Directed by John G. Avildsen and written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rocky still has the excitement, optimism, and thrill of victory that brought audiences to their feet when it first hit the screen. Moviegoers didn’t yet know it was the beginning of a franchise where every other movie was a technical knockout but culminated in a tour de force exit for the elder pugilist. Rocky, the original 1976 movie, is a winner, even though the main character ultimately loses at the end. It doesn’t matter, he’s still standing, and that in itself was a long shot.
Rocky, the scrappy strip of celluloid, has endured with the same stamina that drove the upstart fighter in the middle of it to run the length of Philly on no more juice than some raw eggs. It’s still champ after over 40 years. Rocky Balboa, the boxer who gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance at a match with Apollo Creed, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, would have had a short career. Forget the fact that, just a few movies from now, his eyesight will be threatened, like real-life boxing star Sugar Ray Leonard, the guy could have died from exposure in the movie’s fifteen rounds.
Rocky Balboa takes enough head shots in any given round in his first movie to get him a one-way ticket to Palookaville. Put your hands up, Rocky, please. You are not George Foreman, who sometimes looked like he got off on it. Every single shot Apollo lands is clean, on the button, and full force. I’ve never seen an actual fight where someone goes from almost-dead to almost-winning or winning, or a match where that many head shots landed so accurately.
That stance, that dance, those taunts, you don’t see that shit in Raging Bull. It would probably take Creed a full half-round to get through the crablike defenses of Robert De Niro’s Jake La Motta. Well, until he drops his hands and taunts Sugar Ray Robinson with that “you never got me down, Ray,” but the real La Motta swore De Niro was good enough to go pro.
In Rocky, undefeated heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is originally slated to defend his title against Mac Lee Green at the Philadelphia Spectrum on New Year’s Day 1976. But Green backs out and Creed puts out a call for a worthy opponent. Because it is the year of the Bicentennial for America, discovered by Cristoforo Colombo, Creed saddles up an Italian stallion for a victory lap. Rocky Balboa, in white shorts with a red stripe, defies all odds and goes the distance with the champ. He puts up such a battle that Creed swears there “ain’t gonna be no re-match” and his opponent “don’t want one.” The fighter already got more than he dreamed.
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