Rocky Balboa, or as he’s also known, ‘The Italian Stallion’ was created and portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. Rocky’s name has become synonymous with an underdog who refuses to back down and fights all the way to the top. Four decades after the series began in 1976, it remains the standard for both sports drama as well as how to properly craft great, engaging boxing fight sequences and that’s exactly what we’re going to countdown right now. So, let’s get ready to eat lightning and rumble like thunder because here are our Top 10 Best Fight Scenes from the Rocky franchise!
- “Rocky” (1976) – Rocky vs Spider-Rico
- “Rocky Balboa” (2006) – Rocky vs Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon
- “Rocky III” (1982) – Rocky vs Thunderlips
- “Rocky IV” (1985) – Apollo vs Ivan Drago
- “Rocky III” (1982) – Rocky vs Clubber Lang
- “Rocky II” (1979) – Rocky vs Apollo
- “Creed” (2015) – Adonis Creed vs ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan
- “Rocky IV” (1985) – Rocky vs Ivan Drago
- “Creed” (2015) – Hollywood Donnie (Adonis Creed) vs Leo ‘The Lion’ Sporino
- “Rocky” (1976) – Rocky vs Apollo
Where better to start than with the opening moments of The Italian Stallion’s saga? Here, we see Rocky beginning in the gutter, fighting for meagre pay in a crummy gym with his talents going completely unnoticed by almost everybody. Nevertheless, we know within minutes that there’s more to Rocky than meets the eye, especially with the way he rallies after Spider-Rico headbutts him. In another boxing flick, this might be considered a pretty mundane fight sequence but it got the ball rolling for Rocky’s rise to the top and that alone earns it a spot among the Stallion’s finest bouts.
Until 2006, everyone pretty much assumed that the “Rocky” franchise had run its course, but like The Italian Stallion himself, not only can you not keep it down, but it comes back even stronger when it gets back on its feet. Sly’s always injected a little of his own life into the franchise – whereas the first in the series drew off of his struggles before hitting it big, “Rocky Balboa” is all about making a comeback and showing you’ve still got guts.
Real-life boxing champ Antonio Deon Tarver portrays Rocky’s opponent, Mason “The Line” Dixon and like no other fight in the series, you feel like you’re really seeing a live, televised boxing match. Sly would subsequently dust off the “Rambo” franchise and kick start “The Expendables”, but “Rocky Balboa” was the moment where he truly came out swinging once again.
Have you ever been asked that question, “Which of these doesn’t fit with the others?” followed by the choices of “apple, orange, banana, and fire truck?” That’s Rocky’s match with Thunderlips when lined up with the rest of the series. Of course, it does fit in perfectly with the rest of Sly’s “How did this not kill him?” filmography! The Italian Stallion’s already had several title defenses by this point, so the next logical choice was for him to step into the world of pro-wrestling against the towering Thunderlips, played by none other than WWE superstar Hulk Hogan. It’s certainly a different flavor of action than what was offered up in the first two, but it’s certainly a lot of fun to see Rocky and Thunderlips body slamming and throwing each other out of the ring.
The heart of the fourth chapter of the “Rocky” saga is may be The Italian Stallion, but the soul is The Count of Monte Fisto. We’ve see Rocky and Apollo go from opponents to best friends and we’ve seen Apollo lend his help to Rocky in his rematch with Clubber Lang, but now, Apollo has to go his own way and step into the ring once more against the fearsome Russian boxer, Ivan Drago. Of course, it ends in the death of the former Heavyweight Champ, but Apollo went all the way and never considered throwing in the towel for a second. As they said, it’s not tragic to die doing what you love and when Drago had to kill his opponent to finish the fight, did Apollo really lose? Apollo may have fought his last in “Rocky IV”, but even in defeat, he raged onward with his… (cue the music!) Heart’s on Fire
Rocky gets a little overwhelmed by his sudden fame and fortune in his third adventure and has to fight to regain the title of World Heavyweight champ after losing it to the massive Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. “Rocky III” was where the series started to transition from a sports drama to the boxing equivalent of a superhero movie (‘The Italian Stallion’certainly isn’t a bad moniker) and while it may not be as much of a tearjerker as the original, “Rocky III” is probably the most fun installment of the series. We get to see Rocky and Apollo become best friends, Mr. T. is by far the most animated of Rocky’s opponents and both of these elements together give the rematch between Clubber Lang and The Italian Stallion the power it needs. And pity the fool who’s never treated their ears to the song of champions, Eye of the Tiger!
Apollo thought he’d walk all over Rocky last time and was amazed that their fight went the distance. This time, he’s determined to put the Italian Stallion down and keep him there! Just look at how hard and fast Apollo comes out for round one – you can tell that he’s dead serious about proving the last fight with Rocky was a fluke. Of course, Rocky’s real victory came in going the distance in the original film and now that he’s accomplished that, by the end of his rematch with Apollo, he’s earned his championship belt in a way that few fighters ever do.
Yo Adrian, he did it!
Like The Italian Stallion himself, everyone thought the best course of action for the “Rocky” series was to quit while it was ahead after “Rocky Balboa”, but lo and behold, along came “Creed”, which like its title character, is one in a million. It’s all too easy and all too frequent, for sequels and spin-offs coming this long after their predecessor to falter, but “Creed” is THE way to do it right. This time, Rocky steps into the mentor role for Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis Johnson aka “Hollywood Donnie” and he’ll need all the help he can get against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan. However, with the combination of Rocky’s tutelage and his natural determination to win, Donnie is more than up for the challenge of going the distance, as you can clearly see!
Before he was throwing down with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins in the “Universal Soldier” movies, this was where Dolph Lundgren first made an impact, literally and figuratively, as the powerful, emotionless Russian boxer Ivan Drago. After Apollo Creed dies fighting Drago in an exhibition match, the Russian’s response is only, “If he dies, he dies.” The disregard for the life of his best friend doesn’t sit well with our Stallion however and Rocky challenges Drago to a revenge match and boy does he take some punishment. That’s not hyperbole – Sly told Dolph to hit him harder while filming their fight and he subsequently ended up in the emergency room after one of Dolph’s punches slammed Sly’s heart against his breastbone, causing it to swell. Three decades later, it’s still one of the best fights in the “Rocky” franchise, not to mention Dolph’s most quotable moment into the bargain! Nope, there’s probably No Easy Way Out of a situation like this (which is incidentally one of the best songs in the Rocky series)!
It’s so weird to say this, considering “Creed” is the seventh chapter in the franchise that set the standard for boxing movies, but the science of boxing has almost never been captured on the big screen as perfectly as it is here. Thematically, the “Rocky” movies have always been about “how hard you can get hit and keep going” and their fight sequences have always reflected this by putting The Italian Stallion and his opponents through the most severe punishment imaginable. By contrast, while “Creed” most certainly isn’t lacking in making the hits hurt, it shifts the focus to the SCIENCE of boxing. Rebounds, shifting footwork, bobbing and weaving and striking from any angle and all of it captured in a single, unbroken take, no fades, no cuts. it’s like seeing Jackie Chan in a boxing movie! Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler subsequently both joined the upcoming “Black Panther” and it’s safe to say you can thank the success of “Creed” for that -whilst we patiently await what they have in store for us on their adventure to Wakanda!
And in at #1 is…
The one that started it all. The “Rocky” series has produced fight sequences that are technically superior, like the one we were just discussing, in its later installments, but none have had as much of a reverberating impact on the series and indeed on action movie history, as the first bout between The Italian Stallion and The Count of Monte Fisto. As far as Apollo was concerned, this was just the next fight, but for Rocky, this was his shot to truly make something of himself, even though he doesn’t expect to win and simply wants to “go the distance”. For Rocky, this fight symbolizes the struggles of his entire life brought into a boxing ring, played out for the world to see and even Apollo, who never expected the fight to make it past the third round, is humbled by his opponent’s sheer stubborn tenacity and endurance. As Sly himself has observed, “Once in one’s life, for one mortal moment, one must make a grab for immortality; if not, one has not lived.” Rocky made his grab for immortality here and even in defeat, he was able to leave the ring truly able to say that he has lived -the fact that most viewers can relate to this message has kept alive the legacy that is Rocky.
So, there we have it readers, our Top 10 Rocky Movie Fight Scenes! Feel free to share your thoughts on The Italian Stallion’s finest moments and stay tuned for more carefully selected countdowns like this one, coming soon…!