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  • Rocky IV: Balboa defeats Ivan Drago in biggest mythical sports event ever | 34 years ago

Rocky IV: Balboa defeats Ivan Drago in biggest mythical sports event ever | 34 years ago

Lee Cleveland Updated
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Given the success of Creed 2 last year and the reemergence of villain Ivan Drago to reignite feud with Rocky Balboa, many of its viewers will be tuning into Rocky IV, a cable favorite, on Christmas week. It was in that movie, 34 years ago, the Balboa-Drago rivalry was born.

For those who saw Creed 2 but not Rocky IV, watching the movie classic should enhance one's understanding and appreciation of the latest Rocky / Creed sequel.

Let's cycle back to 1985. Popular American fight legend Apollo Creed has recently - and ruthlessly - been killed in the ring by Russia's super man, Ivan Drago. A herculean 20-something and Olympic gold medalist boxer from the Soviet Union, Drago has been groomed to fight from childhood. He's a symbol of Russian superiority and Soviet scientists insist he's the most perfectly trained athlete ever and invincible in the ring.

Rolling Stone Magazine in Rocky 4

... And in his cold-hearted destruction of the 42 year old Creed, the Soviet appeared to be everything his handlers claimed. Still an amateur, Drago, who had been secretly taking a cocktail of steroids given to him by scientists, has shown freakish strength and punching power, good speed and an advanced ring acumen.

Creed dies in the ring at the hands of a Russian who looks invincible.

Presumably, a few days later at a presser in front of mass media, then heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa, previously Creed's best friend, announces his intentions to face the Soviet killing machine in latter's native Russia. Mournful and angry, Rocky is determined to avenge the loss of Apollo and defend the honor of America as the press attempts to uncover details about what would become the biggest mythical sporting event in history.

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Female Reporter: Has the fight date been set yet?

Rocky: December 25th.

Male Reporter #1: Why Christmas?

Rocky: That's what I was told.

Female Reporter: Where?

Rocky:...It's in Russia.

Paulie ( Rocky's friend and brother-in-law): Are you nuts?

And so it was. Rocky Balboa would face Ivan Drago on Christmas Day in Moscow.

So, why Christmas?

Who knows? But, rest-assured it was purposeful.

Who fights on Christmas Day?

Perhaps Drago's handlers thought their presumed showcase of their champion would get more exposure on a Christmas?


Or maybe it was strategic move by the Soviets who were attempting to create animosity between Rocky and his family during training for the former's acceptance to fight on the most cherished of American holidays?

And maybe, just maybe, producers of Rocky IV knew it would be a cable favorite during the Christmas Season? 

Heavily favored against the much smaller Balboa in the most-watched boxing event ever and in front of an international audience, the Soviet's loss was the quintessential embarrassment to the USSR who'd boasted to the world it had created an unbeatable fighting machine that was symbolic of their system of governance and economics.

And to make matters worse for the Soviet regime and politburo who was in attendance, the heavily pro-Russian crowd in Moscow that cheered for Drago and jeered Rocky in the beginning of the fight decisively embraced  Balboa, the American, by the championship rounds (Rounds 12-15).

Following the defeat, Drago was rejected by his countrymen and, until his son's rise in Creed 2 some 33 years later, was never able to shake his betrayer stigma.

12b67361 5ce9 4264 971d 5f15cacd3bb6 AP World Premiere of Creed II

And yes, some things never change. The lovely Brigitte Nielsen, now 56, who played the ice-cold ex-wife and mother of Ivan and Viktor Drago, respectively, was just as twisted in her larger Rocky IV role.

Creed 2, essentially Rocky 8, was released in November 2018. And by now, most of us know the plot. Rocky's protege, Adonis, faces Viktor Drago, the son of his father's killer, Ivan, in Rocky IV.

If you liked Creed 2 but haven't seen Rocky IV yet, find time to see it over the Holiday Season. Critical reception was mixed, but the film was a huge success at the box office, earning $300 million in the mid 80s.

Dolph Lundgren received acclaim for his performance as Ivan Drago. He won the Marshall Trophy for Best Actor at the Napierville Cinema Festival. Rocky IV also won Germany's Golden Screen Award.

Scholars note that the film's strong yet formulaic structure emphasizes the power of the individual, embodied by Rocky, the prototypically American hero who is inventive, determined, and idealistic. They contrast that with Ivan Drago's hyperbolic characterization as a representation of Soviet power in the context of the latter part of the Cold War.

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