Who Is Apollo Creed? A Brief History of Rocky's Greatest Rival (and Friend)

Who Is Apollo Creed? A Brief History of Rocky's Greatest Rival (and Friend)

Nov 25, 2015

The story of Rocky is legend, and at this point, most of us can either rattle off Rocky’s boxing accomplishments across his six films or relate the story of how wannabe movie star Sylvester Stallone wrote a little boxing movie for himself and became an icon in the process.

This is not that story.

This is the story of Creed, the fighter from the first four Rocky films, who went on to quite unexpectedly spawn a film bearing his name all these years later in 2015. We knew Creed was always a worthy opponent, but we never expected Creed to be such a worthy sequel/spin-off movie. We’re absolutely delighted to report - it’s damn good.

Michael B. Jordan completely inhabits Adonis Creed, Apollo’s illegitimate son, fighting out from under the shadow of a father he never knew in the sport he was born to conquer. Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as Rocky Balboa, but in support of Adonis’s story of triumph in the face of adversity. That isn’t a spoiler; that’s the bread and butter of the franchise.

So, how did we get here? We go back to 1975.


The Origin of Apollo Creed

“We needed, not only a guy who’s a boxer, but he had to be someone who was just the opposite of the Rocky character. A classy, educated boxer is what we were looking for, in a sense,” related Rocky producer Robert Chartoff in an interview for Rocky’s DVD special features. The script got the attention of former pro football player Carl Weathers.

Weathers studied acting during the NFL off-seasons and immediately saw himself in the Creed role - supremely confident and charismatic. At the audition, Weathers stepped out before any dialogue was exchanged and came back to read shirtless. To act opposite Weathers, Stallone whipped his shirt off too. The filmmakers knew there was something special at work.

“What made Apollo Creed a great opponent was Apollo Creed, as any great champion would do, will bring out something in you that you didn’t know you possessed,” Weathers related. “Great opponents have a tendency to do that.”


Apollo in Rocky: “Be a thinker, not a stinker.”

We first see Apollo Creed on TV in a bar, challenging Mac Lee Green, and revealing a little bit about the darker side of boxing in the process. “Stay in school; use your brain. Be a doctor; be a lawyer. Don’t care about sports as a profession,” admonishes Creed to the TV cameras. It’s a curious aside for a character who will become known over the course of the films for his tenacity, but Creed’s nearly proven right when Green breaks his own hand and the future of the big Creed/Green fight is brought into question.

With the promotional machine in place and so much money on the line for the fight in Philadelphia, Creed settles on boxing a patsy and leans hard on mid-70’s American bicentennial fervor. Local bruiser “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa is chosen at the last minute simply because Creed thinks their names will look good on the marquee.

Creed’s camp coasts to the Bicentennial SuperBattle, and finds themselves going blow-for-blow with a Balboa who’s hungrier than anyone had counted on. Apollo wins this fight, but eats too much crow for comfort. What he thought would be an early knockout against a chump turns into a punishing full 15 rounds and a win by decision against a fighter with a heart that turns him into a boxing legend.


Apollo in Rocky II: “Man, I won...but I didn't beat him!”

Picking up right when the first film finishes, a humiliated Apollo Creed immediately demands a rematch with Rocky Balboa now that he knows exactly what kind of fighter he’s dealing with. Creed’s handlers know it too, perhaps better than Creed does, and strongly advise against it, but it’s Creed’s ego that wins out. Sports fans accuse the fight of being fixed, with Creed willingly participating in a drawn-out spectacle designed to pull the heartstrings of Philly, instead of giving his all. Creed becomes a man obsessed with putting these accusations to rest.

Creed’s only able to put the rematch together after a concerted PR campaign from his party that paints the Italian Stallion as a chicken. It’s this relentless bad press (coupled with Rocky’s ineptitude at being a viable advertising spokesman) that sends Balboa back to his trainer Mickey to overcome Balboa’s “Southpaw jinx” and correct his one exploitable in-ring weakness.

Surprising no one (these movies are titled Rocky after all), Creed underestimates Rocky again, this time leading to a knockout against Creed in the final round. Carl Weathers sees Rocky II from the perspective of Apollo, “What Apollo Creed has to learn is that you can’t count a guy out just because he hits the floor,”


Apollo in Rocky III: “There is no tomorrow.”

This film marks a shift in the relationship between Creed and Rocky. Newcomer Clubber Lang (Mr. T) trounces a complacent celebrity Rocky, and Rocky’s trainer Mickey succumbs to heart failure at the conclusion of the fight. When all seems lost, Apollo Creed steps in.

Without betraying a single bit of established characterization, Creed takes Rocky under his wing. He helps Rocky cope with the loss of Mickey and trains him to up his speed game at the Los Angeles gym where Apollo made his name. All he asks in return from Rocky is a private bout, one away from the crowds, cameras, and lights, to answer the question of who’s better, once and for all (and ending the film with a freeze frame that would drive audiences crazy for an answer).


Apollo in Rocky IV: “Don’t stop this fight, no matter what.”

Creed is brought out of retirement by the prospect of boxing Russian juggernaut Ivan Drago. Like the Bicentennial SuperBattle, Creed sees this as an opportunistic way to exploit the Cold War, have a bit of fun, and make a ton of money.

No fun was had. Drago annihilates Creed with crushing punches, and though Creed knows the fight is far more serious than he ever imagined it would be, he refuses to throw in the towel. And at the time, no one could’ve predicted that Drago would land a killing blow.

The biggest crime of Rocky IV is that the audience gets no time to mourn this character we’ve gotten to know over the course of four films. It rolls straight into Rocky’s challenge to Drago, reducing Creed to just another side player in Rocky’s story. It is the last we see of Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed.

Weathers reflected on Creed’s legacy, “There was something in that character that resonated as a man for the people. That’s meaningful to them - to be recognized as a man who stands up for what he believes and can handle himself with what he believes. No matter where I go in the world, people still revere that character.”


The Origin of Adonis Creed

Apollo’s presence is sorely missed in 1990’s Rocky V and 2006’s Rocky Balboa, which continued Rocky’s story into old age and retirement. That might’ve been it for the franchise if it wasn’t for Fruitvale Station writer-director Ryan Coogler and his relationship with his own dad, who was a fan of the Stallone series. “We would watch them all the time and he would cry at the same moments, and he would get fired up at the same moments,” Coolger told Toronto Sun. When Coogler’s father became seriously ill, Coogler considered how Rocky might react to such a situation and the idea for a new film was born.

Creed is the first “Rocky” film not penned by Stallone, and if the actor had any skepticism, it was erased by the power of Coogler’s script. Stallone soon came aboard as a producer and agreed to play Rocky Balboa one more time opposite Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed. The cast is rounded out by Tessa Thompson as the earthy musician Adonis has feelings for and Phylicia Rashad as Mary Ann Creed (taking over the established role from Lavelle Roby and Sylvia Meals, respectively).

“A guy dreams of just getting in the ring and, y’know, having a chance. But a chance doesn’t necessarily define you; it’s what you do with the opportunity,” Weathers is speaking generally of the Rocky series, but it applies directly to Ryan Coogler. The young writer-director has taken his chance and delivered a knockout.


[Quotes taken from the Rocky Heavyweight Collection, Special Features, 2014.]

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