This summer, 45 long years ago, in June in fact, Roberto Duran arguably boxed his finest fight; this his dominating, beautiful to watch decision win over a proven great in Carlos Palomino. Earlier that year, the former lightweight king had found the time to film a short but memorable cameo for the forthcoming movie, ‘Rocky II.’

Duran actually sparred celluloid hero Sly Stallone in some scenes for the flick (how hard Duran let his vaunted “Hands of Stone” go, we will never know for sure), and like Joe Frazier before him, Panama’s finest added a whole lot to the film, at least for those who knew what they were looking for in terms of the two movies, ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rocky II’ being acceptable to fight fans. Hardcore fight fans.

And say what the critics will about the ‘Rocky’ films; all fight fans continue to love them so. And so do so many real-life fighters, by the way….(just ask guys like Vinny Paz and so many others who, to take an liberty in writing it, bleed for it in actuality).

For some of us, the sequel, now approaching its 45th anniversary in terms of release, is the best, the most fun, the most uplifting and inspirational of the entire series. Stallone may have rolled the dice in making part-two, as the original film was/is some hard act to follow. But thanks go out to the fact that Stallone likes to gamble. For act-two in this series really is the best.

From the opening sequence, pumping soundtrack boosting, this as both fighters, laid in separate ambulances, are raced to the same Philly hospital. To the almost pathetic sight of beaten but still champ Creed telling Balboa to “get up and finish this fight right now;” both men of course nursing their various and substantial wounds whilst sat in wheelchairs. Another powerful scene shows a patched up Rocky wheel himself to Apollo’s room, where he asks his rival, “did you give me your best?” If this looks corny, or if it sounds corny to younger fans, it has to be pointed out how Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, and later, Ray Mercer and Bert Cooper, found themselves in a very similar position, where they were each being attended to in the same hospital and had real concerns about the well-being of their rival and how they were feeling after their ring war.

We next see Balboa, having enjoyed the euphoria of, if not an actual win in the ring, then absolutely a win in terms of proving he wasn’t “no bum from the neighbourhood,” go into downfall stage. Into the inevitable next stage. Rocky cannot fight again – for two reasons: he has promised his wife he will retire, and his right eye was so badly damaged in his heroic world title fight with Apollo, that he is all done anyway. At his worldly trainer’s experience ….. “you’ve got the heart, but you ain’t got the tools no more.”

Slowly, or maybe by yesteryear’s terms quite rapidly, Rocky’s fight earnings vanish, with him left with little to show for his ring heroics other than a car he continues to crash due to his bad eye, and a house where, prior to purchasing it, he didn’t even go upstairs. That and the monthly payments were through the roof (if only Rocky had listened to his beloved Adrian).

Rocky tries to live the regular life, with him switching places with his “crazy brother,” Paulie – who now works the docks as a collector the way Rocky did, with Rocky now working the butcher floor the way Paulie did (this switch being great film making, don’t you agree?) So of course Rocky knows the score….he has to fight again. He needs to fight again. Rocky has to “provide,” as he tells his now pregnant better-half. Grizzled old trainer Mickey knows it too, even if he had persuaded Rocky to stay on the safe side of the ropes due to his damaged eye. Meanwhile, the beaten, but not officially, Apollo is desperate for a rematch, with the champ’s bruised ego seeing to it that he agrees to launch an expensive ad campaign designed to humiliate Balboa and to force him to take the rematch.

In time it works, and “Super Fight II” is on.

Goldmill trains Rocky to fight right handed… “this will make history, and it will protect that bad eye,” Mickey says. Rocky tries his best, but he wants to use his left arm. “If you do, I’m gonna chop it off,” the 1920s bruiser tells his fighter. And then, with Rocky failing to please his trainer in his efforts, and with Adrian heavily pregnant but still shuffling boxes of stuff in the pet-store she continues to work at, the two are suddenly engaged in a fight for life. Adrian collapses at Paulie’s suddenly sympathetic side, with her rushed into care after suffering a premature labour. Obviously, upon hearing the news, Rocky cannot possibly think about fighting. Mickey himself is distraught, as he had, just moments prior, let his doubting fighter know it: “Okay, go back to the docks where you belong,” he cried, this when Rocky said he “might not have it no more.”

“But don’t you ever come back here again, because I’m too old to waste my time on a no-good bum like you. You bum,” Mickey said, all but heartbroken. A more powerful scene in a boxing flick I dare you to find.

After hours of agony in the hospital, Adrian finally makes a full recovery, with ‘Baby Rocky’ also being safe and sound. Rocky says he is ready to retire now, but Adrian tells him what she wants him to do…. “Win. Win!” she says.

It’s on now.

Rocky trains like never before motivated, and the scene where the Philly slugger is followed by hundreds of young kids as he does his roadwork is genuinely special. Creed, meanwhile, suffers due to the hidden fact that he is unable to get back ‘the eye of the tiger.’

The fight gets underway on Thanksgiving, and Rocky absorbs a hell of a beating for 14 rounds. But Apollo, who insists “it ain’t gonna be like last time,” ignores his trainer’s pleas to box smart and win on points, and he goes for the KO. It doesn’t end well for Apollo, but it sure ends well for movie viewers. And for Rocky. Apollo indeed goes for it in the 15th, as does Rocky. Eventually, in a climax that is too climatic, both fighters hit the mat, making it a case of the first man to get up wins the fight!

It’s close, but of course Rocky gets back to his feet first. Heck, we can all forgive, if not applaud Stallone, for his decision to come out with some real over-the-top stuff here. It was genuinely great theatre in the, well, the theatre when we watched the two heavyweights try and get up before “10.” But Rocky does it, he beats the champ and in so doing, he becomes the new champ. And Rocky then gives us all a dramatic speech (this a foreshadowing of what was to come in Sly’s future films).

Was it really 45 years ago when ‘Rocky II’ came out? It was indeed. But how we all still love the ‘Rocky’ movies. All of them. The original and the sequel especially.

Read the full article here