JOHN “ICE” SCULLY last fought professionally in 2001. Today he is part of IBF light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev’s training team and boxing remains the biggest passion in his life. The 52-year-old continues to train and spar, because he still can and he enjoys it, but he’s aware of the tricks that such activity can play on an ageing mind. Scully seeks out regular medical examinations to monitor the health of his brain and body and, importantly, he is well aware of his limits. Here he reveals his thoughts to Boxing News about the problems that could face Nigel Benn as the British legend prepares to return to boxing at the age of 55 and after a 23-year layoff.
Nigel Benn this week announces his comeback at the age of 55. What is your view on boxers fighting at that age?
This may come as a surprise to some who know or follow me, but I am not a fan of it. Not at that age. Especially after such a long layoff. I believe it is impossible to improve your physical abilities to a point where you can do the things you were able to do so many years ago. If you can’t be at least what and who you were at your best then what are you really doing? I, for the life of me, cannot imagine trying to fight a professional fight knowing full well that it is not possible to be anything close to who you once were.
You continue to spar long after you retired. Would success you had in sparring ever convince you to come back now?
There were times over the last 10 years or so where I would be sparring with great success and feeling my old self in there with particular people. Sometimes I’d be sparring a much younger guy and I’d be very sharp on both offence and defence, and it would creep into my mind that maybe I could really come back if I wanted to. But on the flip side, I’ve always been a student of the game and I’ve always paid attention to the course of things throughout history. I’ve seen more than enough cases where situations like this end very badly, and to much more accomplished guys than myself, too. I came to terms several years ago with the fact that the gym and real fights are two very different places. At this point in my life I am more than satisfied having some success in the gym only.
Can you ‘con’ yourself into believing you’re better than you are at an advanced age?
I believe 100 per cent that boxers can convince themselves that they can turn the hands of time back on their own clocks. I mean, look, I’ve been in the gym at different points over the last 15 years where I’d had a particularly good day and someone would pull me aside and say something along the lines of, “You know, you look very sharp. You know you could fight again if you wanted to!”
But, again, you’ve always got to keep your eyes on history and the mistakes even the greatest names we’ve known have made in the past. One of my main things is this: If you can’t be as good or fast or strong as you were on your best days then why put yourself in that type of position when you are much more vulnerable on a physical and mental level? Boxing is hard enough at your very best. No man was ever better in his 40s or 50s than he was in his 20s and 30s. Maybe calmer and more measured and somewhat more intelligent but certainly not faster, sharper, stronger with better punch resistance.
I’d assume that anyone coming back to boxing after such a long layoff would do so with thoughts and hopes that he could be something like he used to be.
What are the biggest dangers to a boxer coming back after so long out of the ring?
My main idea about the dangers would be that fact that I don’t believe it is even humanly, physiologically possible to be better, sharper or faster or have better reflexes in your 50s than you had in your 20s. So right out of the gate you are entering with certain disadvantages that simply cannot be overlooked. I also know that you’re not going to have a better chin at a later age. Your testosterone and your drive will naturally be decreased as well. They’re all scientific and medical facts.
What makes a 55-year-old former fighter want to come back?
I think the more time that passes, the more that clock ticks, people start to feel like the hour glass is truly is running out and sometimes people get a sense of urgency in them. They think about it and weigh up the possibilities and the more that glass runs low, the more in a hurry they become. They feel like if they are going to do it, they’ve got to do it as quickly as possible. They miss the limelight, the money, the gym camaraderie, they miss the idea that they were once a well-regarded fighter on the world stage similar to the guys who are here now and have taken their place.
If fit enough, should a 55-year-old be allowed to fight or should that decision be taken out of their hands?
I was always a fan of Nigel Benn and I enjoyed very nice conversations with him in Las Vegas back in 2012 so I mean no offence, but this goes for anyone else in the game who has these ideas.
I can understand if this is a one-time thing where you want to get that one last hurrah, you want to experience the thrill just one more time. Then, that’s okay as long as you are deemed fit to be fight by the powers that be.
But any idea that this is going to be an official comeback with intentions of climbing back to the top of the hill to face the youngest and hungriest lions in the world should not be encouraged. No good will come from it. It will only lead to a negative outcome for all involved.
There must be some sort of guidelines to follow. How old is too old? What if a 60-year-old wants to return? Do you let them just because they’re fit? There has to be a cut off.