Rocky Balboa is one of the most iconic film characters in Hollywood history, starring in numerous movies since his debut in 1976. What is the story behind the “Italian Stallion”?
“Rocky Balboa” is the sixth film starring Rocky Balboa, a fictional boxer from Philadelphia. The first “Rocky” film was inspired by Chuck Wepner, who almost went the distance with Muhammad Ali in 1975, and his name and style were lifted from the undefeated heavyweight Rocky Marciano.
For more on Rocky Balboa and his possible inspirations, read on.
Sylvester Stallone, at the time a struggling actor, was inspired to write “Rocky” after watching a heavyweight championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner on March 24, 1975. Wepner, a considerable underdog, almost went the distance with Ali but was eventually defeated by TKO with 19 seconds remaining in the 15th round.
Stallone, who was allegedly so that he was forced to sell his dog (who later starred in the film as Butkus), locked himself inside for three days and wrote a first draft of “Rocky”.
The movie tells the story of Rocky Balboa, an underachieving boxer from Philadelphia who seems content to fight at his local gym while also working as muscle for the mob. His name and boxing style is inspired by Rocky Marciano.
Apollo Creed, the dominant heavyweight champion, is informed that his challenger is injured and he needs to find a new opponent, with no obvious replacement. Creed decides to offer the opportunity to an unknown local fighter and selects Rocky.
The film, in contrast to some of its sequels, focuses on personal interaction and character drama. Rocky’s tumultuous relationship with his best friend, Paulie, his romance with Paulie’s shy sister, Adrian, and his mentorship by Mickey Goldmill, a retired boxer, are foundations for the rest of the “Rocky” series.
The scene where Mickey, who owns Rocky’s local boxing gym, offers to train Rocky for his fight with Creed, is one of the film’s finest. Mickey sees Rocky as his final opportunity to train a successful fighter and is angry at Rocky for squandering his potential, while Rocky is resentful towards Mickey for not having encouraged him to better himself.
“Rocky” won multiple awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay but ultimately missed out.
There is a sense of the autobiographical for Stallone throughout the series. “Rocky” finds him struggling and desperate to prove his worth, “Rocky II” depicts him dealing with newfound fame and achieving success, “Rocky III” shows him needing to rediscover his true self, “Rocky IV” is concerned with the Cold War and “Rocky V” has him trying (and arguably failing) to adapt to the 1990s.
“Rocky Balboa”, released in 2006, 16 years after 1990’s “Rocky V”, echoes the first film in many ways. Rocky, now in his 60s and a widower, is struggling to come to terms with his retirement.
After seeing a computer simulation of himself defeating the current champion, Mason Dixon (portrayed by real boxing champion Antonio Tarver), Rocky is approached about stepping back into the ring for an exhibition fight.
Ironically, this simulation was also inspired by Muhammad Ali, who fought Rocky Marciano in 1970’s fictional “The Super Fight”, with the result determined via computer simulation.
Rocky, no longer harboring championship aspirations, wants to go the distance with Dixon, as he had with Creed thirty years earlier. He accomplishes this and leaves the ring before the decision, a loss, is even announced.
He returned to the role a decade later in 2015’s “Creed” and its sequel, “Creed II”, which are both sequels and spin-offs from the “Rocky” series. The “Creed” series sees Rocky coaching Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed.
Stallone received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Rocky, for Best Supporting Actor, but again missed out.