Believe the hype.  Creed is a great movie and I believe we will see a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone.  Thank you, thank you, thank Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan for infusing the franchise with a completely fresh take.  BTW, rumors now have Ryan Coogler directing the new Marvel Black Panther movie.   Let’s keep our fingers crossed.


In honor of the new movie Creed, we’re sharing an old post that has been sitting on our shelf.  Let us know what you think…


Rocky’s professional record was 57-23-1, and along the way he faced a number of different boxers.  But an often debated topic from my youth still remains an important question for discussion: Who was the toughest opponent of all?  Who would win in a fight amongst Rocky’s leftovers?


Some of Rocky’s opponents have been tougher than others, although it would be a mistake to underestimate Rocky 3’s fight montage challengers or pugilists like Spider Rico who are willing to head butt when necessary.

In order to understand who was considered the 2nd greatest boxer in Rocky’s time, let us focus on his biggest 5 opponents.  First some background:

Apollo Creed: “The Master of Disaster” from Los Angeles.  Was Heavy-Weight Champion of the World, and presumably defended his title against tough competitors.  He has great speed and a flair for the dramatic.

Clubber Lang: “The Southside Brawler” from Chicago.  Was Heavy-Weight Champion of the World (but never defended).  Has significant intimidation factor with his Mohawk, use of words such as “humiliate” and “crucify” (I think he coined “dead meat” in the 80’s) and public wooing of Mrs. Balboa in front of Rocky at a city press event.

Ivan Drago: “The Siberian Bull” from Russia.  Won the Olympic Gold Medal for Boxing.  Married an insanely beautiful Russian Olympic swimmer.  Chokeholds Russian Cabinet members that yell at him.  Likes steroid shots in the arse and talks in monosyllables.

Tommy Gunn: “The Machine Gun” From Oklahoma.  Heavy Weight Champion of the World (but never defended).  He has the smarts and the persistence to come to Philly and convince Rocky to train him, but ultimately surrounded himself with the wrong people.  He doesn’t show fear though, demonstrated by his flagrant use of turtleneck sweaters and mullet hair styling.

Mason Dixon: “The Line” from Florida.  Heavy Weight Champion of the World.  He came from more humble beginnings, but his current life of luxury and playing video games make many question his toughness.


Okay, now the analysis.  Who wins and why?  I present to you the rankings with justification below.  My main criteria are experience, brute force, and heart.

Ranked Order of Toughest Rocky Opponents

  1. Ivan Drago
  2. Apollo Creed
  3. Tommy Gunn
  4. Clubber Lang
  5. Mason Dixon


Ivan Drago:

Experience: Low

Brute Force: Very High

Heart: Very High

Drago was an Olympic Gold Medalist, but theoretically has the least experience of the group.  Actually, aside from Ivan Drago, every other Rocky opponent has been Heavy Weight Champion.  But like Apollo and Mason Dixon, Ivan went 15 rounds with a piece of Iron and lost by a slim margin.  His pounds per punch is probably the highest (assuming we still allow steroids) and his arm reach is probably the longest (slightly edging number Mason Dixon).  But here is the lynchpin – Ivan killed Apollo with ease (although Apollo was not taking the fight too seriously and was past his prime.)  With Ivan, I am picking Brute Force and Heart over experience.


Apollo Creed:

Experience: Very High

Brute Force: Moderate

Heart: Very High

Will trash talk against the best (including Joe Frazier).  Great speed, good combinations, great trainer & cut man in his corner with Duke.  In Rocky 1, I make the assumption he went soft from his success and wasn’t properly training.  But he still won.  In Rocky 2, he went all out, but still lost, but only by 1-second.  When Rocky beat Clubber Lang in round 3, is it difficult to believe Apollo couldn’t have done the same thing?  Except for Rocky tiring Clubber out by letting him throw his Foreman punches, presumably Rocky executed Apollo’s game plan.  This leads me to think a young Apollo could have done the same exact thing to beat a naively brutal Clubber.


Tommy Gunn

Experience: Moderate

Brute Force: High

Heart: Moderate to High

Tommy has the advantage of having been trained by Rocky.  He fought his way through Rocky’s similar boxing circuit.  He wore Apollo’s trunks, wore Mickey’s hand me down necklace and ate Adrianne’s meatloaf.  Also, he has the psychological craziness that came from an abusive father.  I believe he specifically mentioned he sees his father in every fight.  Despite his ups & downs, he was willing to throw away his career to gain respect via a street fight with Rocky, showing gritty determination.  In the end, his mental instability proved his downfall.


Clubber Lang

Experience: Moderate

Brute Force: High

Heart: Moderate

He went through a number of fights to be the #1 Heavy Weight contender.  Plus he sat through the Rocky/Thunderlips farce in a tuxedo and feather earring.  Clubber is also the only opponent to actually knock Rocky out.  That is a clear demonstration of his force (although Rocky was a head-case for their first fight, particularly given Mickey’s health issues).  Clubber let Rocky get inside his head in their 2nd fight, not listening to his trainers, but instead focusing on his ego’s desire to fulfill his TV prediction of “pain”.  Clubber is really all force, without the style of Apollo, the training of Tommy or the physical gifts of Drago.


Mason Dixon

Experience: Moderate

Brute Force: Moderate

Heart: High

He went the distance with a broken hand and obviously was disadvantaged throughout the fight.  Rocky’s relative success in that fight was likely completely dependent on this luck.  But, Mason Dixon got his clock cleaned by Rocky when Rocky was over 60!  What the!?!?  Sure Dixon has heart and earned respect, but broken hand or not, he clearly lacks the skills if he can’t knock out a 60-year old Rocky.


Before I wrap up, where does Rocky fit into this?  Obviously he is the greatest fighter, but based on what merits?  As I see it, Rocky has: 1) the career experience (after his career I think he would equal Apollo), 2) the brutal southpaw force to lift up opponents such as Apollo and Clubber with body shots combined with the street sensibility to be a loan shark enforcer with moves such as arm-to-leg body sweeps, and 3) the greatest heart with no comparison.  In the end, he just needed to show that he wasn’t “just another bum from the neighborhood”.

So, there it is.  I suspect most people will agree with Ivan Drago, but may debate the rest of the order.  What do you guys think?  Could Apollo really take The Machine Gun?  I am eager to debate further, but will only seriously debate those people who have actually seen Rocky Balboa (Rocky 6) and remember that Rocky’s turtles names were Cuff & Link.

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