By Ryan Watt
For many casual boxing fans, a majority of their exposure to the sport has come from movies. The most famous of these movies are in the now 8 film long Rocky series. For this Boxing TLDR feature, our intern Watt will be breaking down each of these films for us looking at the quality of the films, their various boxing merits, and real life parallels. This is:
Today’s Film: Rocky II (1979)
Its claim to “The most electrifying rematch in motion picture history” would later be usurped by the Eden Hall Varsity vs JV game concluding D3: The Mighty Ducks
The film picks up literally where the previous film left off after Apollo Creed’s 15 round split decision victory over Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and Carl Weathers (Apollo) even spend the first 20 min in heavy makeup depicting their injuries from the first film’s fight.
Rocky Balboa looking more like Rocky Dennis
Rocky apparently suffered a detached retina that threatens permanent blindness so he declines a rematch from Creed. In fact he decides to retire from professional boxing all together and settle down to start a family with his girlfriend Adrian. As may have been foreshadowed by the existence of 6 additional Rocky films, this retirement does not last long. Despite concerns for his health, a wife falling into and out of a coma, and a newborn son to care for, Rocky is eventually goaded back into the ring by an Apollo Creed determined to prove the close first fight was a fluke.
In an effort to protect his damaged eye, Rocky decides to fight right handed rather than his usual southpaw. This proves to be disastrous for Balboa as much of the edge he had in the first fight was due to his unorthodox stance. He is knocked down repeatedly in the first two rounds. Just as Apollo set out to do, he makes it very evident that Rocky is leagues below him in terms of boxing prowess. Despite Balboa’s strong chin keeping him upright for the next several rounds, Creed continues to rack up points on the judges’ cards by delivering clean shots right to Rocky’s face. After definitively winning at least 12 of the first 14 rounds, Creed ignores the advice of his trainer and decides to trade final round haymakers with Balboa rather than avoiding him and getting the easy decision victory. This proves to be a fatal error as Balboa switches back to his traditional stance and delivers powerful blows to Creed who is frankly exhausted from turning Rocky’s face to ground beef. A final desperation punch from Balboa results in a rare but always entertaining double knockdown. Both fighters struggle using the ropes to hoist themselves back to their feet prior to the 10 count but only Rocky succeeds and wins the title.
Sequels are not just the norm in Hollywood as rematches are a staple of the fight game. This is especially common when the first fight proves entertaining or has a surprising finish, both being the case with the previous Rocky film’s title fight. I’ll use Muhammad Ali as a frame of reference because he is likely the most known fighter to casual fans but also because he served as Stallone’s basis for the creation of Apollo Creed. In his career Ali fought Joe Fraizer and Ken Norton three times as well as Sonny Liston back to back after “shocking the world” and taking the title off him in 1964. In fact, a fairly washed Ali lost his WBA and WBC Heavyweight Championships to Leon Spinks in split decision only to reclaim them from him just 7 months later the year prior to Rocky II’s release.
This tradition of running a fight back continues to be a lucrative draw to this day. Avid readers of the Boxing TLDR newsletter will recall the 2017 and 2018 GGG and Canelo middleweight title fights with the first ending in a controversial draw and Canelo taking the second in an even more controversial decision.
Boxing sequels also get cheesy posters
An additional plot point of the film is Rocky’s struggle to read. This comes into play when he tries to cash in on his newfound fame and get some of that sweet endorsement money (Shout-out to George Foreman Grills for bringing tasty grilled meats to a dorm room near you). Unfortunately years of taking blows to the head in bingo halls and English not being a subject of emphasis in the Philadelphia School of Hard Knocks make deciphering cue cards quite the ordeal. This may have be another anecdote cribbed from the career of Muhammad Ali who had dyslexia and struggled with reading and writing.
Casual fight fans may also be aware of Floyd Mayweather’s similar struggles against his own adult illiteracy. Mayweather is fairly uneducated, having not completed high school just like a number of champion boxers before him such as Mike Tyson and the aforementioned Foreman and Frazier. Mayweather dropped out of school to focus on his fight training, as it was seen as a more viable means of economic success. There are some very interesting discussion to be had about socioeconomic factors intertwined throughout the history of boxing but this is a recap of a lesser Rocky sequel so we’ll leave that for elsewhere.
This movie is slow moving clocking in at two hours even and only featuring the one fight. This is perhaps the most soap opera like Rocky film, incorporating both wedding and coma subplots. The training montage in the film is more or less just an extended version of the previous film’s. This time Rocky is inexplicably joined by dozens of children on his morning jog. It is by no means the worst film in the series (stay tuned for the Rocky V rundown) or even particularly bad, but it is likely the least memorable and rewatchable entry in the series.
Unlike later sequels that get progressively more outlandish, Rocky II plays it pretty straight. Goofy makeup aside, the film does attempt to display the immense toll a heavyweight championship fight puts on the body. Both fighters begin the film in the hospital and Rocky’s future career is threatened. Additionally a key component of the motivation for Rocky returning to the ring for the rematch is the financial straits he finds himself in due to mismanaging his money and struggling to find work outside of the ring. This unfortunately ends up being the case for a number of athletes in the twilight of their careers, boxing being no exception. Ali would even coincidentally announce his own retirement shortly after the release of the film only to find himself strapped for cash and stepping back into the ring for a doomed from the start 1980 bout against Larry Holmes.
The in-ring action is again fairly absurd with each punch sounding like a sledgehammer to a side of beef along with some very obviously missing. However there are a few slow motion shots where Stallone clearly agreed to actually get clocked, albeit clearly not at full force. The fight choreography itself is a bit lacking. Despite Creed being sold as a far more technically sound boxer, both fighters throw fairly wildly with no real technique and little thought given to depicting meaningful combinations. These are two actors mostly pretending to punch each other and they don’t do much in terms of speed or precision to sell you otherwise.