Killer Fighters, Hamburger Faces, and The Absence of Defense
By Sean Newman (July 26, 2005) 
Gee, thanks a lot, Rocky, for showing Hollywood that the movie-going public is a collection of mindless dolts. Of course, I’m talking to Balboa, and not Marciano or Graziano, not Lockridge, Kansas, or even Pepeli. You see, those guys were real fighters. Heck, if you’re called “Rocky”, you have to be a real fighter. That was established long before Sly Stallone ever dreamed up his title character and a movie that spawned four sequels (and counting). My sarcastic gratitude to Rocky is extended for providing us with every variety of absurd cliché the creative geniuses in Tinseltown can come up with.

Now, maybe I shouldn’t place blame squarely on Stallone. After all, he could not have foreseen that his ideas would be taken and run with over and over again. I, for one out of many, enjoyed the Rocky movies immensely, well, most of them anyway. It is apparent, however, that the general public, i.e. non-boxing fans, cannot distinguish between fiction and reality, which is why in many of our boxing movies (and I do understand that they are movies), we are forced to suffer through:

The Invincible, Remorseless Killing Machine Fighter

As far as I can tell, this started with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Okay, seeing good ol’ Apollo get the complete hell beat out of him for a whole two rounds before flopping around on the canvas like a fish and then dying on the spot from one big punch was interesting because we had all grown to love the guy. But couldn’t you just see the “sheeple” (sheep/people hybrid, get it?) running from the theater, with no other knowledge of boxing than what they just witnessed, saying to themselves “man, I gotta watch this boxing stuff! WOW!”

To top that, Drago stood in the ring, eyeing our hero Rocky and the fallen Creed, callously saying into the microphone “If he dies, he dies.” Forget about the false impression some idiots took from that movie about the Russian people, no fighter that I’ve ever known of has walked away from a fight where his opponent ultimately died with a simple shrug of the shoulders and an “oh well.” But you can’t tell some people that, because hey, they saw it in a movie.

Most recently, we saw the memory of Max Baer butchered in the film Cinderella Man. The movie was excellent, and would have been flawless in my opinion, except that Baer was cast in the Drago role. That Baer had killed two men in the ring was played up in the promotion for the movie. Neglected was the fact that although one fighter did die following his bout with Baer, the other died following a bout with Primo Carnera. Baer may have done the primary damage, but saying that he “killed” Ernie Schaaf is like saying that Gene Fullmer “killed” Benny Paret. In this humble observer’s opinion, even the use of the world “killed” implies that a fighter intended serious and potentially fatal harm to his opponent, and is disrespectful.

Yet there was Baer in the movie, living up to the billing as a remorseless, killing machine. The character in the movie, and that’s right, it was simply a character, not only didn’t seem to mind that he had supposedly sent two men to an early grave, he reveled in it while hurling insults at James Braddock and his wife. And why is it that Hollywood would do such a thing? Of course there’s the argument that every film such as this needs a villain, but things were taken as far as they were because Ron Howard and those who had a hand in making the movie knew that the gullible public would eat it up.

The reality of the situation is, when a fighter dies following a grueling bout, people’s lives are affected. The family of the deceased fighter grieves, and lo and behold, the opposing boxer grieves along with them. I know, I know, it’s a movie, but these are real life subjects, and the death of a fighter should not be trivialized as if it were on the same level as a naked teenager in a Friday the 13th flick.

Faces Turned To Mush

Make-up wasn’t as good back in the 1970’s as it is today, but come on. Are we really expected to believe that in every fight that goes past the referee’s instructions, the faces of each fighter look as though they have been run through a meat grinder? How stupid do they think we are? The answer is, well, apparently pretty stupid, because this scene has played itself out over and over in boxing films subsequent to Rocky.

And while we’re on that topic, wouldn’t a fight where one or both fighters’ faces were in such a sorry state be stopped? Going back to Rocky IV, has anyone ever bothered to count the exact number of knockdowns suffered by Rocky in his fight with Drago? Jeez, where was the ref on that one? Not only did he allow Rocky to take way too much unnecessary punishment, he allowed Rocky to jump up from knockdowns without giving him an eight count or even bothering to wipe off his gloves. Man, get a clue! I hope that referee was never licensed to work again.

Non-existent Defense

I have already acknowledged that these are movies we’re talking about, but I have to continue to do so because someone out there will undoubtedly beat me over the head about my ranting. These are movies, and we want to be entertained, but does every punch just HAVE to land? Really? Couldn’t a fighter maybe block, slip, or parry a punch now and then? Is that too much to ask? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if every fighter took as many punches in reality as they do in the movies, they’d never fight past the age of 24.

There are countless other ridiculosities (hey, how about that, my very own Don King-ism) that I could point out, but my blood pressure is high enough right now. Here’s a thought: Maybe the public could take the time to actually watch a real boxing match before believing everything they see on the big screen. Wouldn’t that be great? But they won’t. And you can thank Mr. Balboa for that.
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