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Sports Then and Now




Rocky Balboa Elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame

Posted on December 08, 2010 by Dean Hybl

It was quite a journey for Rocky Balboa from a Philadelphia meat locker to the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Since the day he first burst onto the boxing scene with his improbable performance against Apollo Creed on January 1, 1976, it was probably inevitable that one day Rocky Balboa would take his rightful place as a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Of course the only trouble with that hypothesis is the reality that Rocky Balboa was a fictional character created by actor Sylvester Stallone and not actually a real-life boxing icon.

So, instead of actually inducting Balboa, the Boxing Hall of Fame has done the next best thing and bestowed that honor on Stallone, who not only created the character, but then played Balboa in six installments of one of the greatest sports movie franchises in history.

Because all of the Rocky movies have now been on television so many times that even casual Rocky fans can recite most of the lines and the story line has been hijacked in countless other movies, it is easy to forget the initial impact of this Cinderella story.

When Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in the original Rocky in 1976 he was not the internationally recognized action star he has become over the last 35 years.

Rocky was filmed on a budget of $1 million and shot in 28 days. But this dark-horse movie immediately struck a cord with the American public and made over $225 million (a huge box office gross for 1976).

The film was so well thought of that it received 10 Oscar nominations and won three statues, including best picture.

History now tells us that the studio originally looked at such big-time stars as Robert Redford, James Caan and Burt Reynolds for the title role. I contend that had they decided to cast an already established actor the movie would never have reached the iconic level it enjoys today.

While you can debate the overall acting ability of Stallone (who received a Best Actor nomination for the film), there is no question in the original Rocky that the then unknown Stallone is so believable as the uneducated, but kind hearted loan shark turned heavyweight contender that it truly becomes difficult to separate fiction from reality.

That is why a statue of Rocky Balboa exists in Philadelphia, the Rocky theme song (Gonna Fly Now) is still a popular stadium anthem and Rocky is still receiving awards such as this one from the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Another great element of the movie is the amazing performances of other actors who truly make you believe you are watching the prelude to a heavyweight boxing match.

Both Balboa and Creed sure look like they have been through a war.

Of the supporting actors, Burgess Meredith, who played the crusty old trainer Mickey, had the most accomplished career as a character actor, but he seemed made perfectly for his role as Rocky’s trainer.

Former NFL linebacker Carl Weathers was so believable as Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed that I anticipate next year he might get inducted by the Boxing Hall of Fame as well. Weathers channeled his inner Muhammad Ali, but in a way that illustrated the intelligence and professionalism of a black man that wasn’t always articulated in real life or on the big screen at that time in American history.

Talia Shire had been in the first two installments of The Godfather series, but this role was truly a breakout performance for her and definitely became the best known role of her career.

Years after Rocky came out I saw Burt Young on a rerun of an old M*A*S*H episode in which he had a supporting role. He also appeared on other television series and in several other movies, but he too seems to have been created to play Rocky’s brother-in-law Paulie. There were times in some of the movies where you just wanted to strangle him for his selfishness, but Paulie also had some great one-liners that just make you laugh.

So does an actor who portrayed a fictional character really belong in the Hall of Fame? You could certainly argue against it, but I think you can argue that Stallone and Rocky have done more to positively project the image of boxing over the last 35 years than any boxer.

In fact, it is interesting and somewhat ironic that Stallone is joined as a Hall of Fame inductee by real-life boxing champion Mike Tyson. In many ways, the on-screen exploits of Rocky are more believable than some of the situations Tyson has been a part of during his 25 years in the sport.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. The International Boxing Hall of Fame chose to add both to the Hall of Fame. It is now just up to us to figure out which is which.

Here is the training scene from Rocky 1. Even if you have seen it a million times it is still enough to get your heart pumping just a bit faster.


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