As many of you know, Sylvester Stallone was inducted into the Boxing Hall Of Fame yesterday, along with Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez. While Chavez and Tyson were real life boxers who made a living and a name in the sport by knocking people on their cans, Stallone didn’t. Instead he wrote a movie about an American underdog who went from the bottom to the top, a blue collar guy given a chance at greatness and takes it.
Stallone watched an Ali fight and was inspired by the no-name guy he fought who wasn’t supposed to survive past round 3. Chuck Wepner wasn’t a name in boxing anyone will ever remember except the fact that he survived 15 grueling rounds against the greatest fighter of all time. Stallone, a young 20 something guy with a few bucks in his pocket and not much else, locked himself in his room for 3 days and penned Rocky. He marketed the film and was able to get it contracted to be produced for $1 million in 1976. It was filmed in 28 days. The theme song by Bill Conti is one of the most recognized instrumental themes in music history. In the first 4 bars, you know what it is and it does something to your insides that makes you want to dig deep and overcome obstacles. That’s the power of the movie “Rocky,” which went on to do 4 sequels and eventually a 6th film in 2006. It launched Stallone’s acting and writing career. But aside from what it did in Hollywood, Rocky the film and series changed the sport of boxing.
There are some people in the boxing realm upset and offended that an actor received a place in the Hall of Fame. In a way, I understand their feelings. You immediately think of athletes when the words hall-of-fame come to mind. Rarely do you think of individuals who don’t compete at the athletic level. But then again you have guys like Abbott and Costello who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame for their “Who’s on First?” bit. There are others. I loved what Collin Cowherd said this morning about the issue. You give Stallone Hall of Fame credit because of what Rocky has done for the sport of boxing, how it’s success at the box office is why you can have movies like Raging Bull, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby and even Mark Wahlberg’s upcoming The Fighter. Philadelphia erected a statue that stayed in place for over a decade that was Rocky. In a time when the sport wasn’t as popular in the eyes of Americans as baseball or football, Rocky put boxing back on the map. People were inspired by the story it told, and tons of young men and women went from the streets to the boxing gym because of that inspiration. It was the character and the story that promoted the sport, and that’s why Stallone deserves the placement in the hall.
I’m a big boxing fan. I help out at a local gym (The Abilene Boxing Club) where for a time I was training as an amateur but now mostly serve as a coach and trainer. I was never talented enough to really compete. But I love the sport and I love what the gym does for the community, giving young kids and adults an outlet away from violence and depravity of the mind, teaching people about life using metaphors from the ring. It’s powerful stuff, especially when you have a great coach at the helm like we have with Edward Rivas. People talk about how baseball changed their life, or football gave them a reason to go on. Boxing has done that for me, it’s given me the strength to fight against obstacles in life and business, taught me to dig deep no matter the cost, and challenged me to be the best version of me I can be. Rivas and the athletes at the Abilene Boxing Club did that starting in 2008. Regardless of what career or industry you work in, the lessons of boxing are applicable just the same. The truths I’ve learned in the sport I’ve applied to how I run my radio show The Appetizer, and the inspiration of the rise of the unknown is one of the big things that drives the musicians I play each and every week. But what got me in the door was the inspiration of a down-on-his-luck boxer who was determined to go the distance and did.
Rocky 3 and 4 are probably my favorites of the series. Each film has a significant meaning to me personally. The first one for me was about establishing the heart of a true champion, and the willingness to face unbeatable obstacles regardless of whether you could win or not. The second film to me communicates that when opportunity knocks twice, be willing to take the chance again, even if it might cost you everything. The third film is so powerful to me because it shows that great people can fall, especially when they lose the hunger that it required for them to get where they are. And fear is a powerful enemy. In the times in my life where I’ve had to face my worst fears, I’ve gone back and watched that scene where Adrian confronts Rocky on the beach and he finally admits his fear. She pushes him to face it, because refusing to would cost him for the rest of his life. That’s truth. Refusing to face fear and not bow to it is one of the most costly things in all of life.
I admit that as much as I love Rocky the series and Stallone’s epic tale, I abhor #5. At the time, Sly had a lot of pressure to write a Rocky movie for the 1990s, from fans and producers who wanted to continue to cash in on the film’s success. The story was shoddy and the great messages and inspirational aspects were lost. I still don’t consider it a part of the series.
Which brings me to the final film, Rocky Balboa, which came out a few years ago. Fantastic!! This was what the fifth should have been. Alas, it ended the series well and told a great story. Fighters fight. George Foreman must have had some similar beast still dwelling in him when he came out of retirement to fight in his 50s. I watched some behind the scenes stuff and the real-life trainers on the film said Stallone was in excellent condition for the making of Rocky Balboa at the age of 60, even stating that he would have made a great boxer if he’d pursued it in real life. Probably so. I read in Mr. T’s autobiography that when they choreographed the boxing match, and when they worked out together, Stallone wanted them to actually hit each other so it would look believable. Stallone did the same thing when they filmed him boxing an actual heavy weight fighter in Antonio Tarver (who played Mason Dixon in Rocky Balboa).
Boxing is a lot like professional wrestling in how it uses a bigger story to attract viewers to the fights. It has to have something other than competitors when a pay-per-view fight costs $60. This is why Rocky is such a big part of the sport. The story inspired people to not only compete, but to tune in. When Mike Tyson was knocking out fighters left and right, fans wanted to know his story. When Tyson’s personal life fell apart, it was a bigger deal because of what that meant to his championship story, the legacy he’d built. When he came back, it was the same thing. While Tyson is no Rocky, in the inspiration category nor the heart one, the same dynamic applies. How about more recent fighters, like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, who the world of boxing wants to see go at it more than anything. That fight may never happen but it’s just as much the story behind the fighters that people want to see climax in the ring as it is watching 2 great boxers fight each other. There’s a drama that fuels interest in both of their careers that brings viewers and people interested in boxing.
Mayweather knows the story drives the sport, which is why he’s made himself the heel in most of his fights. He talks trash, disrespects his opponent, and does all the things a great heel does to get people to want to watch him get beat. But he always wins because he’s a great defensive fighter. You watch him to see him get put in his place. But you always get a great showcasing of talent, that you probably wouldn’t have seen if you hadn’t invested in the back-story. That’s the power of the storyline in boxing, which is why Stallone deserves to be with Chavez and Tyson in the greater story of the sport of boxing.