JOHN “THE ICEMAN” SCULLY GIVES HIS THOUGHTS ON THE PASSING OF MUHAMMAD ALI AND REMEMBERS HIM IN & OUT OF THE RING IN THIS EXCLUSIVE TEAM LEFTJAB INTERVIEW
1. Knowing you were a huge Muhammad Ali fan, what ran through your mind when you heard last week that he had passed away?
ICE: I guess I was a bit numb to it. I kind of had a little inside track into the situation through a friend who was in contact with a family member so I knew a day and a half before he passed that he was in worse shape than they were letting on so I was able to prepare myself for a bit longer than some other people were able to. I was also in Montreal getting ready for a fight on ESPN that night so I had to take care of things in that regard. But I definitely spent more than a little time in my hotel room watching the news coverage and I cant’ lie, I also spent some time alone sitting in a private room that day, just thinking about Ali and trying to process the situation.
2. What made you the big Ali fan you are today?
ICE: I read his autobiography when I was 10 years old and every bit of it just stuck with me. I remember everything he said about his fights, about his training and about his mentality. I took a great deal from his book, much of which I’ve carried with me to this day in some form. I still have the actual copy that my father had back then. I could se early on that he wasn’t your average person. He was funny and he was clever and witty and he was a good looking man who had that magnetic way about him where if he was on TV you had to watch and listen. I cannot imagine anyone from that era watching a TV and coming across Ali and changing the channel without at least listening to him for a while first.
3. What rates as your favorite Ali fight?
ICE: Many would immediately say the fight with Cleveland Williams because it was such a perfect performance but for me I point more to the first Liston fight and the first with “Smokin'” Joe Frazier, believe it or not. The first Liston fight was the first fight of his that really captured me and everything about it has always intrigued me. From the prefight press conference to the liniment in Cassius’ eye to the way he came out and speared Sonny with the jab right away all the way to the wild celebration right after they stopped it. Every aspect of it was perfect. One of the three greatest upsets of all time.
As far as the first fight with Joe, most Ali fans wouldn’t pick that one but for me what he showed in the 11th round was as important as anything he’s ever done in a fight. He stood up under some hellacious bombs in that round, especially those huge left hooks with his back to the ropes, as well as a seriously sustained physical attack from Joe that would have crumbled most other men on earth who were as obviously as tired as Ali was in those moments.
Anyone who questions Ali’s toughness, heart and will can only just watch that one single round and how he came through it and all doubts will be immediately erased.
4. Do you consider Ali the greatest fighter of all time or does that title go to Sugar Ray Robinson?
ICE: For me it’s kind of hard to say who was the greatest fighter ever. My thing has always been that, despite what many people who have never even seen the man fight before say, Ray wasn’t always super spectacular enough to be ranked number one. Every fight of his wasn’t a perfect masterpiece of technical brilliance. I suppose on his absolute best nights he could be ranked that highly but by the same token was he better, and if he was, was he a lot better than Ali was against Liston, Patterson, Terrel and Cleveland Williams?? I don’t know if I agree with people who say he was. Was Ray’s best night better than Ali was against those guys? I don’t know. Even the top 10 list of all time. There are at least 30 guys in our history who could qualify for someone’s top 10 list. I can at least say that Muhammad Ali had, with his wins over Liston and Foreman, two of the absolute, no doubt about it, no questions asked, greatest victories of all time.
5. Where does Ali stand as far as being the greatest heavyweight of all time?
ICE: I’d put it like this. If we say who the greatest heavyweight ever is, we’d have to ask who among others would have the best chance to beat all the others? If you were to ask me did Muhammad Ali have the overall game and intangibles to defeat every other heavyweight champion who ever lived? I’d say yes, he did. On his best night and their best night I think he solves them all.
6. Do you consider Ali the best trash talker ever?
ICE: I’d say so. The main reason is because Ali had the perfect blend of comedy and aggression that actually made his trash talk entertaining. Some guys now, they talk trash and people back up because they are afraid an actual fist fight is about to break out but when Ali did it often times even his opponents found themselves laughing at him. When they tried to verbally challenge him they always found themselves outmatched and would either just get mad, they’d get really quiet or they would actually just find themselves laughing out loud at it all. Any way they wanted to do it, he could do it and you never ever saw anyone out talk him. Never. He knew how to shut people down verbally and mentally and that takes a whole mot more than just being able to say mean stuff or funny stuff. It took the perfect timing of an actor or a comedian and I’ve never seen anyone with it like Muhammad Ali had it.
7. How do you feel Ali would be received if he was in his prime in 2016? Would the fans love him or look at him like they did Floyd Mayweather?
ICE: I think he would be the most well received boxer in history and I have always believed that. The main reason would be that Ali was so much different than any other boxer in our sports entire history. He was fun. He brought an accessibility that no athlete before or since has ever brought. He also brought fun to the press conference, the weigh-in, the fight and the post fight. Other than a couple times with Joe (Frazier) and Terrell, it was always a thing where even when he was trash talking he did it in a way that was so endearing and entertaining. I mean, I honestly think that every guy he fought other than Joe, really actually liked him at the time they fought him. I think even Liston found him amusing. I even remember seeing a picture of Muhammad and Ken Norton chasing each other in boxing trunks in the outfield of Yankee Stadium before their fight. Can you imagine Mike and Lennox or Evander chasing each other laughing like kids through the grass before they fought? No way
8. The biggest fantasy matchup is of course a prime Mike Tyson vs a prime Muhammad Ali..who wins that fight?
ICE: I love Mike Tyson and I think in his prime, his speed, punching angles and head movement gives him a shot at absolutely anyone, even oversized monsters like the Klitschkos. The thing about Ali, though, is that he was equally as fast, could move well, punch in combination and, especially, his mental strength and apparent fearlessness would win out over 15 rounds against Mike. The main thing, though, is that Ali would have ten or eleven weeks to trash talk Mike at press conferences and in print interviews. More than two months of convincing Mike that he wasn’t afraid, that he was supremely confident of victory. He would tell him how it would happen. Obviously comparison could naturally be made to the fight with Buster as proof but style wise and mentality wise there as also fights with Blood Green and Quick Tillis that showed the possibilities for the best of Ali to get it done. Blood really tied Mike up pretty easily round after round and no one knew how to tie up heavyweights better than Ali. Quick Tillis had success at times in going the distance with keeping Mike busy with combinations and nobody kept you busier with fast hands and punches in bunches than Ali at his best.
There is also the chin factor. Ali unfortunately had to prove his chin and his recovery abilities more than a few times and he never failed. Even as a relic of a man at age 38 against Holmes. Larry can say he was taking it easy on Ali and trying to carry him but, seriously, I can watch that fight and most definitely show you moments where Larry looked to be trying as hard as he could to get Ali out of there, showing no mercy at all, and he just couldn’t do it.
9. You have met Ali a few times…what memories do you have on those occasions?
ICE: I’ve been in Ali’s presence a total of four times and each time was memorable, of course. The main time, though, was in June of 1990 when I met him while he was eating in a private room at a restaurant in downtown Hartford. I knew he was going to be there and I literally just showed up and walked right in unannounced into the backroom where he was eating with his wife and some Hartford area dignitaries. The man had spent literally all day at a mall sitting in a chair signing autographs and taking photos with over one thousand people and here it was that night at around 9pm, he’s trying to eat a private and quiet dinner and here I come, unannounced, barging in with my scrapbook in my hand for him to sign. So what does he do? His very first reaction to me doing that? He stand up, walks around the table and puts his hands up in a fighting pose, letting me know he wants to shadow box with me. And that’s what we did for about a full minute while someone there took pictures. Then he took my scrapbook from the table and looked through it and commented on certain articles and pictures.
Muhammad Ali was literally everything I had ever expected he would be.
10.Will you be attending Ali’s funeral?
ICE: I have been looking into flights and the first one I looked at cost almost $1,200 dollars. I’m looking into the overall situation because literally my whole life as a boxer I have always said that when this day came I would go to it but now I’m hearing that tickets to the funeral and events are already sold out, the plane fare is really high and hotels and car rentals might be an issue. I am still hopeful to work it out but there is also the fact that I already have reservations set at the International boxing Hall of Fame in New York. It will be a very tight schedule but if I can work it out I definitely will. If not, I have a friend in Tennessee who will meet me there in a month or so so that we can visit the gravesite together. This week or some other day, I will get there, that’s a definite.