The Rocky Balboa saga is undoubtedly one of the most iconic of the seventh art, with some of its chapters that are still remembered.
Today as a watershed moment not only in pop culture, but of the reproduction of the American dream. It was the element that certainly sanctioned the success of the first film, released at a very particular moment in American history.
Yet, from certain points of view, it is the third chapter to have brought incredibly interesting narrative elements, to have also been able to go beyond the small universe that began in 1976.
Now that it turns 40, that film deserves to be looked at with eyes. different.
The loss of the crown
Anyone who knows even the slightest bit of boxing history knows that Rocky Balboa is connected to some legendary figures in the ring, men like Rocky Marciano, Smokin ‘Joe Frazier, Rocky Graziano, Chuck Wepner and Harry Greb . Gladiator of the ring endowed with enormous generosity, heart, endurance and aggression, Rocky in the second episode with the rematch against Apollo Creed , had become world heavyweight champion, starting a series of victorious defenses of his title that had led him to be recognized as the face of boxing of his time.
Famous, acclaimed, rich, so much so that he even participated in questionable TV shows, he finally decides to retire, but retraces his steps when he is stung on pride by a new, rampant boxer who aspires to his crown: Clubber Lang . The rest, as they say, is history, with Rocky failing to prepare the meeting well due to excessive media presence and marketing needs, while Lang does exactly what he did in his time: he kills himself in the gym. . His coach Mickey , already in poor health, dies moments after Rocky’s defeat by KO in the second round. Broken at heart, but still determined to try and take revenge, Rocky will find himself in Apolloan unexpected help, a new mentor who will lead him towards a completely opposite human and pugilistic path, will open him the secrets of the sweet art, of a boxing made this time of technique, movement, speed and intelligence. All while the brave boxer from Philadelphia is gripped by guilt for the death of the old coach, by his doubts, frightened by the idea of having to compete again with a rival so much more powerful, aggressive and ruthless. Of course, on the day of the match, Rocky will be able to triumph against his rival thanks to various technical tricks, greater patience and above all the ability to identify the weak point of his opponent in the lack of resistance, returning champion. The villain will thus be defeated. But is this really the truth ofRocky III ?
An America divided in half
The reality is that that 1982 film, on balance, reminded us above all of what has always been the problem of every boxer capable of becoming a champion. The hardest part is not conquering the crown, not only that, it is above all finding new stimuli and maintaining the right aggressiveness and humility. As the great George Foreman , one of the boxers who inspired Stallone for Clubber Lang , said, staying on top is really difficult, because everyone tries to make you fall and because you are subjected to considerable pressure. Rocky III shows us a very good Sylvester Stallonein the role of this boy from Philadelphia who has quickly become the very symbol of a country trying to recover from the tragedy of Vietnam, from the economic crisis and from a very deep social uncertainty. But in particular that film also offered us the racial opposition that has always reigned in boxing, not only in American society. Rocky , for better or worse, is a hero of white America, in a certain sense he is the cinematic realization of that “White Hope” which for a long time led many to hope that men like Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis were ousted by a white boxer. There was almost fear that a color swatch might challenge the social status quo of a society where blacks were at the bottom of the line.
An absolutely interesting element of this film is how in fact Rocky has to confront the reality of African American boxing, what is created in small dark gyms, basements, where men without hope and with an incredible hunger, train day and night in order to redeem your existence in the ring. The initial impact to which Apollo subjects him is certainly very strong, but it is also a moment in which Rocky realizes that he is simply afraid of something he does not know, which is not different from those guys if not only for the color of the skin. To all intents and purposes Rocky IIIhe told us of an America that was still much more divided than the age of protest and the struggle for civil rights had managed to change. And Clubber Lang ? What does it represent in all of this?
The true face of boxing
Without a doubt, it is wrong to call Lang a villain. Apollo Creed was not in the first two films, neither is this boxer with a grumpy character, very powerful, ambitious and full of anger. Simply Lang is what Rocky once was: a man full of dreams, ambition, capable of any sacrifice and privation to achieve them, who trains with absolute discipline. If Ivan Drago would have become in effect a symbol of Soviet aggression, Lang instead is the true and real face of boxing, the one that still exists today. His protagonists have always been men who have sprung up out of the mud and out of nowhere, often connected to childhood and youth troubled commas characterized by poverty and deprivation. After all, as Mike Tyson still says today , to want to earn a living by punching in the face, you must essentially have grown up in truly desperate places.
There are no “bad guys” in boxing, but there are no friends either. Apollo becomes good or bad only with this third episode, first he is simply an opponent united to the protagonist by an enormous esteem and by having shared a great suffering in the ring. In addition to this, Lang also brings with him the component of muscular black supremacy, which borders on the sexual from the sportsman, which led men like Sonny Liston to be hated because it was a symbol of something that scared whites. Then there is the fear. Lang’s disappears after the first match, and it will cost him his crown, he is defeated by the one he gave birth to in Rocky: not being up to it, not being able to reverse the result that saw him come out defeated. Going beyond the extraordinary aesthetic, that “The Eye of the Tiger” which became an immortal piece for anyone who goes to train in the morning, Rocky III is above all the path of a man forced to broaden his horizons, to get involved, to understand that there is no one way to do things. At the same time, the fascination exercised by this festival, by its protagonist, was the one that, rather than talking to us about boxing matches, spoke to us about how to deal with the hostility of the world that we are forced to face every day. Everyone will happen to have a Lang in front or to be on the ground. The point is that then you have to know how to get up and question yourself.