, in five minutes someone's going to come in here and put a bullet through your head.' That would be the equivalent of what you would go through. I tell them, 'You wouldn't even make it out of the dressing room, let alone the fight.' And anybody who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves."
The Iceman has walked his talk. A top U.S. amateur at 165 lbs, John Scully of Hartford, CT has compiled a professional record of 38 -11 with 21 knockouts since turning pro in 1988. The one-time New England middleweight champion has been in with the likes of former middleweight and super middleweight belt holder Michael Nunn and fought for the IBF light heavyweight title in 1996.
"Nobody can imagine it," explains Scully. "People have fights in the streets, and these are tough guys. They say, 'I've had a hundred street fights. Boxing won't bother me.' And I say, 'Look, you've had fights in the street on the spur of the moment. And the fight lasted 20 seconds until somebody broke it up or you guys got tired. But if you had to think about it, if you had to walk to the ring...'"
Early in his career, the intensity of the pre-fight dressing room caught Scully by surprise.
"The first time it happens you say, 'I can't believe it. I'm scared. I'm fearful.' You're wondering what's going to happen to you. It's a test in itself."
Scully says that being a veteran fighter stands for more than what has happened in the ring.
"When people say 'experience'... this guy's got a lot of experience. It's not just the fight. This guy's been in the dressing room 35 times as opposed to your 10. He's beat it. He's gotten stronger because of it every time."
Early Spring sunlight shoots through the skylight windows at the San Juan Center boxing gym in downtown Hartford, CT. Both pro and amateur fighters work out, sparring, hitting the mitts with trainers and pounding the heavybags. "Being in the gym is very relaxing," says Scully. "I can box 10 rounds easy in the gym."
But once a fight is signed, there is a mental and emotional progression leading up to the bout.
"Every day it just intensifies and other things in your life become less important. It gets to the point where your whole life revolves around this one particular fight."
According to Scully, a fighter's mental state the night before a fight can depend on his training.
"When I fought Michael Nunn, I was so focused, so sure and so ready, I slept like a baby...Drake Thadzi was probably the worst. I just couldn't lose weight properly. I was weak. I was up all night. It was like going to the electric chair. I was like, 'I'm going to die tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm going to get killed.'
The pre-fight dressing room is the final moment of truth:
"If you're in the dressing room and you realize you skipped days of running, instead of doing 100 sit-ups a day you did 50. It all hits you at that moment. You can't escape it."
Scully says that any honest fighter will tell you there were times he wanted to run out of there.
"Michael Grant said when he fought Lennox Lewis that he had never been more lonely in his entire life than just before that fight. Even though there were people with him in the dressing room, he'd never felt more alone."
John Scully clearly respects all fighters who have passed through the dressing room wait and made that walk out to the ring.
"People made fun of Frank Bruno," says Scully. "When he fought Mike Tyson the second time, they say he did the sign of the cross 36 times between the dressing room and the ring. Now, somebody who never fought, they're going to say, 'Ah, that's a punk! He was scared!' I'm gonna say, 'He was scared, and he still made that walk. He had a good idea of what was going to happen, and he walked out anyway. He walked that green mile.' "
Scully explains that emerging for the ring walk is like jumping off of a diving board. You stand up there for five minutes worrying about the cold water, but once you jump, the time for worry is over.
"It's like, 'I don't wanna do it, I don't wanna do it.' But once you jump. It's like, 'It's too late to worry. I don't have time because I'm going to hit the water in 5 seconds.' It's time to put up or shut up. There's no time to be a baby now."
Why would anyone put himself through the dressing room wringer?
"When you sit in that dressing room, a lot of times all you think about is, 'I don't want to fight anymore, after this fight I'm going to retire. This is crazy; I'm subjecting myself to torture, dying a thousand deaths. Man, I'm not into boxing.' And after the fight, within 2 minutes of the fight ending, all you want to do is fight again. You can't wait until the next fight comes."
Scully compares the fight experience to bungee jumping.
"People that bungee jump. People think they like it, that they're like all excited when they do it. But when they're walking up that ladder, they're thinking the same thing. 'Man, this thing might break. This thing might snap. I might hit my face on the concrete. I might die.' And when they're on the way down, they're like, 'Whoahhhhhhhh!' But when it's over, all they wanna do is do it again. It's a thrill ride."
John Scully currently trains both professional and amateur fighters and continues with his own boxing career. He's looking forward to a likely June match-up with Teddy Atlas-trained Elvir Muriqui. Scully deserves a mountain of credit for talking so openly about his experience in boxing. He pulls no punches in admitting his own fears and comes across as a genuine person with a truckload of heart.
"In the dressing room you realize you're just like everybody else and you're scared. And you realize at the end of it that you're a little more than some other people because you go through with it anyway. That dressing room wait is no joke."