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March 02, 2023

Philadelphia boxers pick their favorite rivals from the 'Rocky' universe

Trainers at three Philly boxing gyms shared their No. 1 villains ahead of the release of 'Creed III' this weekend

Movies Boxing
creed 3 opponents MGM/YouTube

In 'Creed III,' Adonis Creed fights a new opponent. The Rocky movies and Creed movies have produced some fan-favorite villains.

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 Creed

apollo creedMGM/YouTube

Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is Rocky's rival in the franchise's first two movies, and then is his friend for the next two. His son, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), currently leads the franchise.

For some, there's no beating Rocky's most enduring opponent, Apollo Creed. At the start of "Rocky," Creed is the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world — and he still is after his first match with Rocky, which ends in a narrow victory for Creed. 

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."

Ivan Drago

ivan dragoMGM/YouTube

Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is the villain of 'Rocky IV.' He returns in 'Creed II'with his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu), a new rival for Adonis Creed.

The Cold War may be long over, but the fascination with Soviet villain Ivan Drago is still very much alive. The cold-blooded fighter takes on Rocky in the fourth movie, after killing Apollo Creed in an ugly match. 

"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."

Spider Rico

spider ricoMGM/YouTube

Spider Rico, played by Pedro Lovell, is the first opponent Rocky Balboa faces in the 'Rocky' franchise, during a fight in Philly boxing club.

Apollo Creed might be the highest profile rival from first "Rocky" movie, but he actually wasn't Balboa's first opponent. That distinction goes to Spider Rico, the "bum" played by real-life Argentine heavyweight boxer Pedro Lovell, whom Rocky defeats in the first movie's opening scene to win $40.55.

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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