What's actually preventing Rocky from going the distance with Apollo Creed? Who's got his eye on the tiger? The Master of Disaster and the Southside Slugger may be the heavyweights standing between Rocky Balboa and greatness, but between him and them are the unsung villains of the Rocky saga -- the hurdles that hold him back from the headline fights. Stop hating on Ivan Drago and Clubber Lang -- they're small potatoes compared to these adversaries.
Photo by <i>Rocky</i>, Sylvester Stallone, 1976. © United Artists. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.
Rocky vs. The Side of Beef
Rocky faces his fair share of skepticism in this first chapter; none more indomitable than this dead-cow punching bag. Rocky uses it to get into the mindset of treating his opponents like meat. Unfortunately, in this case, the meat wins: Sylvester Stallone permanently cracked and flattened one of his knuckles from hitting it repeatedly, which might explain why Rocky lost to Apollo in the end.
Photo by <em>Rocky</em>, Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, 1976. © United Artists. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.
Rocky vs. Adrian
Sure, Adrian's billed as Rocky's inspiration throughout the saga, and sure, it's her post-comatose suggestion for him to "Win. Win!" that riles Stallion into his final training montage -- but let's not forget who saps his resolve in the first place. Adrian spends Rocky II insisting he not fight. "I never asked you to stop being a woman," an exasperated Rocky argues. "Don't ask me to stop being a man." Anyone who can whip Balboa into that kind of submission has to be the mother of all villains.
Photo by <em>Rocky II</em>, Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, 1979. © United Artists. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.
Rocky vs. The Beach
On top of the world, Rocky is in need of a trip back to Earth. What's it going to take: The death of Mickey? Nope. A humiliating loss to Clubber Lang? Not quite. The inability to defeat Apollo on a 100-yard beach dash? Bingo. Rocky's surfside sprint comes to symbolize all of his insecurities: "You want to hear me say it? You want to break me down? I'm afraid!" When Rocky finally overcomes this sandy foe, he jumps into the ocean with Apollo, escaping the shore for a bizarrely rousing celebration.
Photo by <em>Rocky III</em>, Carl Weathers, Sylvester Stallone, 1982. © MGM. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.
Rocky vs. The Mercedes-Benz
Forget Ivan Drago, who's using the latest scientific advancements to train while Rocky lifts boulders and chops wood. Think of the Communists spying from their Mercedes-Benz. The car is always lurking in the background, and before he can defeat Drago, Rocky must prove he can beat the Benz... which he leaves stuck in a snowbank.
Photo by <em>Rocky IV</em>, Sylvester Stallone, 1985. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.
Rocky vs. The Movie Itself
Let's be honest, nothing goes right for Rocky in this movie -- not even the movie itself. Take a storyline that doesn't even put him into the ring, add a flash-in-the-pan boxer playing himself, end with a street brawl, and you've got more obstacles than even Balboa can handle. So Rocky's real victory in this movie is over his own history. Rather than view his legacy as tarnished, most fans tell themselves that Rocky V never happened. And since Rocky V never happened, there's nothing to stop Rocky from returning one last time in...
Photo by <em>Rocky V</em>, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Morrison, 1990. © United Artists. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.
Rocky vs. Rocky Jr.
What better way to return Rocky to glory than taking away the one person who was always cutting him down? Not so fast: Adrian might be dead for this final chapter, but her spirit lives on in Rocky Jr,. who is preoccupied with how his father's infamy is affecting his own reputation: "You cast a big shadow," he whines. Rocky Jr. even feels the need to discourage him during the final fight. "Don't take any more chances out there," he tells Stallion. Rocky, reminding his downer son who the champ really is, replies, "I gotta go out the way I gotta go out." Rocky 1, Family 0.
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Photo by <em>Rocky Balboa</em>, Sylvester Stallone, Milo Ventimiglia, 2006. © MGM. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.