NEWS FLASH: Rocky Balboa, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world for 14 years, has retired from the ring, according to Sly Stallone, Balboa's spokesman and alter ego. Declining health contributed to his decision to retire. Balboa first won the heavyweight title in 1976. His last official fight was in 1989. However, he was recently involved in a street altercation. No arrests were made.
Yo, Adrian! This time it appears to be true. Rocky, that muscular loveable lug, is retiring, as chronicled in Rocky V, now at a theater near you. This means the end of the Rocky series, although with Stallone's real-life son Sage appearing (and scoring a TKO) in the latest movie, who knows, there could be another sequel in a few years - Rocky VI, The Kid.But let's not give anyone any ideas. Let's face it, the Rocky formula - limited to begin with (underdog meets bully, overcomes odds, etc.) - is running dry, as are Rocky's brain cells. But like some of his real-life counterparts, Rocky keeps coming back for more, just when you think he's finished.
Since winning the title in 1976 with a victory over Apollo Creed, Rocky has faced and beaten some of the worst creeps this side of the Star Trek galaxy - Clubber Lang (a.k.a. Mr. T), Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan), Drago (Dolph Lungren).
In Rocky V, the formula is the same. The beginning of the movie is warm and fuzzy, the middle is a major bummer and the last few minutes are warm and fuzzy all over again. Punches still sound like artillery fire. Adrian is still trying to yank Rocko out of the ring for good. Promoters are extra nasty, reporters extra obnoxious, the opponent extra tough, the hero extra cuddly. Rocky is still telling corny jokes and performing the old magic tricks and stumbling through the English language.
In the latest adventures of Rocky, we quickly learn two things: Rocky has brain damage and Uncle Paulie - who somehow has been left in charge of finances - has squandered the entire Rocky fortune. On the former, no one should be surprised, given the fact that for 14 years Rocky's sole means of defense has been to block punches with his face, but somehow he's skeptical. No one else should be. Only someone with severe brain damage would leave his fortune in the care of Uncle Paulie, who himself has the same number of functioning brain cells as a zucchini, provided he's sober, which is almost never. Anyway, Rocky is suddenly poor again, and he can't get licensed to box to earn back his riches. Michael Milken didn't fall this hard.
All of which of course is nothing but a silly contrivance to get Rocky back to rock bottom. He and the little family (Adrian and Rocky Jr.) are forced to move back to the old neighborhood in Philly, where Rocky dons his old Rocky I costume (goofy hat, leather jacket and so on), he and the missus go back to work and, presto, we're back where we started 14 years ago, back in da nay-ba-hood, where Rocky ain't doin' anyt'ing much but hangin' out wich Paulie, the grizzled grumpy nitwit, when along comes Tommy Gunn, a Rocky clone from the Midwest.
Rocky agrees to manage Gunn and, yo!, guess what happens: a few minor technical adjustments here, a little philosophical talk there and, bingo, overnight the kid, well, you know. Of course, one thing leads to another, and they must settle the predictable who's-the-real-champ question the only way they can, with a three-rounder in the street.
In the end we leave Rocky the way we found him - poor and back in da nay-ba-hood, albeit with an addled brain. What will become of Rocky now? There are several against-all-odds possibilities out there:
- Rocky becomes a child psychologist. After all, it took only a two-minute heart-to-heart with Rocky to convince Junior to bag the cigarettes, the earring and the attitude.
- Rocky tries another sport. He becomes a starting quarterback for the New England Patriots.
- Rocky becomes a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
- Rocky joins other brain-damaged professionals and becomes a politician.
It's time for Rocky to move on, but his boxing career is not without its legacies. He leaves behind a great first movie, enough halftime music to finish out the century (Rocky Theme, Eye of the Tiger), and perhaps a lasting distaste for boxing and its mayhem.
"The fight ain't over till the bell," Rocky tells Gunn at one point. "We ain't heard a bell yet, have we?" Let's hope so.