Throughout his boxing career, the Italian Stallion has mixed it up with dozens of fighters in the ring. Rocky has lost his fair share of fights, and even when Rocky was victorious, many of his opponents have forced him to dig down and will himself through a match. So, which of Rocky’s opponents were the toughest? We’ve gone ahead and ranked the top five. Sadly, Spider Rico didn’t make the cut. Find out Rocky’s toughest five opponents – presented in reverse order – after the jump:
5. Tommy “The Machine” Gunn
Alright, so Rocky didn’t fight Tommy Gunn in the boxing ring, but that shouldn’t matter. “My ring’s outside,” Rocky tells Tommy. In Rocky V – which I still have a hard time acknowledging – Rocky and Tommy duke it out in the streets after Tommy’s frustration with being labeled a “paper champion” leads him to confront Rocky. Rocky has retired from boxing, and Tommy is a hard-hitting 20-year-old from Oklahoma – hardly a fair matchup. Still, Tommy just barely makes the Top 5. He did give Rocky one hell of a beating in the streets of Philadelphia, but in the end, Rocky knocks his former apprentice out, humiliating him in the process.
4. Mason “The Line” Dixon
When Rocky fights Dixon, Dixon is the heavyweight champion of the world, sporting an impressive 33-0 record. Dixon’s got power, too, as 30 of his wins have come by way of knockout. It’s not that Dixon wasn’t a great fighter; rather, the heavyweight division had become so watered-down that boxing fans began to turn on Dixon. As part of a publicity stunt, Dixon agrees to fight Rocky, who hasn’t boxed professionally in over 10 years. Dixon is surprised by Rocky’s toughness and strength, but manages to defeat his much older opponent in a 10-round split decision. Dixon beats out Tommy Gunn for the fourth spot in these rankings for two reasons: 1) it’s not really his fault that he was able to cruise through the uncompetitive heavyweight division and thus have boxing fans grow to resent him and 2) he fought Rocky – who still hit like a sledgehammer – with a broken hand. That’s pretty tough.
3. Clubber Lang
Perhaps the most aggressive and violent of Rocky’s opponents, Clubber Lang was a devastating puncher from Chicago who actually knocked Rocky out in just two rounds. So why isn’t Clubber ranked higher? Because for years, Mickey had hand-picked opponents that Rocky could defeat easily and who wouldn’t stand in the way of the progression of his career. When Rocky fought Clubber for the first time, Rocky was unprepared, both mentally and physically. After his loss to Clubber, Rocky abandons the glitzy training he was used to and instead trains with Apollo Creed in an old school, dark, dirty gym. For the first time in his life, Rocky is truly afraid, but he uses his fear and Mickey’s death as motivation to train for Clubber. In the rematch, Clubber pulverizes Rocky early on, but Clubber’s lack of stamina eventually catches up to him. Rocky knocks him out in the third round and regains his heavyweight championship belt. Clubber could throw punches with the best of them, but his poor conditioning keeps him out of the top two.
2. Apollo Creed
After one of his upcoming fights is cancelled due to his opponent’s injury, heavyweight champion Apollo Creed decides to give an unknown fighter a chance to fight for the title in Philadelphia. Enter Rocky. Apollo severely underestimates Rocky’s power and determination, defeating him in a split decision. This was the first time a fighter had lasted the full 15 rounds with Apollo. In a move to appease fans, Apollo agrees to a rematch with Rocky. The two fighters both hit the mat in the final round, but only Rocky is able to stand up before the 10-count. For this rematch, Rocky had trained even harder than he had for the first bout, was more mentally prepared, and had become a more polished fighter. Still, the great Rocky Balboa was only able to beat Apollo Creed by just one measley second. Apollo – in the Rocky universe- was truly one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time.
1. Ivan Drago
Without a doubt, the toughest opponent Rocky has ever faced is the Siberian Bull, Ivan Drago. Drago stood 6’5″ and weighed 261 lbs, was a former Olympic gold medalist, and as his trainer explained, destroyed anything he hit. For crying out loud, Drago killed a guy in the ring. Sure, it was an exhibition bout against an aged, retired Creed, but do you know how hard you have to hit to KILL someone? Rocky travels to Moscow to fight Drago, using Apollo’s death to drive him while training in the Russian wilderness. Rocky is more focused than he has ever been in his career, having removed all distractions from his life – including, for a little while, Adrian. Fighting in the best shape he’s ever been in, both physically and mentally, Rocky gives Drago everything he’s got and manages to defeat the monstrous Russian by knockout in the final round. Rocky paid a price for the fight, however, as the numerous blows to his head from Drago caused brain damage. Quite simply, Ivan Drago would defeat any of Rocky’s opponents, and probably pretty easily. The only fighter besides Rocky who wouldn’t be completely embarassed is Apollo Creed – in his prime, obviously.