Culture of Pop

The ‘Rocky’ Training Scene Power Rankings

rockyWelcome to Rocky Week here at Baller Mind Frame’s Pop Culture Spin! Over the course of this week (and next week), BMF Editor Sonny Giuliano and PCS Writer Dalton Baggett will be teaming up on a number of Rocky themed write-ups in anticipation and celebration of the Rocky spin-off Creed being released on Thanksgiving Day. Today, these two pop culture guru’s take on the task of figuring out the best training scene in the entire Rocky franchise.

Sonny Giuliano: Dalton, I like to think that there are three things that have led us here, to this point, in both our friendship and our respective writing careers. First, we work together … like in real life and everything, not just on the line here as a part of BMF. Second, our former co-worker Jeremiah moved to New Hampshire and I was quick to declare myself your replacement best friend (on a scale of 1-10, how am I doing?). Third, we share a love for the Rocky film franchise, so much so that we partook in multiple shots of tequila while listening to Eye of the Tiger a few months back. The next logical step in our friendship is to tag team some Rocky themed write-ups this week, and then swear to each other that we’ll never drink Tequila again. Deal?

Dalton Baggett: You make a valid point, Sonny. If it wasn’t for us being real life co-workers, the world may never have gotten our opinions on all aspects of the Rocky franchise, and that would be nothing short of a travesty. I look forward to embarking on this journey with you, a co-worker, and more importantly, a friend. A friend I would rate a seven or eight on the replacement best friend scale. Certain things are keeping you from that perfect ten, one of which is your unflinching love for LeBron James. I just can’t get on that bandwagon. The other thing is your refusal to “get back on the horse” as they say, and drink some damn tequila.

 SG: I can absolutely settle for a seven or eight! That’s a passing mark on any conceivable scale of grading that I’ve ever come across in my life. I got a 72 on my Math Regents Exam in high school, and I’ve never been more proud of a grade in my life. Hey, speaking of grading … let’s get to these power rankings!
8: Rocky V

SG: I see four major problems with this scene which, to be honest, barely qualifies as a training sequence in my book:

1: The whole sequence is just a total bummer. There are five shots of Rocky’s son (Robert), just standing there all alone and all sad because his dad (Rocky) loves Tommy Gunn more than he loves him. 🙁

2: To make matters worse, att various points during this sequence Robert is stuck with his Uncle Paulie playing the role of morale booster, trying to make up for Rocky being negligent father. I can’t think of a person who would be worse at cheering me up in any situation than Paulie Pennino would. He’s a human kidney stone.

3: The song playing during this scene is hot garbage, and the only one worse in any Rocky movie and on this countdown is the song featured in the next training sequence that we’ll be discussing. Clearly, there is a correlation between good music and good training. It’s the same in real life. I remember playing high school basketball, one of the schools we played each year had “Arab Money” on their warm-up playlist every year, and every time we played them it was a sloppy game. That can’t be a coincidence.

4: Rocky’s son is doing one-armed push-ups during this scene. That means I have to go through my life believing that they either pulled the wool over our eyes with some not-so-tricky camera work, and that’s pretty crappy if you ask me, or some twelve year old kid can do one-armed push-ups and I would break my body if I ever tried to do one. Either way, I’m left indifferent about the whole experience.

DB: We actually agree on a lot of points about why this montage is just awful. It really is more of an “I neglect my son” montage than anything else. Tommy is such a douche, so I really don’t understand Rocky’s motivation here. Pay attention to your super-human son who, like Sonny mentioned, can do freaking one-armed pushups.

I also agree that the music choice is what brings this montage down. Do you know what’s worked for every Rocky movie prior to this one? Powerful rock ballads. What does Sylvester Stallone decide to use in this one? A horrible rap song. Just a poor overall decision on Sly’s part. 

7: Rocky III: First Clubber Lang Fight 

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In the first training montage of Rocky III we get a rare glimpse of cocky, celebrity Rocky. We don’t get to see this side of the boxer very often, and what a treat it is. He poses for pictures, does a little dancing, and even kisses the pretty girls (Adrian does not approve). Mick CLEARLY does not approve of any of the nonsense as he’s not the type of guy who likes fun, or happiness.

While it may seem like the relaxed atmosphere that leads to Rocky getting his ass beat by Clubber in their first match, I chalk it up to something up entirely. Rocky just doesn’t grunt enough when he trains. You’ll notice that Clubber has a very distinct and angry grunt while he is training. Rocky just doesn’t have it, and this is clearly why he loses. He probably could’ve practiced a little less dancing and a little more dodging haymakers, but whatever.

My favorite part of the montage is when we get a shot of an elderly lady clutching a blow-up version of Rocky himself. She has the biggest smile on her face and it is definitely the happiest day of her life. I don’t know why but it makes me laugh every time I watch this scene. I can just picture her taking it home and putting it in the living room, causing her husband some serious self-esteem issues.

Overall, this wasn’t a typical Rocky training montage, and it almost ended up in last place. That was Sonny’s vote for last. I just couldn’t justify putting anything from Rocky V anywhere on a ranking list other than last place. 

SG: Yes, this scene was the subject of my last-place vote, and I absolutely stand by it. The music is an atrocity and there is hardly any real training (I mean, how are you supposed to train in a “Creep Joint,” after all?), and those two things are staples of Rocky training scenes.

We’re in disagreement elsewhere in this scene, too … how do you enjoy Clubber Lang’s grunts? That’s a serious and rhetorical question, and I expect you to answer it the next time we see each other. If I were making a list about my least favorite things about the Rocky franchise, my first five picks would be Paulie Pennino (who, we learn in this scene, probably could have been an awesome Carny if he set his mind to it), Clubber Lang’s grunts, the robot that Rocky bought Paulie in Rocky IV, and everything from Rocky V (I’ll count this as two things). On the other hand, if I were making a list of my favorite things in the Rocky franchise, the piano that plays itself would be one of my top five picks.

6: Rocky IV: No Easy Way Out 

SG: Let’s forget for a moment that this is without a doubt one of the most iconic scenes in any sports movie ever (actually, never forget this point … if anyone tries telling you that Rocky IV isn’t a national treasure, or that the “No Easy Way Out” scene in Rocky IV wasn’t a first-ballot candidate for the Montage Scene Hall of Fame, you pop that person in the jaw immediately; even better, pretend you’re Rocky Balboa when you’re doing it). Let’s also forget that “No Easy Way Out” has to be one of the most underrated 80’s rock songs in the history of 80’s rock songs, and I say that having done absolutely no research on the subject. This scene is included in the rankings of the best Rocky training scenes because we collectively agreed that the mental training Rocky put himself through on this drive was absolutely vital in his preparation for facing Ivan Drago in Russia.

Remember in Taken when Bryan Mills is replaying the tape of Marco from Trapoja telling him “Good luck” while he’s flying to Europe to save his daughter? I’m pretty sure if Marco keeps his mouth shut, Bryan Mills never finds his daughter. Same thing goes for Rocky. If Adrian never shouts, “You can’t win!” then Rocky doesn’t proceed to drive around in the middle of the night thinking about watching Drago kill Apollo, watching Mick die, meeting Adrian in the pet store, taking Adrian’s glasses off and kissing her, going to the zoo with Adrian, buying a tiger jacket, throwing a motorcycle helmet at a statue of himself, playing in the ocean with Apollo and sparring with huge slabs of meat … then not only does Rocky not beat Drago, he probably doesn’t even make it out of Russia alive.

Someday I’m going to write an entire book about this scene.

DB: Forget sports movies because this is one of the most fantastic scenes in movie history. I haven’t seen every movie ever made, but I’m fairly certain there are few scenes that can make me appreciate the art of cinema quite like the ‘No Easy Way Out’ montage in Rocky IV. Please don’t try to argue against me on this, because I won’t listen. 

Sonny pretty much hits the nail on the head with why this scene is so perfect, but I would like to point out its one fatal flaw: Rocky’s custom license plate. In what is simultaneously the douchiest/cheesiest move in the history of auto-customization, Rocky decides his license plate should say “SOTHPAW.” Ugh, it’s just so bad. I feel like Rocky and Pauly got drunk one night and Pauly convinced him it would be funny for his license plate to say “SOTHPAW.” It just seems like such a Paulie idea, so that’s how I’m going to justify it.  

5: Rocky 

DB: I honestly have no idea how this one fell so far in the rankings. Sonny, how did this happen? This is the one that started it all, and it has literally everything you need in a Rocky training montage. Grey jumpsuit? Check. One-armed pushups? Check. Classic Rocky theme music? Check. Alright, you get the picture, this baby has it all. I guess the montages just kept improving, because this one is hard to beat.

One thing you’ll notice in this montage that ends up being a theme in most of the others is that Rocky is the most awkward runner of all time. I don’t even know how to describe it, but his sprinting is just wrong on every level. It could be his low center of gravity, but that’s just me talking out of my ass.

If there is one thing Rocky IS good at, it’s beating meat. No, like literally, he’s a natural at punching cow carcasses. I mention this not only because it’s a classic Rocky scene, but also I want to take this time to personally GUARANTEE that Adonis Creed will do some meat-locker training in Creed. Trying to solidify my position as the Rasheed Wallace of writing here.

SG: To become the Rasheed Wallace of writing you need to pick up 100 technical fouls, carry around a championship belt, develop a white patch of hair in the back of your head, and then gain 25 too many pounds and go play for the Boston Celtics. That’s only if you really want it, though.

Look, I see where you’re coming from. It’s hard to fathom that the training scene from the original Rocky could land so low on this list, but there’s actually a perfectly reasonable explanation, and I’m sorry if this offends anyone … this training sequence just isn’t as good as the four others that are ahead of it. It’s a rather simple concept, but I’m sure it’s hard to digest for any of the old school Rocky fans who prefer the first film, and all of the training scenes involved, over any of the sequels. And that’s okay; if you prefer to watch Rocky run by himself, do regular old sit-ups and do some speed-bag work, this is for you. I prefer my Rocky to be running with a crowd of 70,000 people (an approximate figure) or climbing mountains. But that’s just me.

4: Rocky Balboa 

1: Rocky Balboa is outstanding. There are probably going to be people who fight me on this, but Rocky Balboa is a fantastic movie that should have been the final film in the franchise. Just imagine a world where Rocky IV ends and we never see Rocky’s love affair with Tommy Gunn, or his neglect of his son and Adrian, or Paulie being a miserable prick who lost all of Rocky’s money. Just imagine that Rocky IV ends and then over 20 years later we see that Rocky running a restaurant and wanting to get back in the ring one more time. That’s a world I want to live in, and truthfully, it’s a world where everyone would want to live, because Rocky Balboa is that good, and that fitting of an end to Rocky’s story.

2: How vital Duke has been to the franchise. I don’t mean to curse the name of Mickey Goldmill, but Duke was a better trainer than Mick was. Rocky trained better when he was with Duke and he was a far superior motivational speaker. If Mick tries to give this speech to Rocky, Rocky loses. Plain and simple. Duke got a sixty year old man up to fight the Heavyweight Champion of the World. That brings me to my final point:

3: How impressive it is that Stallone was able to do all of this training even though he was 60 years old. That is the reason why this training sequence is wildly underrated. Did you see the heavy lifting Stallone/Rocky was doing? Did you see him running in the blustery snow with his dog Punchy? Did you see him doing pull-ups? I played sports my entire life, and I’ve never been able to do more than two consecutive pull-ups. Incredible performance.

DB: “Let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs.” I don’t know why I wanted to start with that quote, because now all of my writing here will just look like shit. That quote is just SO good, though, it deserved to be first. 

I have to admit that I’ve only seen Rocky Balboa about two times, and that was when it first came out. So I have trouble thinking about it like a classic. This training scene is awesome, though, and I need to watch this movie again to really decide how I feel about it as a whole. I agree that it should’ve been the fifth movie in the franchise.

The one question I have is: HOW IS PAULY STILL ALIVE? Based on the clues we have about his lifestyle, he should’ve died like two movies ago. Either from liver failure, or Rocky murdering him for basically ruining his life on multiple occasions. 

3: Rocky III: Second Clubber Lang Fight 

DB: What we have here, folks, is a classic. Although, that could easily be said about any of the others (besides Rocky V of course). In Rocky III Rocky must re-learn everything he knows about boxing after Clubber Lang goes all Holly Holm on him and gets the upset. 

Who do they get to make Rocky a better fighter? Somebody he already beat! That makes sense, right? It’s all good, though, because Apollo is awesome and the more screen time he gets the better. He slowly transforms Rocky from the slow, powerful Rhinoceros he is into something that more resembles a nimble jungle cat. Or at least, like, a slightly more agile Rhino. Whatever he does it works because he shows Clubber he “aint so bad” and wins the rematch. Just like Ronda Rousey is going to. Promise.

The weirdest part of this montage is the awkward bro-hug/wave-frolicking that Rocky and Apollo are a part of. I feel like that had to be the most uncomfortable scene to film of all time. What if it took 30 times to get it right? That’s a lot of jumping and hugging in the water. I bet Adrian was even a little jealous. That’s more affection than she got in six movies. Oh, and Rocky still runs like a doofus.  

I was actually super disappointed by this scene because for some reason I had it in my head that ‘Eye of the Tiger’ played during this sequence, and it took researching this write-up to realize I was dumb and misremembering. It has apparently been TOO long since I’ve watched these movies all the way through. Sonny, a marathon is in order ASAP. 

SG: This scene is a classic exhibition of redemption, hard-work, great 80’s hair, speed-bagging, short shorts, tremendously muscular thighs, and one of the all-time great bromances in film history. That’s the moral of the story here, and the biggest reason why this scene cracked the top three. It offers a unique dynamic where Rocky is training with a partner, one that presents slightly more support than Punchy did in the Rocky Balboa scene, and one that is more likeable than Tommy Gunn was in Rocky V. I’d actually argue that Apollo is the MVP of this scene.

As for a Rocky marathon, you could talk me into one like once every two months, so yeah, let’s do that (I know the guy who makes our schedule at work, so we can make this happen). We can probably get at least three full marathons in before you leave Fort Myers. Also, another thing we need to do before you leave is re-enact the Rocky/Apollo playing in the ocean portion of this scene and have either of our girlfriends film it. Dibs on being Apollo.

2: Rocky II 

SG: I have a confession … I almost, almost, voted this training sequence number one. I don’t mean to sound like Stefon from SNL, but this scene has everything:

  • Rocky doing one-armed push-ups
  • Rocky doing one-armed pull-ups
  • Rocky pounding junk with a sledgehammer (By the way, this is my new favorite euphemism for having sex)
  • Rocky doing sit-ups
  • Rocky doing sit-ups while getting punched in the stomach
  • Rocky working the speed bag
  • Rocky working the heavy bag
  • Rocky lifting weights
  • Rocky hopping around with a log on his shoulders
  • Rocky mastering the art of jumping rope
  • Rocky catching a chicken
  • Rocky holding a baby
  • And, most importantly, the greatest running portion of any training sequence in any of the Rocky movies. I have no evidence to back this up, but the shots of Rocky running with thousands of people behind him and then celebrating at the top of the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art have to be what started the full-blown Rocky Balboa hysteria. Whether it’s your first time watching it, or your 101st time watching it, it makes you want to be there with him every time.

This training montage is good, not great. More right down the middle average than anything else. Realistically, the only difference between this and Rocky is the addition of the red headband. Also, Rocky proves he is faster than an 11 year old, which was actually pretty surprising based on how he runs. 

What I would most like to discuss, though, is how I was 500 percent sure Sonny was going to mention how great it is when Rocky runs through the city followed by thousands of people. Do you want to know how I knew? It’s because it’s eerily similar to a LeBron James Nike commercial where he bikes through South Beach followed by thousands of people. Whether it is subconscious or not, this is why Sonny loves this part of the montage SO much. He just can’t get off LeBron’s ol’ wagon like everybody else. I won’t get into how LeBron and Nike clearly stole the idea for their commercial from Rocky II. 

1: Rocky IV 

DB: Well, we’ve gotten to the best training montage in the Rocky franchise, which just so happens to be in the best Rocky movie: Rocky IV. Just like the movie pits Russia against The U.S.A our montage pits Ivan Drago against Rocky Balboa. Well, not directly, but we get to see how each of them train in their own way. It’s obviously a tad unfair because Drago gets a bunch of fancy machinery while Rocky gets a lot of snow and some rocks. Rocky does have a secret weapon, though, and that’s Paulie. HA! I’m just kidding, Paulie is, per usual, useless. The only useful thing he does in this entire montage is sit on a sleigh full of boulders while Rocky reps them. Pauly is literally as useful has a bunch of rocks.  

If this montage does anything for me, it’s prove that Sylvester Stallone missed a great opportunity to make a lumberjack movie. Out of all the cheesy movies he’s made in his career, it never crossed his mind to play a lumberjack? He would’ve NAILED it. I’m talking Oscar nominations and everything. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but that role would still probably win him an Oscar before Leo gets one.

Oscar speculation aside, let’s talk about why Rocky wins this fight with Drago, shall we? Drago seemingly has every advantage in his training. If you’ll notice in the beginning, his machines have something that looks like a flux capacitor, and that just can’t be legal. He’s also getting loaded up with muscle candy the whole time, which is definitely illegal. However, Rocky has two things in his training that Drago lacks. First is a seriously manly beard. It seems like the bigger Rocky’s beard is in this montage, the harder he trains. Drago’s clean shaven, baby-face just doesn’t inspire any kind of inner determination to win. The second thing Rocky has is ‘Hearts on Fire.’ I know this montage shows both of them training while this fantastic rock ballad blares, but I’m convinced Rocky actually had this song screaming out of a beat up old stereo in his cabin. I’m sure Drago was listening to some Communist garbage while he trained, or maybe he just worked out in silence. Seems like a Drago thing to do. Weirdo. 

SG: Rocky climbed a mountain and screamed Drago’s name when he got to the top of it. A COLD, TALL, UNFORGIVING, SIBERIAN MOTHER FUCKING MOUNTAIN! ROCKY CONQUERED THAT SON BITCH AND THEN BEAT DRAGO. MIC DROP! 


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