Monday, 26th August 2019

Top 11 Non-Actor Performances in the Rocky Franchise

Posted on 06. Jul, 2018 by FSM Staff in Boxing, General Sports

Top 11 Non-Actor Performances in the Rocky Franchise

To celebrate the much anticipated release of Creed II this Thanksgiving, the following Top 11 list ranks the best on-screen performances of professional athletes and sports personalities appearing in the ROCKY and CREED movies. Spoiler alert coming…most people on this list are professional fighters. The rest are sports personalities who have had heavy involvement in professional sports in some way. No one on this list is a working actor, so don’t send in complaints about Mr. T being excluded. Furthermore, each person on this list had more than 10 seconds of screen time so the same goes for any complaints about Smokin’ Joe Frazier being left off. It’s not that serious people. Just sit back and enjoy these rankings and make sure to catch CREED II this Thanksgiving!

#11 Gabriel Rosado as Leo “The Lion” Sporino (CREED)
In a case of art imitating real life, Gabriel Rosado was given the task of playing the gatekeeper to bigger and better fights for main character Adonis Creed in the seventh installment of the franchise titled CREED. In simple terms, gatekeepers in boxing are generally B+ level fighters that the up and comers need to get through before moving to fight more established superstars. In real life, Rosado played stepping stone to the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Peter Quillin, and David Lemieux. In the movie world, Leo Sporino posed a tough test for Adonis Creed who was fighting professionally for the first time on American soil. Rosado played his small part well, took some cool looking punches (that shovel hook!), and most importantly, made Adonis Creed’s character look good in the ring. Click here to watch Sporino versus Creed.

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#10 Michael Williams as Union Cane (ROCKY V)
Rocky V was released so long ago, most people have long forgotten about Michael Williams by now. Heck, most people didn’t know who he was in the first place when the movie debuted in theaters in 1990. Williams, a real life professional heavyweight at the time, played the paper champion Union Cane who was quickly vanquished by the film’s antagonist, Tommy Gunn. As a professional, Williams was a rising prospect who could never quite get over the hump, losing bouts to fighters such as Buster Douglas and Corrie Sanders. As an actor, he played the paper champion to perfection which included expressing a delusional overconfidence that he could beat Gunn then turning into a human punching bag when the actual fight took place. The fight itself was crucial to the plot of the movie as Gunn becomes the new heavyweight champion while a betrayed and slightly brain damaged Rocky watches it all from the basement of his home. Bonus points to the wardrobe people for having Cane’s everyday look consist of a turtle neck/blazer combo, gold chain, and flat top hair style. Click here to watch Cane versus Gunn.

#9 Andre Ward as Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler (CREED)
The recently retired Andre Ward was a pound-for-pound superstar who flew under the radar during his career due to his good manners and lack of flare. Ward isn’t too different from his Wheeler character in CREED who calmly and coolly walks into the gym and gives Adonis Creed a harsh reality check in the form of a sparring session KO. Ward played his small part well, including his scenes with fellow professional Tony Bellew, and effectively garnered interest in a possible Wheeler-Creed showdown in the future. Click here to watch Andre Ward KO Michael B. Jordan.

#8 Lou DiBella as himself (ROCKY BALBOA)
In the sixth installment of the franchise, an aging Rocky needs a little extra convincing to get back into the ring with the reigning heavyweight in the film, played by Antonio Tarver. Can you think of anyone better to give Rocky this extra push than Lou DiBella? DiBella is a real life boxing promoter (DiBella Entertainment) who is generally loved and respected by everyone in the fight game. Some of the more notable pugilists associated with his stable include Sergio Martinez, Andy Lee, and Deontay Wilder. DiBella’s acting skills are certainly not as good as his promoting skills but his performance was solid enough to add value and a touch of realism to this film. Click here to watch DiBella do this thing.

#7 Larry Merchant as himself (ROCKY BALBOA)
Most people love themselves some Larry Merchant. You ask why? Maybe it’s because he is in the crazy old man phase of his life (a phase going on 25 years) and he does things like tell Floyd Mayweather Jr. live on HBO that he would kick his butt if he were just a few years younger. Though Larry Merchant only appeared in Rocky Balboa as a color commentator for the final fight, his short performance was memorable for the many scripted zingers it produced. It doesn’t matter that Merchant sounded like he was reading straight from a cue card. His memorable lines include referring to the bout as an execution instead of an exhibition, questioning if Balboa took his arthritis medication before the bout, and of course welcoming everyone to “Rocky-Land”. Honorable mention goes out to HBO boxing commentators Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman as well for making the final bout between Rocky Balboa and Mason Dixon one of the most memorable of all 7 films. Click here to listen to Jim, Max, and Larry provide flawless commentary during the final round of Balboa-Dixon.

#6 Hulk Hogan as Thunderlips (ROCKY III)
The story goes that the folks running the World Wrestling Foundation (currently the WWE) were so upset with Hogan’s decision to appear in Rocky III that he was blacklisted from the WWF for a short period of time. It was only when the owner’s son, Vince McMahon Jr., took control of the wrestling promotion that Hogan was invited back with open arms. Perhaps McMahon saw something in Hogan’s bigger-than-life performance as Thunderlips, the hulk of a man who beat Rocky mercilessly as part of a charity event in the film. Hogan was even good on the microphone, dubbing the match “the ultimate man versus the ultimate meatball”. Though the scenes were ultimately a bit over-the-top (Stallone movie reference), they were quite enjoyable nonetheless. Click here to watch Rocky turn the tables on Thunderlips.

#5 Leroy Neiman as Ring Announcer/Himself (ROCKY III, IV, V, ROCKY BALBOA)
Much like his contributions to the Rocky franchise, famous sports artist and painter Leroy Neiman super glues this list together at #5. Neiman (and his moustache) made appearances as a ring announcer in a few of the films announcing bouts like Balboa versus Thunderlips and Creed versus Drago. However, it’s his artwork that has been far more influential on the franchise as a whole than his on-screen performances. Hardcore fans will recognize Neiman’s colorful mural displayed at the end of Rocky III, the same one that makes its way on to the wall of Adrian’s restaurant in the sixth and seventh installments of the franchise. One doesn’t have to look too closely during Donny and Rocky’s first encounter in Creed to see Neiman’s classic painting looming in the background. Click here to watch Leroy Neiman’s mic drop moment (at the 1:19 mark).

#4 Tony Bellew as “Pretty” Ricky Conlon (CREED)
Tony Bellew plays himself in the movie CREED. But for some reason they kept referring to him as “Pretty” Ricky Conlon the entire time. All kidding aside, Bellew does an excellent job of playing a very likeable villain that Adonis Creed can’t quite vanquish in the film. Bellew’s acting during the press conference scene was hilarious as he roasted the young Creed the entire time. His performance in the ring during the film’s finale was even more impressive as he was able to work with Michael B. Jordan to create a very realistic and exciting fight. Bellew’s presence was definitely a factor in the moments building up to the climax of the film. If you enjoyed the Conlon character you will likely also enjoy the real thing. Bellew has experienced a bit of a career resurgence in the last few years, including knock outs of fellow countryman David Haye in a pair of bouts at heavyweight. Click here to watch Pretty Ricky got to war with Adonis Creed.

#3 Stu Nahan as himself (Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, ROCKY BALBOA)
Perhaps the biggest underdog on this list, California sportscaster Stu Nahan cracks the top three thanks to his history of providing blow-by-blow analysis for some of the franchise’s most significant fights. In fact, Stu Nahan is one of only a select few who appeared in every one of the first six films. He was there when Rocky took on Apollo in the first two films, Clubber Lang in the rematch for the third one, and was the commentator during the unfortunate Ivan Drago murder incident in Rocky IV. He even made his way into Rocky Balboa as the voice heard commentating the computer generated “cartoon” fight between Mason Dixon and Rocky. Nahan does his job so well that he largely goes unnoticed in the films. He serves as a great narrator during the fights, offering insights into what each fighter is thinking while keeping the dramatic pace going. He pulls it all off without sounding overly frenetic or clichĂ©. Click here to listen to Stu Nahan provide commentary for the “cartoon fight” (Uncle Paulie’s words).

#2 Antonio Tarver as Mason “The Line” Dixon (ROCKY BALBOA)
Most known for his stunning upset knockout of Roy Jones Jr., Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver had to put on a few pounds to look like a heavyweight for the film Rocky Balboa. Unfortunately, he was never quite able to regain his form after the film and his boxing career began a steady decline. That buzzkill aside, Tarver delivered above expectations as Rocky’s final foe in what many thought would be the end of the franchise. As Mason “The Line” Dixon, he is prominently featured from the outset of the movie. He plays the role of a slightly bitter, underappreciated champion well and the final bout with Rocky is possibly the best fight of all seven films. The action in the ring is as impressive as Tarver’s ability to stand side-by-side with Stallone during the pre-fight press conference and the scene right after the weigh in. We’re not making a case for a golden globe, but Tarver definitely didn’t seem like just another athlete trying to act. Click here to see Mason “The Line” Dixon try to psyche out Rocky.

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#1 Tommy Morrison as Tommy “The Machine” Gunn (ROCKY V)
When making the argument for Tommy Morrison being #1 on this list, context matters – a lot. ROCKY V is easily the weakest installment in the franchise, as the masses had a hard time stomaching a severely compromised Rocky Balboa. Why Sylvester Stallone decided to meddle with his formula is anyone’s guess. One would think even a street fight deserves its own training montage. Yet, Tommy Morrison was a bright spot in this film, deserving to make #1 on this list based on screen time alone. The year was 1990 and bad acting was a thing. Morrison’s performance hovers around B movie territory which is forgivable during this era of film when the late 80’s and early 90’s collided. For having to help carry the movie (he is the only Rocky opponent to spend significant time with Rocky’s family), the 21-year-old delivered in his big screen debut. His physical appearance lived up to his Machine Gunn nickname and his mullet, well, it was mesmerizing. His bad acting was bearable considering it was 1990 and was not the reason why this movie ended up being a stinker in the eyes of the mainstream. At the end of the day, fans were treated to a satisfying montage of video game style KOs during Gunn’s ascension and some great scenes between Rocky, Tommy, and Uncle Paulie. A few years after Rocky V, Tommy Morrison the real boxer would go on to win the world heavyweight championship by beating the legendary George Foreman. Sadly, his career was derailed 3 years later when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1996. His tragic final years are documented in the superb 30 FOR 30 documentary Tommy. Click here to see Uncle Paulie call Tommy Gunn a piece of garbage.

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3 Responses to “Top 11 Non-Actor Performances in the Rocky Franchise”

  1. Glass Joe 6 July 2018 at 11:36 am #

    Interesting list for non-actors

  2. Derrick Smythe 20 July 2018 at 11:39 am #

    Could have done top 12 to include Joe Fraizer

  3. Dick Flair 20 July 2018 at 11:44 am #

    Can’t wait for the movie to come out! Hopefully the don’t kill Rocky off!

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