Sunday, May 01, 2016

Rocky Road

One night in 1976 I saw a sneak preview of Rocky at a theater on the Upper East Side.

I was a sophomore at Hunter College, which was 10 blocks away, and I’ll never forget how the crowd went berserk when Rocky Balboa knocked down Apollo Creed after being smacked around the ring for most of the first round.

It was one of my favorite movie moments of all time.

Yes, Rocky was a simple underdog story, but it was so well done and the characters were so memorable that the familiar plot didn’t bother me at all.

Forty freaking years later—I keep doing the math hoping I’m wrong--I sat down to watch Creed, which tells the story of Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, Adonis Jackson, who gets Rocky, now long retired, to train him.

I was so psyched to see this movie I couldn’t wait to order it from Netflix. It had gotten excellent reviews and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good boxing movie. Or at least that’s how I used to feel.

But a lot has changed in the last four decades. As I watched this intelligent, likeable young man climb into the ring, all I could think about was the brain damage he was receiving every time he took a punch.

What the hell is wrong with you, I thought, sounding a lot like my mother, you’re going to get killed!

From what I could tell, Adonis is hardly living in poverty, and the idea of following in his father’s footsteps is disturbing given how his father ended up in Rocky IV.

His mother warns him against a career in boxing, telling him that she had to help Adonis’ father up the stairs in his home when he was too battered to do it on his own. But the kid still wants to be a fighter.

Let me just say right here that I think boxers are fantastic athletes and I have tremendous respect for what they do. It takes an incredible amount of courage, dedication and skill to climb into the ring.

The Long Count

However, I can no longer see boxers as heroes; I see them as victims, men and woman who suffer irreparable damage to please a bunch of tough guy wannabes who live vicariously through the athletes' real pain.

I’m older now and I know how fragile the human body really is. Despite how strong or tough you think you are, your brain can’t take constant battering. Look at the growing number of retired football players who have been diagnosed with dementia.

When the fight is over, the crowd will leave the arena, the folks at home will pick up the remote, and the fighter will be left to suffer alone.
I remember watching fights with my dad on TV and invariably one of the commentators would gush on about how tough one of the combatants was for taking so many blows to the head.

“Bullshit!” my father would snap. “Ten years from now he’ll be cutting out paper dolls!”

And yet we continued to watch and I still watch boxing, kick-boxing, and mixed martial arts bouts to this day, even though I know these people are destroying themselves.

Like everyone else watching these bouts, I conveniently ignore that ugly little fact.

On Tuesday I switched on one of the sport channels and started watching a repeat of a fight between John Duddy and Luis Ramon Campas, which took place on September 28, 2008.

The fight was a classic and I hate to say this, but it was like something out of movie. Duddy was the hot young prospect, Campas was the relentless veteran and these two went at it for 12 serious rounds of amazing action.

But, of course, it wasn’t a movie with actors throwing fake punches at each other. These were real people and they are likely to pay a terrible price for their career choice.

At the end of Creed, Adonis Jackson is told that he has a future in the light-heavyweight division.

It’s supposed to be a compliment, but all I could think about were all the other fighters who had received similar praise during their careers who ended up cutting out paper dolls.


Ron said...

Rob, this post brought back so many memories for me when I first saw it while living in NYC. I saw it with a bunch of fellow-acting students I had gone to school with. And if I remember correctly, I think we saw it in a movie theater down in Greenwich Village. It was 1976.

You're right, that final scene was riveting and so exciting. What I loved about that film was the wonderful "spirit" it had - "a simple underdog story" - yes!

I don't normally like to watch boxing (in a movie or on TV) because it just seems too violent. Also (and like you said), despite how strong or tough they think they are, the brain can’t take constant battering. After years of boxing, it has to do damage to the brain.

Great post, buddy! And speaking of Rocky, any time I walk over to the Philadelphia Art Museum and climb the stairs, I immediately think of that scene in the movie where Rocky holds his arms up and you see the city of Philadelphia in the background.

Have a super week!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, what's up?

The first Rocky was just a magical experience and Sylvester Stallone's own underdog story just added to it. It's just hard for me to cheer as someone gets his brains knocked out.

But I'm dying to do the run up the museum steps, so we'll put that on the "To Do" list when I come see you in Philly!

Take care, buddy, and thanks for stopping by.

Bijoux said...

I guess it comes as no surprise that I don't enjoy the world of boxing. It's definitely a guy thing. Women like to avoid anything that will harm the face! Brain damage goes without saying. Ugh!

Rob K said...

Yeah, Bijoux, it takes men a bit longer to catch up!

valerie said...

i'm pretty sure i left a comment here. they seem to go poof. anyway, i saw creed and it was better than expected. i just don't like the violence.

if you want to know what repetitive hits do to the head, the watch concussion.

Rob K said...

Hey, Val. Sorry about the comment. I liked Creed, too, it's just the head-banging that got to me. I'll be sure to check out Concussion.

Take care!

A Cuban In London said...

The first and only time I saw Rocky was years after it had first come out, in Havana, at one of my mates' and with the volume turned down so low that we could barely hear a thing. Rocky was still banned in those days. Still, I enjoyed the boxing scenes a lot. Thanks for the memories.

Greetings from London.

Rob K said...

Oh, I enjoyed the boxing scenes, too, brother. fake fight scenes are the best!