"It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance." - Rocky
You know, people sort of forget about the first Rocky movie. When people think of Rocky movies, they think of ridiculous, over-the-top scenes of Rocky brawling with Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie (Rocky III) or Rocky winning over a Soviet crowd and helping to end the cold war (Rocky IV), but they forget the series' roots. The first Rocky movie isn't an action movie, or American propaganda, but rather an introspective, character-based underdog story. In fact, Rocky won the Academy Award for best picture, not something any of it's sequels can claim (none of them even came close until Creed was nominated for Best Picture in 2016, 40 years later).
For those of you who haven't seen it, Rocky tells the story of Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, a likeable low level boxer of limited skill who finds himself in title fight against Apollo Creed, the undefeated world champion. Rocky is used to fighting small time fights against nobodies to make ends meet, supplementing his income working as an enforcer for a loan shark. He is contrasted by Creed, a cocky, bombastic, pseudo-fictionalized Muhammad Ali persona who represents the biggest opportunity of Rocky's life. Everybody involved with this fight understands what it is, Rocky is being brought in as a last minute opponent to lose to Creed as a marketing gimmick to sell tickets to local boxing fans in Philidelphia. The perception of the fight is that Rocky is a serious underdog and has no business being in the ring with Creed, as he was literally picked at the last minute replacement based on the sound of his nickname, "The Italian Stallion". Rocky himself knows this, and initially refuses the fight, but then accepts the fight with one goal in mind: to go the distance with the best.
People who watch Rocky and say that it would've been better if Rocky had won (i.e. fans of Rocky II) are missing the point. People forget that Rocky isn't supposed to be good at boxing. He's supposed to a brawler with the heart of a lion. By hanging in tough, getting through 15 rounds of punishment from the best in the world and still standing, Rocky gets the moral-victory. And once again, in my monthly movie post, I find myself returning to the theme of heart. Heart and determination are the central themes of this film, not just in the ring but also in personal relationships with his girlfriend, her abusive brother, or with his cantankerous trainer, Mickey. I'm sure all of us have witnessed a fight where we are more impressed with the loser's heart than the victor's skill. Yes, he loses the fight but he never quits and fights until the last bell, so in the end he wins something even more important: Self-Respect.