Boxing on the screen: Rocky Balboa (II)

by
Boxing on the screen: Rocky Balboa (II)
BOXING ON THE SCREEN: ROCKY BALBOA (II)

Boxing on the screen: Rocky Balboa (II)

by
Boxing on the screen: Rocky Balboa (II)
BOXING ON THE SCREEN: ROCKY BALBOA (II)

The man, an obscure screenwriter of low-budget movies and a occasional supporting actor in supporting, turned on the TV and settled into the one rickety couch in his modest apartment in West Hollywood, a suburb of Los Angeles, California, to watch live the fight in which Muhammad Ali would expose for the first time the WBA and WBC heavyweight crown, which he had lost in 1967 for refusing to go to war and which he had regained five months earlier with a surprise 8-round KO over George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), in the first fight ever staged in Africa for a universal boxing belt. 

It was the night of March 24, 1975. The fight would be in Richfield, Ohio, 2,444 kilometers away from Los Angeles.  Ali’s challenger was 36-year-old Chuck Wepner, a virtual unknown who was expected to lose.   Wepner had been active since 1964 and had a record of 39 wins, 13 by knockout, 9 defeats and one draw against also unknown contenders. Not a remarkable record compared to the 42 wins, 31 by KO, only 2 losses, accumulated against the best in the division. 

The man sitting in West Hollywood, where he lived with his wife and dog, assumed like most people that the outcome would favor Ali before the 15 rounds. But more than the possible outcome, the man recalled with anguish that his bank account had a balance of only $100 in his favor and his mind was spinning about what to do to bring food to his family in the days to come.

As the rounds went by, things seemed to become more and more difficult for the Greatest. Wepner, while behind on the scorecards, was firmly withstanding Ali’s combinations to the surprise of the fans in the Ohio coliseum and at home watching the bout on TV, including of course friend in West Hollywood , who jumped on his seat when Wepner knocked Ali down in the ninth on an 8-second count. However, 6 rounds later, with only 19 seconds to the final bell (2′.41″ exactly), and after a sustained and relentless attack by the champion, referee Tony Perez, from Puerto Rico, stepped in between the two fighters and called a halt to the action.

However, everything that happened on the ring, the unthinkable courage and endurance shown by Wepner, the determination put by the underestimated challenger in every second of the journey, shook the man sitting in front of the TV screen. And his mind began to work at a faster speed than when he was thinking about his money troubles.  He got up and went to the small room where he typed his ignored scripts. He sat down to write without rest until almost noon the next day. And he did the same for the next two days. On March 26 the script was ready and that same day the man, who as I’m sure you already know or guess was the then anonymous Sylvester Stallone, sent the already written idea to producers Irwing Winkler and Robert Chartoff of United Artists.

Immediately after reading what Stallone had sent in an envelope with the title ROCKY for the script, both contacted the author and offered him 75 thousand dollars for his work. Stallone, 28 years and 8 months old at the time, without a moment’s hesitation and boldly asked for more. And they gave him much more; exactly a quarter of a million dollars, that is $250,000.

Things didn’t stop there. The producers had in their plans Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford, at the time at the top, for the leading role. Stallone went further: “I want the lead role too,” he would have said. And they also granted it to him. It was, thus, for the near future, the already mythical Rocky Balboa, the pugilist with a heart of steel. In addition, he asked for the endorsement to select the cast that would accompany him: Thalia Shire, a young model of very little renown, in the role of Adrianne; Burt Young, Carl Wheatters, Burgess Meredith and Thayer David, among others. To feel like family, he cast his dad as a timekeeper, his brother Frank jr. as a street singer, and lastly, he brought his dog on stage…

Let’s close, although much remains to be said: the film was an unexpected and monumental public and box-office success. From the former, Stallone went on to become–and 47 years later still is–a worldwide celebrity and from poverty he made a colossal leap to opulence (his current fortune is estimated at some $400 million). “Rocky,” which cost just over $1 million to make, grossed over $60 million and outsold such 1976 films as All the President’s Men (starring Burt Reynolds and Dustin Hoffman), King Kong and A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streissand. It also won Oscars for Best Director (John Advilsen) and Best Picture (Irving Wilker) and nominations for Best Actor and Best Screenplay.

Rocky had five sequels (1979, 1982,1985, 1990 and 2006), plus 2 more with the title Creed in 2015 and 2018 and another one is being prepared for this 2023, and was finished shooting after only 28 days between February and March 1976 with John Advildsen in the direction. Stallone, who was a boxing fan but knew nothing about fighting, learned to fight in 5 months of training. All the fights were staged at the Sport Arena in Los Angeles.

Before finishing this article, it is fair to say that in order to write part of this note we wrote, under our own criteria and writing, the book El Boxeo en el cine, 1894-1994 by the Spanish writer Pablo Mérida de San Román.

As a culmination to the story, let’s add that in 2003, 28 years after the film was shown, Wepner sued Stallone for compensation before the Jersey City Supreme Court for $15 million. There was no judgment because the parties agreed privately, without the amount received by the ex-boxer, now 84 years old, being disclosed.


Gary Cully demolishes Flores to win the WBA Intercontinental belt 



Mbilli vs Heffron this Friday for the WBA International belt 

Mbilli vs Heffron this Friday for the WBA International belt 

Christian Mbilli will defend his World Boxing Association (WBA) International...

WBA Future of Colombian Boxing returns on June 7 

WBA Future of Colombian Boxing returns on June 7 

San Onofre, in Sucre, will be the next stop of...

Riyadh Season: Bivol vs Zinad on June 1

Riyadh Season: Bivol vs Zinad on June 1

After last weekend’s blockbuster clash between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson...