WARNING: THIS BLOG INTRO WILL INCLUDE NOSTALGIC SPORTS FLASHBACKS AND STAR TREK SPIN OFFS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
2002 was a big year for Ryan the sports fan. It was the year that my sports consciousness flipped on and my path to becoming the ESPN-obsessed lunkhead I am today began. Before that, sports weren’t really my thing. And honestly, I was pretty lucky to skip out on Minnesota sports in the late nineties. A decade of Twins futility? No skin off my back. Gary Anderson’s missed kick in the 1998 NFC Championship game? Meant nothing to me. 41-0 butt whooping by the Giants in the 2000 game? Hard pass. While the utterly classic and fantastic 2001 World Series technically marked my entrance into the sports world, it was 2002 and the Get to Know ‘Em Twins like Corey Koskie and Christian Guzman that consecrated me as a true sport-o (if you have a free half hour, google “Minnesota Twins commercials.” Always on point).
So what does all this have to do with Rocky? I honestly don’t remember much about the Twins regular season during 2002. I remember the playoffs vividly (I got sick during one of the games and got to go down into the bowels of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome). What I do remember from that summer is the heavyweight boxing bout between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. It was all anyone on ESPN could talk about. Mike Tyson was the baddest man on the planet and he was going to get his title back from that pesky Lennox Lewis. I was a peace-loving, docile pacifist who had just started to give a hoot about sports and I can still clearly remember Lewis knocking out Tyson. That’s how big this fight was. That’s how big boxing was.
And now? UFC has all but knocked out boxing’s mass appeal. The heavyweight division has been all but invisible, more or less dominated by the Ukranian Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are the best known fighters on the planet but they’ve spent the last half-decade affirmatively not fighting each other. Maybe once a year, Mayweather or Pacquiao will fight someone and get some attention on ESPN for a day or two. But no fight, outside of Mayweather and Pacquiao finally getting in the ring together, could even come close to the hype of Lewis-Tyson 12 years ago.
In the Star Trek universe, boxing is still a thing in the 24th century. Maybe it’s because in the future, all that remains of our civilization are films and they looked at all of the boxing movies and thought, “Wow, this boxing thing must be a big deal.” Because while boxing for the masses has retreated into its corner, boxing movies keep coming at us. Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, Rocky Balboa, The Fighter, Grudge Match. Whatever is keeping boxing from staying relevant as a sport, its counterparts in Hollywood know not of.
This week, I watched one of the original great boxing movies. Here’s what I thought of Rocky.
Big names: Sylvester Stallone, Burgess Meredith and Carl Weathers
One sentence summary: A slow-talking mafia enforcer slash boxer from Philly (Stallone) gets a chance to win the world heavyweight boxing title against the greatest boxer, and showman, on the planet (Weathers).
Scene that sticks out: A surprisingly young Stallone takes off his sweater to reveal his toned body covered only in a white tank which he thrusts at his date (Talia Shire). Real sly, Sly. Real sly.
Thoughts: This was a tough movie for me to gauge. On one hand, it’s terribly cliched. A not-too-bright local boxer gets a miraculous shot to prove himself against the best in the world. On the other hand, it was the movie that launched the plucky underdog boxing cliche, so it’s hard to knock it too much for that. Like several other films I’ve written about, it seemed really slow to me at the beginning. I don’t know if big-budget modern movies have skewed my movie viewing but it felt like we spent a lot of unnecessary time with Rocky just walking around Philadelphia doing nothing in particular. However, I did like the movie. I thought the love story between Rocky and Adrian was legitimately touching and far less cheesy than most sports movie love stories. While Carl Weathers will always be the one-handed golf pro, Chubbs Petersen from Happy Gilmore, he was excellent as Apollo Creed the boxer and the business man. I can’t remember disliking a character as thoroughly as I disliked Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young). And while the character has been replicated numerous times, I am not surprised at all that Stallone’s portrayal of Balboa launched him into stardom.
Ranking (out of 10): – I understand why this is a classic sports movie, but now that I’ve seen it, I don’t see myself rushing to see it again any time soon.
As a movie fan and a sports fan, nothing gets my engines revving like a quality sports film. The problem is that there are a lot of sports films that fall flat. The biggest problem? About 90% of sports films are underdog stories. And underdog stories are painfully predictable. SPOILER ALERT: the underdog wins! The challenge is to make a sports movie that doesn’t blend in with all the others. Here are the top 5 sports films from three different great sports minds: the American Film Institute, the now-defunct ESPN Page 2 and yours truly. What’s your favorite sports movie? Share in the comments!
NEXT WEEK: I return to my roots and watch the Coen brothers’ Fargo.