2. A Fight, A Dream, A Script…
The main inspiration for Stallone? Chuck Wepner taking on the legendary Muhammad Ali on March 24, 1975 at the Richfield Coliseum outside of Cleveland in Richfield, Ohio.
Thirty-six year old Wepner was considered a moderate talent, but no one thought he had a hope against Ali. Indeed, no one expected Wepner to last more than three rounds.
As such, the longer the fight went on past the opening three rounds, the more shocked people became; Wepner even managed to knock Ali down in the ninth round (although Ali has always maintained that Wepner was standing on his foot when he fell).
Ali immediately opened a blistering offensive in an attempt to drop Wepner and for the next six rounds, he pummeled Wepner mercilessly, breaking his nose and opening large gashes above both his eyes.
No matter how hard Ali hit him however, Wepner kept moving forward and continuing to fight (it was this specific aspect of the fight which inspired Stallone).
Eventually, with 19 seconds left in the fifteenth and final round, Ali scored a TKO.
The underdog in that case might have lost the fight, but he got some good, solid punches in when he was never expected to last more than a round or two.
Wepner's accomplishment was a massive encouragement to a struggling young talent named Sly Stallone.
Stallone had had a few small roles in the likes of The Party At Kitty And Stud's, Klute, Bananas, Death Race 2000 and The Lords Of Flatbush (to which he also contributed some of the dialogue).
Mostly, however, he was either uncredited, or saw his scenes deleted and he was most definitely underpaid and under appreciated.
He quickly came to a conclusion: "Early in my acting career I realized the only way I would ever prove myself was to create my own role in my own script," he recalls.
"On my 29th birthday I had $106 in the bank. My best birthday present was a sudden revelation that I had to write the kind of screenplay that I personally enjoyed seeing.
"I relished stories of heroism, great love, dignity, and courage, dramas of people rising above their stations, taking life by the throat and not letting go until they succeeded.
"But I had so many ideas in my head I couldn't focus on any one. To cheer myself up, I took the last of my entertainment money and went to see the Ali-Wepner fight on closed circuit TV.
"That night, Rocky Balboa was born. He is a man of the streets. People looked on him as the all-American tragedy, a man without much mentality and few social graces.
"But he has deep emotion and spirituality and good patriotism. And he has a good nature, although nature has not been particularly good to him.
"I have always seen him as a 20th Century gladiator in a pair of sneakers. Like so many of us, he is out of sync with the times. To all this, I injected doses of my own personal life, of my frustration at not getting anywhere."
Next: Rocky Takes Shape