March 02, 2023
Philadelphia returns to the big screen with "Creed III," the latest installment in the wider "Rocky" film franchise, this weekend. The beloved boxing movies have embraced the city from the beginning, featuring its museums, cheesesteak shops and gyms throughout their nearly three-decade history — along with a local fighter or two.
"When you watch the beginning of ('Creed'), I’m the owner of the place where they’re fighting in Tijuana," Josue Rivera, former pro boxer and head trainer at Warrior Boxing Academy in South Philly, said. "My part was actually longer, but ... they let me ad lib and I did, but then ... when I went back to do the voiceover, I really didn’t remember what I said."
"We did the best we could," he recalled with a laugh.
Philly boxers and trainers talk about the "Rocky" and now "Creed" movies with a certain reverence, linking the movie's fictional heroes with the city itself, and the real fighters it's produced, from Bernard Hopkins to Joe Frazier and all the way back to Tommy Loughran.
"Philly's a fighting city," Edwin Ayala, head trainer at Let's Be Elite Boxing & Fitness Academy in Torresdale, said. "We may not host a ton of fights here, but this is where a ton of champions are born."
"A lot of pro boxers kinda despise 'Rocky,'" Hanif Nelson, trainer at the Maleek Jackson Fitness Boxing Gym in Northern Liberties, added. "Because they feel as though the story is unrealistic, so I always have that debate with them. It’s not unrealistic when it comes from Philadelphia, because Philadelphia fighters always had to come from the bottom and make it to the top."
As Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky's old rival Apollo Creed, prepares to face a new opponent but old friend in the latest movie, we wanted to know which of the fictional fighters actual Philadelphia boxing trainers admire or remember the most from the franchise. They responded with three characters from the original "Rocky" run, leaving the newest "Creed" villain with some big shoes to fill.
Apollo loses their rematch in "Rocky II," however, retiring from boxing soon after.
"That’s what started off the whole series," Ayala says. "He was the American superstar, Rocky’s an underdog. He loses in the first fight, but then that sparks Rocky’s career.
"That’s pretty similar to what real life is with boxing. You can have an underdog and then he ends up surprising most of the crowd. He loses the fight, but then becomes a fan favorite. I connected with that the most."
"For me, it’s always going to be the Russian," Nelson says. "Ivan Drago is the evil villain, he’s unstoppable, he’s a machine and Rocky just comes in and overpowers him."
Nelson says the fictional boxer reminds him of another Russian powerhouse, Sergei Kovalev, and his 2016 fight in Las Vegas against Andre Ward that brought him down.
"Andre Ward was undefeated and so was Sergei Kovalev," he explained. "Kovalev was the big monster, he knocked Andre Ward down in the first or second round, but Andre Ward came back and defeated him, and remained undefeated."
For retired pro Rivera, this character, who returns in "Rocky Balboa," says the most about Rocky himself.
"If you watch in the franchise, when (Rocky) gets his restaurant, the guy that’s cooking in the back, that’s Spider Rico," he says. "He shows that Rocky cares. Imagine some guy that he was fighting with in the beginning, that pretty much cheated because he head-butted him, and where has he got him? In the back, and he's supporting him when he’s older."
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