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 (1976)
Heavyweight Champion of the World Apollo Creed’s opponent pulls out of their title fight scheduled for the American Bicentennial in Philadelphia due to injury. With the fight just 5 weeks away, Creed is hard pressed to find an available contender willing to take the fight. In a move Garrity would deem a farcical p.r. stunt making a mockery of the sport of boxing, Creed decides to fight unheralded local boxer Rocky Balboa (portrayed by Sylvester Stallone) on the scheduled date in order to maintain his payday and allow him to utilize his already purchased American flag trunks. Balboa, who is given $150k for the fight enabling him to take time off from his day job breaking limbs as an enforcer for a local loan shark, trains intensely for the bout, running up museum steps and doing all manner of pushups. Meanwhile, Creed putzes around collecting endorsement checks and doing interviews. Spurred on by the encouragement of his shy and possibly on the spectrum girlfriend Adrian, her definitely alcoholic brother Paulie, and his surly new trainer former 72-1 bantamweight Mickey Goldmill, Rocky manages to go the full 15 rounds with Creed and prove he’s not just some bum. Balboa loses the fight but in a precursor to participation trophy culture, gets the girl and is cheered as a hero anyway.
Balboa takes a vicious headbutt in the 2nd round that only angers him leading into a frenzied throwing of wild haymakers. He wins by a probably illegal KO as he reigns blows down on an already knocked down Rico. This fight takes place in what appears to be a church bingo hall and directly proceeds Rocky agreeing to a title fight.
Balboa comes out relatively strong and scores a surprise 1st round knockdown. After that Creed more or less puts Rocky’s slow footed ass through a meat grinder. Creed scores a knockdown in the 14th and forces Rocky to have his eyebrow sliced by his cutman before the final round in an effort to reduce swelling so he can even see.
In the end, Rocky survives all 15 rounds of the bout but Creed wins a split decision 8:7, 7:8, and 9:6. I’m not sure which fight the 7:8 judge was watching or if Rocky did much better in the rounds they didn’t show, because Balboa swings wildly throughout and blocks most of Creed’s punches with his face.
Muhammad Ali coming off his historic and draining Rumble in the Jungle victory over consumer grill salesman George Foreman, fought relative unknown Chuck Wepner for what he thought would be an easy pay day. Wepner, a respectable but unimpressive 30-9-2 at the time, was a journeyman slugger known best for bleeding profusely in losses to the aforementioned Foreman and Sonny Liston. This propensity for eating punches and leaking all over the canvas earned him the nickname, “The Bayonne Bleeder.”
Guess Which One He Is
However, what Ali did not account for was the big ticket fight’s substantial $100k pay day enabling Wepner to partake in a full time training camp for the first time in his career. Wepner would show up in the best shape of his life to face an uninterested and visibly out of shape Ali. Just as Rocky would later do (likely because struggling actor Sylvester Stallone was watching the fight and stole the story almost wholesale for his screenplay), Wepner made it all the way to the 15th and final round before taking a TKO in the final seconds of the bout.
Rocky won 3 Academy Awards including Best Picture in 1976 and still holds up today as one of the finest sports films ever made. The story is great, the music is phenomenal, it features some award worthy acting and it more or less invented the training montage that would become mandatory for any underdog sports story. For my money, it’s Raging Bull and then Rocky when it comes to ranking boxing motion pictures.
As mentioned, most of the story was inspired directly by Ali vs Wepner, and is relatively grounded. It does feature some more outlandish flourishes, perhaps most famously Rocky training for the fight by punching slabs of beef in a meat locker. The boxing action itself is not the most technically sound to say the least, and all the punches that land sound like bullwhips. But in his portrayal of Creed, Carl Weathers does his best to capture some of the speed and in ring charisma of Ali. Also of note, Stallone is wearing lifts much of the movie and very visibly like 5’8 tops so he likely would not be in a heavyweight bout.