While the raging seventies proved to be the glory years for the Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa, hell hath no fury on him like the 1980’s. It was the decade where his life changed forever.
His health and monetary downward spiral can be pinpointed to one single moment and it was during his fight with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. The moment I'm talking about is when Rocky went to his corner and looked across the squared circle, and saw "three" of his stoic Russian opponent. The icon was hit so many times his vision split.
What was a cool movie liner back in 1985 is a frightening thing to say by today’s standards with all the research we have compiled on the subject of concussions. Any cranial injury he was stricken with in that fight was probably one of many for a man who blocked fists with his skull, cheek, and chin.
After Rocky mentioned the vision issues, Paulie, his bewildered drunken brother-in-law, gave him the advice to hit the Drago standing “in the middle.” Mickey’s replacement, Duke, a not-so bewildered drunk but a professional boxing manager, agreed to the awful advisement. Instead of the cornermen noticing something was off about their little Italian prize pig, they allowed the mushing of his brain to continue.
Rocky V started with concussive signs even worse than the triple vision he talked about in his fight against the roid-built-hammer-fisted Drago. The movie begins where the previous film ended. With Duke celebrating outside by sniffing Apollo Creed's shorts, Rocky is seen slumping over in the shower, confused and saying “something is broken inside.” It was a terribly cheesy line for a 1990's movie but is once again a frightening thing to hear by today's health standards.
A few minutes later we see Rocky at the doctor with bad news. It tragically turns out the head trauma he sustained from the Drago fight left him with irreversible brain damage. Damage so bad he became unable to find a boxing license in any state. The legend that was Rocky Balboa came to an end in a doctor's office. The stallion was forced into retirement.
I'm sure a decade of going toe to toe with the most racially diverse batch of fighters Hollywood could find didn't help his head trauma, but it seems that if Rocky had had better help in his corner he would have been able to get that one last fight to bring him out of debt. Nobody brings up the fact that Duke's managerial resume in Rocky IV included the death of Apollo Creed and the end of Rocky Balboa's career by not stopping the Drago fight.
This is something I hope haunts the fictitious Duke. I understand we needed Drago to lose in order to win the Cold War but was it worth sacrificing an icon who has wins over half the men involved in Wrestlemania One's main event?
Of course in the land of Hollywood, retirements only last so long. In 2006 we saw the return of Rocky in Rocky Balboa. It was the replace-Rocky-V-sequel we all were waiting for.
In Rocky Balboa the former champ was well into his fifties and wanted one more fight to quell the demons inside - as he put it. The impulsive decision was of course admired and applauded by the usual cast of yes-men in Rocky’s life. The ensemble was made up of his his son, Duke, Paulie, and some girl he told to stop smoking as a kid who is now all grown up.
This time though it wasn’t just a few Philly schmucks enabling the further mushing of Rocky's brain. No, in Rocky Balboa the entirety of his downfall can be blamed on the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission for giving him the okay on this fight. In case you aren’t sure what type of power athletic commissions wield in our country, they have the ability to pull up an assortment of scientific research and medical records.
Despite knowing Rocky was forced into retirement due to years of accumulating brain damage, they green lit his return fight. The green lighting wasn’t just done on a whim either. We know this because one of the men on the commission's board stated that Rocky passed his physical with “flying colors.” Either the Rocky series is actually an X-Men spin off and he has the same regenerative ability as Wolverine, or these guys completely botched those tests.
I know Rocky Balboa was just a movie but is there any way we can call for the firing of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission? A simple Google search of “Rocky Balboa Health” would have been all the info they needed to turn the old man down.
You would expect this type of shoddy work from medical experts in 1985, but it turns out that in the Rocky Universe the field of medicine regressed following the millennium. It doesn’t make sense that he was allowed to have another fight when these guys are all educated on the fact that even the smallest head injury can go as far as altering your personality drastically.
Everyone understands that a Rocky fight is the only thing bigger than the Catalina Wine Mixer, but the commission should have used their better judgement instead of thinking with their pockets. Doing that is how you Goodell everything up. The modern concussive research Rocky’s doctors had at their disposal should have found he was suffering from symptoms such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe depression.
For all intents and purposes, the man should have been carted off to a rehabilitation center. Not sent a boxing ring.
The medical industry in the Rocky Universe put its hero in the worst of positions by allowing him to fight Mason Dixon. Concussions not only lead to horrid mood imbalances -imbalances that may have been behind the suicide of an NFL great like Junior Seau- but it also leads to a disorder called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – or CTE for short.
Sadly, the only way to tell if someone has CTE is by studying their brain post mortem and looking for traces of a protein called Tau. The more concussions a person received in their life, the more Tau is found engulfing the brain.
Rocky might have a way with words, but him quoting the Bill of Rights should not have swayed the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission to give him one more fight. That’s lunacy.
The commission was put in place to protect guys from disorders like CTE and they essentially threw Rocky into a lion’s den by allowing him to face a younger, faster, and much more agile opponent in Mason Dixon. Instead of ending in a boxing ring, Rocky Balboa could have been a dramatic public service announcement on how serious we should look at head trauma and concussions.
Of course, that's how you make a movie suck, so thank Odin it didn't go that way. With that said, here is yet another damn good Rocky speech. I don't know about CM Punk, but man can he fire off verbal pipe bombs on a moments notice.