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
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.
TRUE LOVE: Rocky and Adrian embrace [below]