EYE OF THE TIGER

Matt Boteat, like pretty much ev­ery­one, loves Redo, Bal­boa. He ex­am­ines the his­tory of the ev­er­green fran­chise, re­lives each of the films and rates them along­side each other

Boxing News - - Contents -

Re­liv­ing and rat­ing the much-loved Rocky films – all eight of them

THE LOSS GOES UN­NO­TICED. BAL­BOA JUST WANTS TO TELL HIS GIRL THAT HE LOVES HER

TO mil­lions, Rocky means Bal­boa rather than Mar­ciano or Graziano. More than that, it means a fight­ing spirit, a be­lief that if you never give up, you will get your re­wards.

Had Stal­lone made his de­ci­sion to re­tire Rocky af­ter the suc­cess of the first film way back in 1976, we would have been spared the fight that ended the Cold War and his come­back when he was in his fifties, but also de­prived of the end­ing to Rocky II.

How much good the films did for box­ing is de­bat­able.

They cre­ated lots of in­ter­est in the heavy­weight divi­sion – al­beit not the real heavy­weight divi­sion – at a time when ‘The Lost Gen­er­a­tion’ were pass­ing the belts around and the pub­lic had no idea who the heavy­weight cham­pion was. FA­MOUSLY, Stal­lone, a strug­gling ac­tor at the time, got the idea for Rocky while watch­ing Muham­mad Ali de­fend his heavy­weight ti­tles against Chuck Wep­ner in 1975.

That was a fight con­sid­ered so one sided, Al Braver­man, Wep­ner’s man­ager, could only say in its de­fence: “The whole world’s a mis­match.” The fight lived down to its billing. Stal­lone watched “The Bay­onne Bleeder”, wrongly cred­ited with a ninth round knock­down, hit by punch af­ter punch un­til he was res­cued 15 se­conds from the end.

Still, the moral vic­tory was Wep­ner’s, and Stal­lone was in­spired.

Bal­boa’s Ital­ian her­itage was an ob­vi­ous nod to Mar­ciano and oth­ers saw sim­i­lar­i­ties with Gus Do­razio, a Philadel­phia street thug who came from nowhere to chal­lenge Joe Louis for the heavy­weight ti­tle in 1941 and was dis­patched by a sec­ond round right hand.

There were ru­mours Do­razio, later im­pris­oned for sec­ond­de­gree mur­der af­ter beat­ing a man to death and ac­cused of much more, had thrown the fight and orig­i­nally, Stal­lone toyed with a sim­i­lar end­ing to Rocky.

Stal­lone in­stead de­cided Bal­boa would be one of the good guys, a rough di­a­mond too nice to break thumbs for the lo­cal loan shark who em­ployed him. So nice was Bal­boa, he didn’t want to of­fend his op­po­nents by mak­ing them miss with punches. He was a south­paw who walked in with his hands down and took ev­ery punch flush.

The script took only three days to write and Stal­lone was of­fered $360,000 for it. De­spite only hav­ing $106 in the bank, he de­clined, say­ing he wanted to play Bal­boa in the movie – and it made him a star.

Movie buffs – and ro­man­tics – will The films in­spired many, but ev­ery fight in ev­ery film was bloody and sav­age, ev­ery cor­ner man brave, ev­ery ref­eree de­void of com­pas­sion. They weren’t so much prize fights as vir­tual fights to the death. Bal­boa won his fights with his heart, not much more, and some box­ers weren’t keen on that. One for­mer cham­pion told me: “You can’t be a boxer tak­ing that many punches,” and re­sented the idea that mus­cle won fights rather than tech­nique. Then there was his lack of in­tel­li­gence. In Rocky II, Bal­boa lost an ad­ver­tis­ing job be­cause he couldn’t read the au­tocue. There was a feel­ing among at least one fighter I spoke to that Rocky re­in­forced stereo­types of box­ers be­ing big and dumb and sus­cep­ti­ble to ma­nip­u­la­tion. Per­haps, but mil­lions rooted for him and there was a time when Bal­boa was pos­si­bly the most fa­mous boxer on the planet – even though he didn’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist. tell you Rocky is more a love story than a box­ing story. The al­co­holic Paulie (Burt Young), a worker at the lo­cal meat fac­tory, wanted some­one to take painfully shy sis­ter Adrian (Talia Shire) off his hands and Rocky set about win­ning her over with an end­less sup­ply of fee­ble jokes. Paulie’s place of work was the set­ting for one of film’s iconic scenes. Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) trainer looked star­tled – too star­tled – as he watched Rocky pound car­casses as part of his train­ing for his shot at life time. There are bet­ter mo­ments than that. There’s Bal­boa and Mickey (Burgess Mered­ith, pic­tured on fac­ing page) swap­ping ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­man­age­ment and wasted tal­ent and the awk­wardly sweet courtship of Rocky and Adrian. Bal­boa got his shot at Creed – who’s ba­si­cally Muham­mad Ali – af­ter Mack Green was ruled out. He was the “nov­elty” Creed was look­ing for, “The Ital­ian Stal­lion”, a moniker Creed de­lighted in rolling around his mouth. Ac­knowl­edg­ing he has no chance of beat­ing Creed, Bal­boa in­stead set him­self the tar­get of be­com­ing the first fighter to last the dis­tance with the for­mi­da­ble cham­pion. The film’s open­ing fight scene was lu­di­crously vi­o­lent, with Bal­boa try­ing to pum­mel Spi­der Rico through the can­vas, and the Creed fight is 15 rounds of the same. It in­cludes Bal­boa scor­ing a knock­down with the first punch he lands, then be­ing dropped him­self and hav­ing his eyes bat­tered shut but ral­ly­ing to break Creed’s ribs. The an­nounce­ment that Creed has kept his belts by split de­ci­sion goes un­no­ticed by Bal­boa. He just wants to find his girl and tell her that he loves her.

Pho­tos: TOM HO­GAN/HIGANPHOTOS/GOLDEN BOY

ROCKY (1976)

TRUE LOVE: Rocky and Adrian em­brace [be­low]

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