Barry Saunders

Saunders: Breaking my vow for Rocky

At the end of the fight in the original “Rocky” movie, when Rocky and Apollo Creed hugged after battering each other, Creed’s last words were “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.”

Rocky’s reply? “Don’t want one.”

As I staggered teary-eyed from the theater that day in 1976, feeling that my emotions had been pummeled as badly as their bodies, I said the same thing to myself: Ain’t gonna be no rematch. Even if they make a sequel – this was in the days before sequels were automatic – I vowed, count me out.

Why? The original “Rocky” was so good that even a teenage me knew there was no way subsequent ones could touch it.

The original was so compelling not only because of its story, but because Sylvester Stallone had had to fight just to get the movie made with him in it: Legend has it that the studios wanted a star for the role and offered Stallone hundreds of thousands of dollars for his script without him in it. Despite having about $3 in his checking account, he turned them down.

Who could not root for Stallone, for Rocky, after that?

After the first one, though, the series became exploitative and manipulative – Rocky Balboa subsequently beats Creed and a barely verbal Mr. T, finally becoming a Cold War hero by vanquishing an unbeatable Russian.

Stallone also started his jingoistic “Rambo” series. The way I figure it is, if Stallone couldn’t fight in the real Vietnam, why pay to see him all heroic and invincible in a fake one?

Stallone is not the star of “Creed,” and he’s not invincible. He’s alone, and you can tell he’s taken too many shots to the head. Outside the ring, he faces a merciless opponent that doesn’t observe a no-punching-below-the-belt rule or a three-knockdown rule. Stallone does something surprising – besides willingly playing second-fiddle – in “Creed:” He brings nuance to the role and subjugates his usual scenery-chomping persona.

The star is Michael B. Jordan, who wasn’t even born the first time Rocky yelled “Yo, Adrian.” Jordan plays Adonis Creed, son of the long-dead champ beaten by Rocky in II.

When he takes off his shirt, the handsome, sculpted Jordan kind of reminds you of me – if you’ve had 17 shots of tequila, squint with your bad eye and just got punched senseless by Mike Tyson. Even if you don’t see the similarities, you will probably see that “Creed” is the best boxing movie since the original “Rocky.”

Keeping vows has not been a strong suit of mine. Remember that vow to never do the Electric Slide?

Not only did I end up Sliding, but Sliding in downtown Raleigh in front of hundreds of people. (It was for charity and raised a heap of money, which means one thing: Y’all are willing to spend a lot of dough to see me make a fool of myself.)

The vow to not see another “Rocky” movie is thus the longest-kept one ever. I kept it until last week.

There’ll definitely be sequels to “Creed,” but I vow never to see them. At least not for 39 more years.

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