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Home » Rocky Balboa to Creed: The Complete Rocky Story

Rocky Balboa to Creed: The Complete Rocky Story

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World Boxing News charts the complete Rocky story from the original movie to the new spin-off Creed.

For many, the story of [Robert] Rocky Balboa Sr. began in late 1975. An unpolished diamond grabbed a victory in a converted church over fellow journeyman ‘Spider’ Rico. But if you look closer, the backstory is right before your eyes and runs much, much deeper than that.

Born in Philadelphia in 1945, Balboa had toiled his entire life to find a calling. He became embroiled in the mean streets as a loan shark enforcer, pushing his obvious boxing talent and eventual destiny to one side. Balboa had lost his way. It was a familiar tale of wasted talent and a man who had struggled to fit into the slog of working 9 to 5. He also didn’t have the security of a stable family life to keep him on the straight and narrow.

ROCKY [1976]

It wasn’t until a massive stroke of luck landed in Balboa’s lap that the 30-year-old part-time fighter’s fortunes finally changed. The alteration was mainly due to scheduled world heavyweight title challenger Mac Lee Green breaking his hand in training.

Rocky Balboa punches meat

Undisputed, undefeated, and much-loved champion Apollo Creed felt sentimental as there were only a few weeks to fight night. ‘The Master of Disaster’ wanted to avoid taking up the option to cancel the fight altogether, solely to Balboa’s benefit.

A flick through the encyclopedia of active professional boxers led Creed to Balboa. An offer for ‘The Italian Stallion’ to jump in at just four weeks’ notice to battle the number one fighter on the planet was born. With 20 losses on his record, Rocky Balboa was a massive underdog. He was expected to be swept aside by the slicker Apollo Creed as the pair traded blows on January 1, 1976, at the famous Philadelphia Spectrum. Unbeknownst to Creed, his opponent was a rough diamond waiting to be polished.

With the help of trainer ‘Mighty’ Mickey Goldmill – a former fighter himself, Balboa headed into the contest with nothing to lose and everything to gain. A first-round nobody predicted ensued as Balboa amazingly put Creed down for the first time in his career. It was a sickening blow.

Early on, it was apparent that Creed’s overconfidence and lack of serious training would hinder him in the fight.

Although he did break Balboa’s nose for the first time, the writing was on the wall for Creed. He knew he then faced the prospect of fourteen more rounds of slugging it out with a highly determined challenger. A back-and-forth battle of brutality ensued until the final bell tolled. Rocky Balboa fell short of claiming the sport’s biggest prize via a split decision. This is despite reaching his only pre-fight goal to go the distance.

ROCKY II [1979]

In the immediate aftermath, both fighters were taken to hospital nursing several injuries – and after a meeting in the reception area where many media were gathered – the seeds of a rematch were firmly planted.

Balboa had planned to retire but could only stick to his guns for a few months as Creed’s desire to prove the first effort was a fluke due to complacency on his part was just too strong. Monetary issues were also coming into play for Balboa, who married his sweetheart Adrian and was looking forward to the arrival of his first child.

During the birth of Robert Junior, Adrian suffered complications and slipped into a coma, hampering early preparations for the return bout with Creed considerably. After a long stint waiting by his wife’s side, Adrian awoke and told Rocky he needed to win for the family’s sake despite initially being against a return action so soon after her illness.

Spurred on by his now recovering wife’s wishes, Balboa trained like a demon to get in the best condition of his life for the second helping with Creed, set to go ahead on Thanksgiving weekend in 1976.

As Creed plotted a quick knockout, many expected more fireworks and witnessed another grueling fifteen-rounder that would mimic the first with all but the finish. Time trickled towards the scorecards, and with Balboa staring another point loss in the face, both fighters landed a knockout blow simultaneously. Referee Lou Filippo began a steady and agonizing count.

Creed scrambled to his feet in the corner as Balboa used the ropes for leverage. While it looked like the champion would reach his feet first and retain, Apollo looked over at Rocky and saw how much more he wanted the victory before slumping back to the canvas in an exhausted heap.

Filippo reached the nine-count, and just a ten was on his lips. Balboa got up in one of the most dramatic endings to a world title fight you could imagine.

Rocky vs Apollo Creed II

ROCKY III [1982]

Rocky Balboa had made it to the top against all odds. But the question now remained, could he stay there?

Now a superstar with the love of boxing fans worldwide, Rocky was steered by his manager and trainer, Goldmill, away from some of the more dangerous opponents. This was Mickey’s way of keeping his fighter active as long as possible. To set his family up for life.

Balboa’s two fights with Creed would have retired many boxers in any generation. Goldmill knew the veteran would be unable to withstand any other encounter of a similar magnitude.

A few defenses in, including a successful European tour, one such contender was emerging in Clubber Lang. He was a rough, tough Chicago slugger intent on claiming his rightful shot at Balboa and taking his title in the process. With a tenth title victory behind him, Balboa had been persuaded – through a combination of Goldmill and Adrian – to hang up his gloves at age 35 to enjoy his now comfortable life.

A statue was erected in his hometown of Philadelphia to celebrate his achievements. Balboa marked the occasion by announcing his decision to the world.

Things didn’t go smoothly, though. Opportunist Lang used the situation for his gain and goaded Balboa into one final mandatory title defense. Goldmill also agreed to this ‘final bow’ wish of Balboa’s but knew the outcome wouldn’t be good in the back of his mind.

In late 1980, Balboa v Lang was shrouded in controversy. Goldmill was taken ill moments before the contest due to the challenger’s push as he attempted to wrestle before the first bell.

Rocky Balboa vs Clubber Lang

As Goldmill fought for his life, suffering cardiac arrest in the dressing room, Balboa opted to fight rather than postpone to follow his trainer’s instructions but was severely beaten in two bruising rounds.

Making it to the dressing room moments before Goldmill passed away, Balboa’s world was rocked by the double whammy, which would constitute the worst way to leave behind a sport he’d given so much over five years.

A mourning period turned into self-pity as the top division hailed a new king in Lang. Balboa attempted to find a new place in civilization away from the spotlight of being the people’s champion.

Walking around his old gym, reminiscing about happier times spent with Goldmill, led to a meeting with old foe Apollo Creed. The old nemesis had sought out Balboa to pitch a master plan to ‘get it all back’ from Lang. Creed persuaded Balboa to train under his guidance for a rematch with the big-punching brute. And despite some doubts along the way, ‘The Italian Stallion’ whipped himself into tremendous physical and mental shape.

Knowing Balboa couldn’t take the punishing nature of a twelve-round fight, Creed’s tactics were to take Lang out early. Rocky duly followed through in refined style through a short burst of warfare. Balboa was once again on top of the pile. However, it wouldn’t be too long until the new champ and now trainer Creed would face a horrible tragedy from the ultimate in challenges.

ROCKY IV [1985]

A few years later, after a period of tranquillity and satisfaction for the pair, a Russian thunderbolt named Ivan Drago flew into the United States to shake up the division. Drago’s team would single out Creed for an exhibition match to showcase the ex-world amateur title holder’s progress since ditching the vest. The unsuspecting Creed knew nothing of what was to come. By then, it was known Russia had some problems with doping. Drago had been participating in that for some time. The program gave him a superhuman physique and a punching power to match.

Having agreed to be the first professional to face Drago, albeit in a charity bout, Creed was walking into a freight train at full speed. He would suffer the ultimate fate for his considerable trouble.

Two painful rounds trading with the ‘Siberian Express’ proved too much for Creed’s aging body to deal with. Stand-in cornerman Balboa contemplated throwing the towel in. Still, his hesitation would sadly lead to the death of a legend.] Balboa was racked with guilt. He vowed to exact revenge. Balboa signed up to fight Drago in Moscow on Christmas Day of 1985.

Rocky Balboa vs Ivan Drago

Going back to basics, Balboa was holed up in a Russian cabin. He wanted to focus solely on putting his life on the line to avenge the passing and secure a further legacy for Creed’s memory.

Heading into the fight, knowing his existence hung in the balance, Balboa’s steely determination would ensure he’d come out on top after a battle that would damage him for the rest of his days. Balboa overcoming adversity to defeat his rival was a force much more significant than him. It had also brought two enemies, Russia and the United States, closer together. It also signaled the end of a professional career that captured the hearts of fans worldwide.

ROCKY V [1990]

A firmer retirement followed for Rocky Balboa. But he would soon become the victim of a scam that meant the millions he earned in the ring would be taken away from him. Forced to sell his mansion and move back to Philadelphia broke, Balboa saw the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in a young man who would entice him back to the squared circle in a trainer/manager capacity, just like his old mentor Mickey.

Tommy Gunn, a fledgling Oklahoma heavyweight with raw talent, had begged Rocky Balboa to guide him. Together, the pair embarked on a run to a heavyweight title fight. Neglecting his son in a bid to relive the glory days, Balboa soon saw Gunn’s head turned by George Washington-Duke. The flamboyant promoter promised ‘The Machine’ millions if he signed on the dotted line.

Tommy Morrison Tommy Gunn and Rocky Balboa

Previously warning his son about the dangers of deception, Balboa became a victim himself. The accolades that would come with any heavyweight title victory for Gunn fell away with Duke’s closer involvement. Rocky subsequently left Gunn behind. He stayed away from the corner as his former protégé won the sport’s ultimate prize against ‘paper champion’ Union Cane.

To his shock and disappointment, Balboa would be challenged by the man he’d helped drag out of the gutter.

Facing annoying questions about being in Balboa’s shadow despite being amid celebrating his most incredible night, Gunn saw no way out. He had to call on Rocky to be his first challenger. As Balboa passed up the opportunity, Gunn antagonized the legend into a street fight. The pair brawled through a Philly neighborhood in a battle that would be captured by TV on hand to cover the initial call-out.

Experiencing several such fights during his days as an enforcer, Balboa battered Gunn into submission. This time, with no satisfaction. Rocky Balboa once again walked away from a fight, the hero of the people.


That was until a final return to action came calling some years later.

A decade and a half went by. In 2006, four years after the death of his wife, Adrian, to cancer, Balboa was again in the spotlight. This was due to a fantasy match-up being discussed on ESPN. A console boxing game pitting old fighters against new brought up the debate of who would win between Balboa and the current heavyweight ruler, Mason Dixon.

Despite being 60 years old, Rocky Balboa has always cared for himself. He was still in fantastic shape. This reason alone pushed to granting a temporary boxing license [at the second attempt] to participate in an exhibition with Dixon.

Mason Dixon and Rocky Balboa

Those witnessing wanted to see if Balboa was still one of the most iron-willed fighters on the planet. Suppose he could relive the glory days one final time. This proved the case as Balboa could last the twelve rounds with Dixon – even managing to split the judges. Like his fight with Creed thirty years ago, a defeat felt more like a win as the great Rocky Balboa finally closed the book on his boxing career.

CREED [2015]

With the passing of another decade and the subsequent loss of yet another of those close to him, Adrian’s brother Paulie, Rocky Balboa, was now 69 years old. He was going through the motions of being a retired legend.

Along comes Adonis Johnson. He’s the son of Rocky’s greatest friend, Apollo Creed, through an affair around his death. He’s another young buck already making his own waves in the light-heavyweight division.

Undefeated and learning his trade in Mexico’s underground scene, Johnson asked Balboa for help. He wanted guidance so that he could bear his famous father’s name.

Rocky agreed. And with the Balboa-Creed link-up eventually becoming common knowledge, it wasn’t long before a huge offer to fight for the world title arrived.

Creed Rocky

Ricky Conlan, the ruler then, needed a replacement opponent for a fight in his home country of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Johnson – now labeled Adonis Creed, was drafted to take up the challenge.

Balboa – by this time suffering from cancer – was acting as his motivator. Creed stepped out of his father’s shadow with a performance Apollo would have been proud of. Despite dropping a decision in a competitive reverse, Creed was recognized as a warrior in his own right. To this day, it embodies the heart of Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed combined.

A new flagbearer for the saga had emerged.

CREED II [2018]

A quick capitalization on the success of Creed saw Adonis challenged by the son of a familiar foe of his mentor, Ivan Drago. The Russian was back on the scene. Drago brought his offspring Viktor along for the ride.

By now, Creed was the world champion. He was seasoned and ready to defend his crown. Adonis wanted to avenge the death of his father, Apollo. Creed vs Drago I ended in a disqualification. Adonis was severely hurt in the process.

A rematch was arranged, and Adonis pummeled Viktor into an apt submission from his dad. This is another example of the grit and determination instilled in Creed, not only in his blood but from the guidance of Rocky Balboa.

CREED III [2022]

Creed III hit cinemas in 2022 but didn’t feature Rocky Balboa. It focuses on Adonis and his past relationship with Damian Anderson.

The pair enjoy a tumultuous relationship. It ends, as always – with Rocky stories – in the ring, Anderson wins the world title that Donnie has given up focusing on his family.

Adonis and Damian clash at Dodger Stadium in a back-and-forth contest. Anderson drops Creed before the title character reclaims the belt, and the pair reconcile.

Creed IV is now in production.

All pictures by Rocky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

Read all articles and exclusive interviews by Phil Jay. Learn more about the author, experienced boxing writer, and World Boxing News Editor since 2010. Follow on Twitter @PhilJWBN.