John Scully couldn’t believe what he had just heard.
The veteran trainer and former light heavyweight contender was watching the first episode of Blood, Sweat and Tears, a piece of ESPN’s shoulder program to promote the light heavyweight union between Artur Beterbiev and Joe Smith Jr., when Smith uttered words that would make for a seemingly irresponsible hardened price fighter.
Opening up about his title win against Maxim Vlasov last April, Smith admitted in the segment that he felt so desperate late in their hard-fought 12-round bout that he told Jerry Capobianco, his head trainer, that he wasn’t sure was when he would finish on his feet.
“There was a point in the fight where I went back in the corner and said to Jerry, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m going to get through this,'” Smith said. “He really gets on my nerves.”
In the end, Smith managed to win a majority decision that gave him the right to claim the 175lb WBO title. After years of arduous work in the gym and a failure in a previous title shot, the former Long Island day laborer was now champion.
It was a heartfelt story, a paean to underdogs everywhere, but for Scully, hearing Smith speak so openly about the vulnerability he felt in the ring against Vlasov was tantamount to waving the white flag.
“Here’s the ultimate for me,” Scully told BoxingScene.com. “If you saw the ESPN special that came out a few weeks ago. Joe said something to the effect that at some point the physical pressure really got to him and it was almost like he wanted to give up. I was surprised. Well that was a mistake.
“He should never have said that. I think Joe made a mistake there. He talked too much.”
Scully, best known as a trainer for his work with former light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, has recently been working as an assistant trainer to Beterbiev, the feared Russian Mauler who calls Montreal home and whose head trainer is local hero Marc Ramsay. Fighters don’t lose to Beterbiev so much as they collapse, collapse – collapse. Smith will look to change that narrative trajectory when he takes on Beterbiev, who holds the IBF and WBC 175-pound titles, in the main event of an ESPN show on Saturday night at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Beterbiev, 37, is hardly the type of fighter who is thought to need a morale boost, but Scully was only too happy to offer his charge an enticing psychological morsel. If Smith felt comfortable venting his insecurities to a competent but hardly exceptional fighter in Vlasov, think, Scully thought, what avenues of mental fragility a putative knockout artist like Beterbiev might lead Smith to?
“I said to him, ‘Hey, we have an advantage that’s insurmountable and self-evident,'” Scully said. “You can’t work on that. You can’t say, ‘I wish I never said that.’ That’s your deep, deep mentality.
“Artur’s mentality is kill, kill, kill. Like pit bulls. You could break a pit bull’s leg and he’ll still fight. I think we have a huge psychological advantage over Joe because now we know he has a crack in that armor. Artur Beterbiev would never, never, never, never say that (give up). He would never feel that. He would never say that, and if he did, he would never admit it. Artur does not have this gene in him. He wouldn’t do that.”
In Beterbiev’s last fight against Marcus Browne in December, the Russian appeared to be in trouble when what was believed to be an accidental head impact opened up a horrific laceration in the middle of his forehead. (Beterbiev disagreed with that assessment, claiming that Browne knew what he was doing.) After a somewhat slow start to the fight, Beterbiev broke Browne and finished off the Staten Island native in the ninth round.
Scully expects a similar scenario from Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) against Smith (28-3, 22 KOs).
“They say pressure bursts pipes,” Scully said. “People get on Artur and you can see it’s almost like they’re being life sucked. The air is sucked from their being. Round after round it gets deeper and deeper and deeper. I think Artur has a strength that’s pretty unusual for a light heavyweight.”