Sylvester Stallone made a long-lasting contribution towards the film industry with his Rocky franchise. But the series of films also made its mark in the world of sports as well. So much so Stallone was inducted into the boxing hall of fame because of it.
But it was an honor Stallone wasn’t sure was well-deserved.
How a Muhammad Ali boxing match might have led to ‘Rocky’
Although inspired by boxing, there was one boxing match in particular that inspired the first Rocky movie. The fight in question had similar parallels to Rocky Balboa’s own journey in the Oscar-winning film. The match may have featured legend Muhammad Ali, but Ali wasn’t the fighter Stallone found the most interesting that night. It was Ali’s opponent, Chuck Wepner, that grabbed Stallone’s attention.
“Chuck Wepner was basically a guy who everybody considered a joke. He was known as the Bayonne Bleeder, and it was clear that his only notable contribution to the history of pugilism would be just how badly Ali would destroy him,” Stallone once said according to GQ. “No one considered whether he could win the fight, that was out of the question, but everyone was wondering just how much of a beating he’d take — and how long it would last — and how much pain he’d absorb before he crashed to the canvas.”
But what would happen later on in the fight left a lasting impression on Stallone. An impression so strong some biographers felt Rocky was truly born during the bout. Wepner performed as bad as Stallone expected, with Ali dominating the match. But for a brief moment Wepner managed to turn the tables.
“From nowhere, Wepner knocked down the immortal Ali,” Stallone remembered. “It was like a bolt of lightning from some Greek god in the sky, and, almost instantly, Wepner became the crowd favorite — in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, he went from being a complete joke to being somebody whom everybody watching could identify with—because everybody’s thinking, ‘Yes, I’d like to do that!’”
Sylvester Stallone was embarrassed about winning the boxing hall of fame
After writing the first Rocky, the movie spawned a franchise that became a part of pop culture. And although an entirely fictional film, some consider Rocky to be influential in the world of boxing as well. At least enough to induct Stallone in the boxing Hall of Fame.
Stallone was flattered by the offer, but he also felt it might have been an offer that wasn’t right for him. Especially when he received the honor alongside real boxers.
“I was actually embarrassed by it [Hall of Fame honor] because I’m not a fighter, but they look at it like someone who helps promote boxing. Mike Tyson and Cesar Chavez, Jr. is mazing so it was another validation that I’m here promoting the sport,” he once said according to Contact Music.
Still, however, he reiterated how big of a fan of the sport he was.
“But I’ve always loved the sport even when I was a kid, seven or eight years old, just fascinated with this idea of two men just showing their hearts and going for it,” he said.
Sylvester Stallone once shared that ‘Rocky’ addresses the heavy cost of boxing
Although most Rocky films focused on triumph, Stallone asserted that the movies depicted and acknowledged the real-life dangers of boxing. Stallone was well aware of the physical risks boxers took while inside the ring, and kept that in mind while playing Rocky.
“I do feel responsible, because I see the brain damage. I see the harm. No one walks away unscathed,” Stallone said in a 2015 according to The Associated Press.
Despite the brutality of boxing, Stallone also felt there was beauty in the sport that he admired.
“I have this conversation with my wife,” Stallone said. “[She’ll say] ‘This is so brutal. How can you condone it?’ Well, a lot of these men, they don’t sing, they don’t dance. They’re not intellectuals. This is what they do, and when it’s done properly, it’s the most incredible, graceful, beautiful, violent ballet. It’s something that’s just in certain men.”
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