Sucking Weight: "Ex-Lax is the last resort" - Iceman John Scully

10.14.04 - By Ron DiMichele: The battle a fighter endures in the boxing ring is often preceded by a more private struggle outside the ropes -the battle of the scales. A boxer, seeking to optimize punching power, will fight in the lowest weight division possible without sacrificing strength or stamina. This principle is only superseded when a fighter, chasing greater glory or heftier paychecks, moves up to campaign at a higher weight. The effort to make weight - shed enough pounds to fall within the strict limits of a weight class; is a constant training struggle for many fighters. Only the heavyweights, with no upper weight limit to their division, are spared the rigors of 'sucking weight.'

Former light-heavyweight contender John Scully, known to his fans as ‘Iceman,’ is a veteran of 49 professional bouts and an extensive amateur career. Scully turned pro in 1988 at the 160 lb middleweight limit. His last fight was in June of 2001 at the 175lb light-heavyweight limit. He knows the ordeal of making weight and emphasizes that ‘sucking weight’ is different from ‘losing weight.’

“When you say ‘sucking weight’ you’re not just losing weight. You’re losing those last few [pounds]. In other words, if you fight 160 and you’re training and you come in at 163, and the fight’s two days away, then you’re sucking off three pounds. So that’s what it is, the last few. A guy in that situation will say, ‘Man, I can get down to 163 no problem. But the last 3, I really got to suck ‘em off.’ That’s what it means.”

It’s not unusual for a fighter’s ‘walking around’ weight to be 10, 20, even 30 lbs above his fighting weight. Dropping that much poundage in a six-week training camp can be a tall order. As the weigh-in date approaches, each passing day places added
pressure on the fighter to get down to weight.

“I have what they call a phobia of the scale,” says John Scully, “And fighters laugh about it. Otis Grant [super middleweight contender]. I’ll tell you what Otis once said. He’s like, ‘Hey, what do you weigh?’ I say, ‘Ah, I haven’t weighed myself in a while.’ And he started laughing and he goes, ‘Oh, you got the phobia.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, man.’ Fighters don’t WANNA know. You’re hoping that you’re light.”

A fighter prefers to drop weight through conventional means: sparring, skipping rope, roadwork, diet, calisthenics.

“Generally you don’t want to run a lot,” says Iceman. “As a fighter, you don’t want to run every single day and wear your legs out. If you’re making weight, sucking weight, unfortunately you’re going to have to run even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re peaked and you know you’re fighting in three days and all you want to do is rest your body and prepare to fight, you can’t do it. You gotta run or chew gum and spit.”

‘Spitting,’ a common weight-sucking technique, involves just that, sitting and repeatedly spitting. Chewing gum is used to increase saliva production. According to Scully, several hours of spitting helps a fighter drop a few pounds.

Drastic measures are not a fighter’s first choice. They are a last ditch effort. Any fighter knows weighing-in heavy can negate a contract, jeopardize a fight, and cancel a paycheck. So when conventional methods aren’t cutting it, he may try a more radical route.

In August of 1998, John Scully faced tough Drake Thadzi in a light -heavyweight contest in Boston. Ice entered training camp at 198 and worked hard. He avoided the scale during camp, but felt on pace for 175, maybe even ‘skinny.’ The weigh-in, as is
customary in Massachusetts, was held the day of the fight. The day before the weigh-in, Scully stopped at the gym and got on the scale: 183 1/2. Eight and a half pounds over for a fight the next day.

“I slammed it and told my trainer I thought he did it wrong.” The trainer assured Scully he had done it right. He weighed 183½.

"Man, what am I supposed to do? The fight's tomorrow?" The trainer said, ‘Do the best you can.’

“He said he just meant lose a couple of pounds and he would work it out at the weigh-in,” explains Scully. “Now from my amateur days, ‘Doing the best I can meant sitting in the sauna all night, jumping rope [in the sauna], shadow boxing in the bathroom with the hot water turned on. That type of thing. Not eating or drinking. Everything.”

Scully did the best he could and weighed in the next day at 174. Now he WAS skinny…and his skin had turned green. Later that evening, John Scully suffered the only stoppage loss of his entire career, amateur or pro, when the referee called a halt to the contest in the seventh round. Amazingly, he had made weight; but paid a huge price.

"...When I fought Thadzi I was taking Ex-Lax," explains Scully. "You know, trying to lose the weight like that. Losing all the fluids. But it's not good because the release all your electrolytes, minerals, everything. Ex-Lax is a last ditch effort.”

When sucking weight for a fight, Scully would put on a rubber suit or hooded sweatshirt and sit in a steam room for 20, 30, 40 minutes, as much as he could stand. Or grease himself up with Abolene and sit on the toilet, spitting, while the hot water ran in the shower.

“I remember when I fought Billy Bridges and I actually won the fight. It was a 10-rounder on ESPN in Atlantic City. But I was losing weight so bad I made myself sick. I was vomiting all night before the fight. The next morning at the weigh-in I was sitting against the wall and I was just waiting to weigh-in. I was so tired and weak. And what I remember about that was that night on ESPN Al Bernstein was like, ‘You know, John Scully was very serious at the weigh-in this morning. He was very focused.’ And what he didn’t know was that I was sick to death and I was trying to hide it!”

The struggle to make weight can taint a fighter’s view of the sport.

"When I was close to a fight, I hated boxing," says John Scully. "I can't think of how many times I said, 'This is my last fight. I'm quitting after this.' You know? Obviously after the fight you change your mind.”

When a fighter is reeling from sucking weight, his competitive fire can wane and his confidence level suffer.

"You know, a lot of times when you read interviews with guys,” says Scully. “People don't realize it's several days before the fight. They feel good. It's before they've sucked weight. If you interviewed him now [at fight time], he wouldn't say the same thing he said 3 days ago. Maybe he wouldn't say, 'I'm gonna be all over him.' Maybe he'd be like, 'Well, I'm gonna do the best I can.' "

Statistics lie. A boxing commentator lauding a fighter’s weight advantage may be misleading. John Scully tells us why.

"When you watch a fight on HBO and they say, 'Alright, Bob here, he weighed 160 yesterday at the weigh-in and tonight he weighed 173. The guy that gains a lot of weight in a short period of time? That's the guy whose body's been starving for fluids. Or if you got a guy and he weighs 60 [160 lbs] and then a day later he weighs only 62. That means he probably made 60 pretty comfortably. Because even after eating and gorging himself and all that, his weight was still the same. That's pretty much close to his walking around weight. The guy that goes [up] 15 lbs in one day, that's the guy that really forced himself to make it. It’s [the weight advantage] negated because he probably spent the last 2 weeks forcing himself to get down to 59 so he wore his muscles out.”

When a fighter can’t make weight, or a heavyweight suddenly balloons, the trainer will often claim the increase in weight has improved the fighter’s punching power. Nonsense, says Scully.

"Trainers are the biggest liars. Second to fighters. Fighters are the biggest, trainers are the second biggest. You never have a trainer say, ‘Man, this guy, my guy, he really shouldn't be fighting this weight. The [other] guy's probably twice as strong as him.' He's never going to say that! He's always like, 'Oh, the weight is great!' Then after the fight everybody spills out the truth. The truth comes pouring out.”

Fighters need a proper, balanced diet. While sucking weight, a fighter may forgo food, even liquids. Once he’s past the weigh-in, he’ll look to regain the nourishment. John Scully shares a diet tip he received from one of New England's better known scrappers.

"Normally I used to eat very well. As soon as the weigh-in was over my theory was go put very good healthy stuff in you until the fight. Boiled chicken, rice, you know, no junk food or anything like that. And it's funny, for one fight I fought Scott Lopeck on ESPN and Vinny Paz...I was telling HIM that and he goes, 'Aw man, after the weigh-in go eat pizza. Eat whatever you want. Get some fat in you. Get some fat in your system. You'll feel stronger. It'll be like jumpstarting your body.' And I said, 'Man...I'm gonna try it.' And after I weighed in for Scott Lopeck that's what I did. I went and ate pizza and ice cream.
And then I had whatever else I had. And in that fight I actually got stronger as the fight went on and I stopped him in the 7th round."

On the day of the fight, a boxer eats with the bout in mind.

"If the first bell was ten," says Scully. "I’d usually eat no later than four, four-thirty. And then around five-thirty or six I would drink some water. It’s probably healthy enough to eat later, but it's my own personal thing. I'd rather be leaning towards empty than full. I don't want to have any food in my stomach when I go in the ring.

"Most guys eat probably whatever they want. Me, I always go easy. I would never eat fried foods or soda. I always feel that soda affects my stomach. I'm always thinking of body shots. Before I eat something I think, 'If I eat this, will it affect me if I take bad body shots? Will it hurt me?' And soda definitely in my mind will hurt me. I'll eat a little bit of pasta, and steak and potatoes. A lot of water. Stuff like that."

The weigh-in is the showpiece of the pre-fight ritual. When a fighter strips down and climbs on the scale, it’s the first public indication of his preparedness for the fight. Ideally, a fighter works out and naturally makes weight. But sometimes, that’s just not the way he‘s going to make it.

“I wish I could have,” laughs John Scully. “For me personally and for a lot of fighters, man, I wish I could have.”

Ron DiMichele's email:

Article posted on 14.10.2004

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