“Early in my acting career I realized the only way I would ever prove myself was to create my own role in my own script. On my 29th birthday, I had $106 in the bank. My best birthday present was a sudden revelation that I had to write the kind of screenplay that I personally enjoyed seeing. I relished stories of heroism, great love, dignity, and courage, dramas of people rising above their stations, taking life by the throat and not letting go until they succeeded. But I had so many ideas in my head, I couldn’t focus on any one. To cheer myself up, I took the last of my entertainment money and went to see the Ali-Wepner fight on closed circuit TV. Chuck Wepner, a battling, bruising club fighter who had never made the big time, was having his shot. It wasn’t at all regarded as a serious battle. But as the fight progressed, this miracle unfolded. He hung in there. People went absolutely crazy. Wepner was knocked out in the 15th and final round, almost lasting the distance. We had witnessed an incredible triumph of the human spirit and we loved it. That night, Rocky Balboa was born.” –Sylvestor Stallone
Rocky Balboa is a small-time boxer who seems to be going nowhere in life, as he works day-in and day-out as a collector for a loan shark and fights in sleazy clubs for low-paid reward, to which Rocky is mocked and smitten that he’s nothing but a ‘bum’, especially, by gym trainer, Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith). At the same time, Rocky unsuccessfully courts Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire), a painfully shy girl with an alcoholic brother, Paulie (Burt Young). But when heavyweight champion of the world Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) chooses Rocky at random as his opponent in an upcoming title fight, Rocky realizes he now has the chance to prove he is not worthless. With Adrianne as his support and Mickey, having a change of heart to becoming his trainer and manager, Rocky fights for the title and more importantly, for his own self-respect.
Soon after proving himself, even with a loss to Apollo Creed, Rocky expects the good life to follow. He marries Adrian and begins spending the money he earned from the match. But after he fails at both endorsements and a series of low-wage jobs, Rocky realizes the only way he can survive is to begin boxing again. Creed, on the other hand, faces criticism from fans over the outcome of the fight. As a result, he taunts Rocky through publicity into a rematch, for which Rocky trains once again with Mickey. In the fifteenth round, Rocky knocks Creed to the ground, falling to the ground himself in the process. Both fighters struggle to get to their feet, but only Rocky is successful. For the first time, Rocky is declared the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
After winning the heavyweight title, Rocky takes advantage of his newfound wealth and fame, appearing in multiple advertisements & television programs, and relishing his new celebrity. After defending the title multiple times, he is prepared to retire, but the #1 contender, James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), challenges Rocky publicly. Rocky, after dealing with Mickey’s heart attack before the fight, is overpowered by the stronger, hungrier Lang and is knocked out in the second round. Mickey passes away after the fight, and old rival Apollo Creed steps in, training Rocky to fight more in Creed’s old style (and in his old Los Angeles gym) and use more guile and skill. In the rematch, Rocky outboxes Lang, tiring the stronger fighter out and eventually knocking him out in the third round. After the fight, Apollo calls in his “favor” for training Rocky, which is a one-on-one match between the two of them with no cameras, no media, just man vs. man in the gym. The film ends as they each throw their first punch.
After winning back the title from Clubber Lang, Rocky decides to spend some time with his family. But a new superfighter from the USSR, Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) has emerged, and challenges Rocky to an exhibition match. Apollo fights instead, and the beating he takes from Drago ends with him dying in Rocky’s arms, still in the ring, as Drago coldly watches. To avenge Apollo, Rocky challenges Drago to a rematch, which is to be held Christmas Day in Moscow. In a montage replete with symbolism, Rocky is shown training in a remote cabin in Siberia with the help of Creed’s old trainer Duke, his brother-in-law Paulie and (eventually) Adrian, doing such exercises as chopping wood, lifting rocks and running in the snow, while Drago is seen in an ultratechnological training facility running on treadmills, utilizing weightlifting machines, and receiving injections. During the fight itself, Rocky takes the worst beating of his life, but refuses to fall, eventually winning over the foreign crowd with his display of courage and determination, and knocks Drago out with seconds left in the final round.
After the fight with Drago, Rocky Balboa is diagnosed with brain damage and is forced to retire from the ring. As if that isn’t bad enough, the Balboa fortune is all gone due to an unscrupulous accountant. Rocky’s family returns back to their old neighborhood: Adrian returns to the pet store she used to work at, Rocky Jr. (in a subplot) deals with bullying at the local high school and Rocky reopens Mickey’s old gym. He meets a boxer named Tommy Gunn (played by real-life fighter Tommy Morrison) and begins training him. Unfortunately, a sleazy fight promoter named George Washington Duke convinces Tommy that Rocky is holding him back, and Tommy throws over Rocky for Duke. After Tommy wins the heavyweight championship, he makes a short speech thanking Duke, and is met with jeers and the familiar chant of “Rocky” from the crowd. Seething from this insult, as well as being called “Rocky’s Robot” in the papers, Tommy decides to seek out his former mentor for a final showdown. Rocky starts to walk away from the public challenge, but Paulie decides to let Tommy have a piece of his mind about how Tommy has treated Rocky – after which Tommy punches out Paulie. Rocky then challenges Tommy, “Hey – you knocked him down, why don’t you try knocking me down now?” Duke tells Rocky that the fight will be in the ring, but Rocky tells Tommy “My ring’s outside.” The two proceed outside for a bare-knuckle street fight, which Rocky wins.
In Rocky Balboa, sixteen years have passed since his final fight with his former protege, Tommy Gunn. Long retired Rocky Balboa still staggers around an ever changing world; his son is grown and distant, Paulie is working back at the meat plant, and his wife Adrian has died. Rocky has opened a restaurant, named after his wife, which he stocks with mementos of his prime as he tells his old fight stories to the customers. But when a computer simulated fight on ESPN depicting a bout between a young Rocky Balboa and the current champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) reignites interest in the faded boxer, Rocky discovers he has not lost his fighting spirit and considers an opportunity to prove himself in the ring again.
Here are some great quotes from the Rocky series that have inspired me:
“Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” –Rocky Balboa
“Hey Rock. It’s three in the morning. I went up to your house there and they told me you was here. It’s 3am, kid. You know that Adrian, she’s a good girl. Me, you know I’m sorry for both of ya. There’s nothing I can do about it. Except, uh, I wanna tell you this once and then, uh, I ain’t gonna say it again. But Rock, you got another shot. This is the second shot. At, uh, I don’t know the biggest title in the world, and you’re gonna be swappin’ punches with, with the most dangerous fighter in the world. And just in case, you know your brain ain’t workin’ so good. All this happens pretty soon and you ain’t ready. You know you’re no where near in shape. So I say, for God’s sake, why don’t you stand up and fight this guy HARD? Like you done before, that was beautiful! But don’t lay down like this! Like, uh, I don’t know, like some kind of mongrel or something. Cause he’s gonna kick your face in pieces! That’s right! This guy don’t just wanna win, you know, he wants to bury ya, he wants to humiliate ya, he wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothin but some kind of a freak the first time out. He said you were a one time lucky bum! Well now I don’t wanna get mad in a biblical place like this, but I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that kid! A hell of a lot! But now wait a minute, if you wanna blow this thing, if you wanna blow it, then damn it I’m gonna blow it with ya. If you wanna stay here, I’ll stay with ya. I stay with ya. I’ll stay and pray. What do I got to lose?” –Mickey
“Yea, I love yous too. I just also wanna thank God. Except for my kid bein’ born, this is the greatest night in the history of my life. I just wanna say one thing to my wife who’s home: YO, ADRIAN! I DID IT!”–Rocky
“Look man, when you beat me, I hurt all over and I didn’t want to know from nothing or nobody, not even my kids. Hell, every fighter knows that hurt and we get sick inside trying to live with it. So don’t back off now and make it right for yourself or you’ll be sorry you didn’t. We held the greatest title in the whole world. You lost that fight Rock for all the wrong reasons. You lost your edge. All right, I know your manager dying had you all messed up inside. But the truth is you didn’t look hungry. Now when we fought, you had the eye of the tiger, man, the edge! And now you got to get back and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean? Maybe we can win it back together. Eye of the tiger man.” –Apollo
“You didn’t push him into anything! He was a grown man and he did what he had to do! And you have no right to feel guilty for what happened. You don’t! You were a champion, and you did what you were expected to do, and you did what I and everybody else thought you should do. And you wanna tell me that those fights weren’t real, that you were carried? Well I don’t believe it! But it doesn’t matter what I believe because you’re the one that’s got to carry that fear around inside you, afraid that everybody’s going to take things away and afraid that you’re going to be remembered as a coward, that you’re not a man anymore. Well, none of it’s true! But it doesn’t matter if I tell you. It doesn’t matter, because you’re the one that’s gotta settle it. Get rid of it! Because when all the smoke has cleared and everyone’s through chanting your name, it’s just going to be us. And you can’t live like this. We can’t live like this. Cause it’s going to bother you for the rest of your life. Look what it’s doing to you now. Apollo thinks you can do it, so do I. But you gotta want to do it for the right reasons. Not for the guilt over Mickey, not for the people, not for the title, not for money or me, but for you. Just you. Just you alone.” –Adrian
“Oh, Adrian. Adrian always tells the truth. No, maybe I can’t win. Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything he’s got. But to beat me, he’s going to have to kill me. And to kill me, he’s gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he’s got to be willing to die himself. I don’t know if he’s ready to do that. I don’t know.”–Rocky
“Hey Adrian I know where we live, what do you think, I’m stupid? I’m not as dumb as you think I am. You don’t think I can smell it? I see where we are. Adrian, I don’t want this no more! I want something good for the family, I don’t want this! I don’t want this! Adrian did I come back here and get my brains beat out for these guys to say ‘Hey there goes Balboa just another bum from the neighborhood!’ I didn’t want this!” –Rocky
“I do! All those beatings you took in the ring, I took them with you! I know how you feel! I know when somebody like Tommy comes along you feel alive! But he’s not you – he doesn’t have your heart! All those fighters you beat, you beat ’em with heart not muscle! That’s what Mickey knew, that’s why you and Mickey were special, but Mickey’s dead! If there’s something you wanna pass on, pass it on to your son! For God’s sake your son is lost! He needs you! I know Tommy makes you feel great, he makes you feel like you’re winning again but you’re losing us! Rocky, you’re losing your family!” –Adrian
“Ah come here Rock. My God, you’re ready ain’t ya? That Apollo won’t know what hit him. You’re gonna roll over him like a bulldozer, an Italian bulldozer. You know kid, I know how you feel about this fight that’s comin’ up. ‘Cause I was young once, too. And I’ll tell you somethin’. Well, if you wasn’t here I probably wouldn’t be alive today. The fact that you’re here and doin’ as well as you’re doin’ gives me-what do you call it-motivization? Huh? To stay alive, ’cause I think that people die sometimes when they don’t wanna live no more.
And nature is smarter than people think. Little by little we lose our friends, we lose everything. We keep losin’ and losin’ till we say you know, ‘Oh what the hell am I livin’ around here for? I got not reason to go on.’ But with you kid, boy, I got a reason to go on. And I’m gonna stay alive and I will watch you make good… See that? This is the favorite thing that I have on this Earth. And Rocky Marciano give me that. You know what it was? His cufflink. Huh? And now I’m givin’ it to you and it, it’s gotta be like a, like an angel on your shoulder see? If you ever get hurt and you feel that you’re goin’ down this little angel is gonna whisper in your ear. It’s gonna say, ‘Get up you son of a bitch ’cause Mickey loves you’. Okay?” –Mickey
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done ! Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers, saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody ! Cowards do that, and that ain’t you!”. –Rocky
I remember in 1976 going to see Rocky at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles with my father and brother Chuck. What a trill it was, to be cheering for Rocky, and feeling so inspired! In 1982, I went to opening night of Rocky III with my high school friends at the Bruin Theater in Westwood. Afterwards, I formed the “YO” club, I know, pretty stupid, but still have one member active, besides me. A big highlight for me was being an extra during the boxing scenes for “Rocky Balboa”, that were filmed at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in December of 2005. I remember them telling us to shout, “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky”, that was awesome. I even shook hands with Mr. Stallone himself. What an honor! But the most important moment was when I had the opportunity to go see Rocky Balboa opening night in 2006 at the Palm Promenade Theater in San Diego with my brother Jon, and my two sons, Marcus and Christopher. To share the love and admiration for this fictional character with my family was amazing!
So, today I am grateful to Sylvestor Stallone for creating such a beloved and inspiring character, Rocky Balboa. I love the Rocky story because it gives us all hope that as long as we keep reaching higher and challenging ourselves, there’s an opportunity to go the distance in our lives. Give it every bit of what you’ve got in you, and let the chips fall where they may. Have no regrets and use your life for something that inspires you. Many people tell us to ‘play it safe’ – but what matters is that YOU know you’ve given your very best. Our hope and our faith are challenged constantly, but true character and underdog spirit is demonstrated by how you can take the hits and keep on swinging. Because the journey IS the destination; it is not just the road you travel to get somewhere else. It is the destination in itself.
And so my friendly advice is to decide what your dreams and desires are in life and just make them happen. Or as Rocky would say “Go For It”.
Watch this video as inspirational speaker, Tony Robbins, tells the Rocky story as told to him from Sylvestor Stallone himself.