The first elaborate ring entrance by a high-profile fighter took place on the big screen. One year before Muhammad Ali walked down the aisle to face Earnie Shavers to the theme from Star Wars, Apollo Creed put on a George Washington wig, got on a fake boat, and made his way to the ring while the Marine’s Hymn played. More than forty years later, all fighters make grand entrances and the Rocky series is still going strong, with Creed 2 leading the way for a crop of boxing films due for either release or production in 2018.
The Rocky franchise has a backstory that is as compelling as the original movie itself. Sylvester Stallone was in a theater watching Ali defend his championship against no-hoper Chuck Wepner. The inspiration for the movie hit him right around the time Ali’s back hit the canvas – courtesy of a right hook-left toe combination according to witnesses. In an interview conducted in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel with the NY Times a few weeks before Rocky was released, Stallone “laughed, snapped his fingers to recorded rock music, answered his constantly ringing telephone with the greeting, ‘City Morgue,’” and repeated several times, “I am one of the great bull artists of all time!”
Stallone said the story “incubated” in his mind for ten months before he finally started writing it. Using a Bic pen and loose-leaf paper, Stallone wrote the initial draft in three-and-a-half days, later adding what he called the muscle and the skin. The unofficial story is as colorful.
Word on New York streets, usually told between puffs of a Macanudo, was that Stallone hired former TSS writer Joe Rein to ghost-write the initial script. Filled with characters named “Spider Rico” and “Garnet Sugar” and with dialogue right out of 1950s Stillman’s Gym, Rocky Balboa – like Mountain Rivera and Terry Malloy before him – was satisfied just “going the distance.” In contrast, by the time Rocky III came out, being just a contender wasn’t good enough anymore and fighters had names like “Clubber” and “Thunderlips.” Rocky Balboa had gone from no-hoper with a 1940s win-loss record, to a superhero of sorts.
Creed, released in 2015, saw a return to story. Like Rocky, there was the girl. There was pride. And winning in life mattered more than winning in the ring. Creed 2, also starring Michael B. Jordan, will be released in November. Creed 2 borrows heavily from a later Rocky film. Though details are sketchy, the storyline revolves around a match between Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, Adonis Johnson, and the son of Rocky IV villain, Ivan Drago. Dolph Lundgren returns to play Drago while playing the role of his son is a 6’4” boxer/mixed martial artist nicknamed the “Big Nasty,” and rumors say Balboa and Drago go at it again.
Speaking of Rocky’s, a Rocky Marciano film is in pre-production. Once considered on-par with both Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, Marciano is now mostly disregarded by modern fans and historians. Arguably one of the best sub-185-pounders ever, the unbeaten Marciano would likely be favored in head-to-head mythical matchups against anyone his size – Roy Jones, Bob Foster, Michael Spinks, and Andre Ward. Against the 6’6, 240-pound heavyweights of the last twenty years, he’d probably be given little chance to win though many who saw The Rock’s unrelenting determination in action would still pick him to win. Anyone who wasn’t around when Marciano was breaking blood vessels on his way to the championship, should tune in when Rocky: Undefeated comes out. The script, described by Rocky Marciano Jr. as being a “knockout,” is completed and casting is underway. Produced by Yochanan Marcellino, the film will be a behind the scenes look at Marciano’s climb to the top.
Cus D’Amato is regarded by many as one the greatest trainers ever. Living and training out of a gym a couple of city blocks east of Union Square in Manhattan, Cus developed Hall of Famers Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres. Later, he turned Mike Tyson into a champion. The movie, aptly named Cornerman, is believed to revolve around Cus’ Catskill days with Tyson. Written and directed by Rupert Friend, the film, listed as “in development” by the industry site, IMDB, is said to star Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins as Cus. Casting auditions for minor roles are taking place soon in New York and Atlanta.
1920s bantamweight Panama Al Brown has a story that has been largely forgotten. Two upcoming movies aim to bring back into the limelight a life that intersected with those of Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker. Panama Al Brown, produced by Storner Prod. and written by Gregory Boutboul, is slated to shoot in both Paris and New York, where Brown spent the bulk of his career. The script, written in English, picks up with Brown’s arrival to New York and chronicles the rest of his life. Also in pre-production this year, is a Panama-based film on Brown by Ricardo Aguilar that will focus on Brown’s successful 1930s comeback under the guidance of poet Jean Cocteau.
The Mexican film industry, which dates back before Hollywood, has been putting out boxing movies since the 1940s biopic about bantamweight Chango Casanova. Sal Sanchez, produced by QKramacara Films and Art Kingdom, will focus on the tragically short life of featherweight great Salvador Sanchez. Producers Jimena Arguelles and Arturo Gonzalez Alonso, who collaborated with the Sanchez family, have begun casting though no release date has been reported.
While professional boxing is constantly changing – enough so that some say it is dying – boxing films remain popular. The rapper Common has a boxing documentary chronicling Washington D.C. prospects coming out soon and in Argentina, Disney Media Distribution Latin America and Pampa Films are producing a thirteen-episode series on Carlos Monzon. In this day of champions fighting twice per year and Olympic Committee threats of no more Olympic boxing, hopefully one of these films will, like Rocky in 1976, help revitalize boxing. Perhaps the fighters of today will watch, become inspired or motivated and get what Apollo Creed told Rocky Balboa he needed to get back in order to be great again – the “Eye of the Tiger.”
Editor’s Note: Jose Corpas’ second book, a biography of Panama Al Brown, titled “BLACK INK: A Story of Boxing, Betrayal, Homophobia, and the First Latino Champion,” is available now via Amazon and other leading online booksellers.
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