Not long after the success of Creed, it was suggested that not only would the Rocky spinoff be getting a sequel, but that the sequel might actually focus more on Rocky. The idea didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, but there were rumours about a look back at the missing history between Rocky and Apollo Creed. Needless to say, Sylvester Stallone’s age complicates this idea, and more recent reports have suggested a more logical path for the Creed sequel. Screenrant wrote back in February that Stallone now doubts whether or not Rocky should even play a significant role in Creed 2, given how things ended in Creed.
In other words, the signals are starting to sound that Rocky’s run on the big screen may finally be coming to an end, even if he played a major part in passing the franchise on and into the capable hands of Michael B. Jordan. It’s time now to look back on roughly 40 years of Rocky and appreciate the greatest sports film franchise in history. And in this post, I want to pay particular attention to all of the foes Rocky faced over the years. As great as Stallone is, the series would be nothing without its immensely colourful villains.
Here, in my opinion, are the rankings of the top-five opponents Rocky faced in the ring.
5. Mason Dixon
I’m not sure what the deal was with the conception of this character. Mason Dixon is a silly name for a character, and giving him the nickname “The Line” in reference to the geographical Mason-Dixon line was just plain weird. Nonetheless, Dixon (played well by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) beats out Tommy Gunn for the fifth spot in the rankings. Gunn was a lazily conceived thug who never amounted to any sort of real challenge in the ring, whereas Dixon was a legitimate professional who beat Rocky (albeit a 50-year-old Rocky in the film Rocky Balboa).
Many won’t count Hulk Hogan’s Thunderlips character because he only faced Rocky in a charity wrestling match. But was this not some of the most fun we ever had watching Rocky fight? You can see the whole scene on YouTube, and remind yourself just how enormous Hulk Hogan was in his prime. This guy towered over Rocky like a mythical giant, and tossed him around the ring accordingly in an increasingly nasty wrestling match. I’m not sure even Ivan Drago was as physically imposing an opponent as Thunderlips was.
3. Clubber Lang
Here we begin to get into the three primary Rocky opponents. You’d be hard-pressed to find a similar ranking that didn’t have these three at the top in one order or another. A modern Rocky video game online is described at Gambling.com as including bonus fights against Rocky’s “three nemeses,” as if there are only three total choices: Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Ivan Drago. Such a game online today could easily include the likes of Thunderlips, Dixon, and Gunn as well, but these top three are really just on a different level of significance. For his part, Lang may be the nastiest villain in the franchise, and he certainly got the better of Rocky in one fight. Mr. T’s portrayal was of a savage menace, threatening on every level. He’s a terrific villain, though not as deep a character as either of the top two.
2. Apollo Creed
Without a doubt the most significant character in the franchise not named Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed is iconic. Played to perfection by Carl Weathers, he was always the perfect foil to Rocky. Despite Apollo’s condescending attitude toward Rocky in the early days, the two had a mutual respect that worked incredibly well for the series. It also added depth to some of the biggest boxing moments. It says enough, really, for Apollo Creed’s ranking on this list that his character is the whole reason the spinoff Creed franchise is worthwhile. Without even using Weathers to bring back the character in any fashion, Creed was built—and built successfully, may I add—on his character’s name.
1. Ivan Drago
But purely as an opponent for Rocky, it’s hard to imagine a more compelling figure than Ivan Drago. Built like a Greek god, boasting an Olympic pedigree, and having killed Apollo Creed in the ring, Ivan Drago was a perfect storm of boxing power built to destroy Rocky. But as we know, that storm only pushed Rocky to arguably his greatest heights. As noted by Unreality Magazine in its own ranking of Rocky’s opponents, the Drago fight made Rocky more focused than he’d ever been before, and in better shape. It’s because of this that Rocky was able to pull off possibly his greatest triumph in the ring, avenging Creed in a 12th-round knockout as thrilling as it was improbable. Rocky IV doesn’t always get the respect of its predecessors, and it certainly has some ridiculous sequences. But the Rocky-Drago rivalry is awesome to watch.
Those are one writer’s rankings. Let’s just hope that if the Creed series goes on, they’ll find some similarly impactful opponents for Adonis Creed to face.