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Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is one of the most recognizable characters in all of Cinema. But at one point in Stallone’s career, Rocky might have gotten too big. So much so the character began to overshadow the actor, leaving him feeling trapped by his own creation.

What originally inspired ‘Rocky’?

Sylvester Stallone posing while wearing black clothes.
Sylvester Stallone | Rolf Vennenbernd/Getty Images

Inspiration can come from anyone or anywhere. For Stallone, his inspiration came after watching a memorable boxing match. In an interview with GQ, the Rambo star opened up about how a bout between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner led to an iconic franchise.

“Chuck Wepner was basically a guy who everybody considered a joke. He was known as the Bayonne Bleeder, and it was clear that his only notable contribution to the history of pugilism would be just how badly Ali would destroy him,” Stallone said. “No one considered whether he could win the fight, that was out of the question, but everyone was wondering just how much of a beating he’d take — and how long it would last — and how much pain he’d absorb before he crashed to the canvas.”

At first, the fight between Wepner and Ali went exactly as many predicted. Ali was dominating his challenger. But Wepner would later do the unthinkable, and this grabbed Stallone’s attention.

“Then, all of a sudden, something incredible happened. From nowhere, Wepner knocked down the immortal Ali,” he remembered. “It was like a bolt of lightning from some Greek god in the sky, and, almost instantly, Wepner became the crowd favorite — in a matter of seconds.”

Wepner’s comeback planted the seed of what the entire Rocky franchise would be about.

“So I’m sitting there watching all this, and at some point I realize that the whole thing’s a metaphor, and I realized that it wasn’t really about boxing. Actually, Rocky was never really about boxing, it was about personal triumph,” Stallone confided.

Why Sylvester Stallone felt trapped by the Rocky character

After the first Rocky came out, Stallone almost immediately shot up to superstardom. After all, the film was a box-office hit at its time. It also beat out several classic films to earn an Oscar for best picture. The actor was even invited to the White House to meet and interact with several high-ranking politicians. But there was an uncomfortable catch to his newfound stardom.

“Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. They all said, ‘Pleasure to meet you, Rocky.’ And in the next breath, I turn around to visit the Senate chambers and Ted Kennedy knocks me on the shoulder: ‘Hey, Rock! Can I have three autographs for my kids?’ Right then, I know it’s over,” Stallone said in an interview with Rolling Stone.

According to Stallone’s own admission, having national leaders constantly referring to him as Rocky drove him berserk.

At parties, whenever he’d see other people whispering at him, Stallone couldn’t help but feel they were comparing him to his character.

“That’s right. I’m not as tall as you thought, right? Okay. Now let’s move on, cut the chatter and enjoy this party,” he’d tell them.

This led to a complex Stallone felt towards his own character.

“I felt trapped by the Rocky image,” Stallone continued. “I thought: ‘Don’t people realize that I am not a supposedly thick-tongued, punchy individual? That I wrote this and I was involved in the production?’ But people were writing constantly about what a Neanderthal I was in private life, that I really was Rock. That I was just snatched off the streets and that it was the only role I was capable of playing.”

Sylvester Stallone is retiring the Rocky character


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As some know, Sylvester Stallone won’t be reprising one of his most famous characters in the upcoming Creed sequel. According to Indiewire, Stallone took to Instagram to announce the retirement of his character.

“I couldn’t be happier as I step back because my story has been told, there’s a whole new world that’s going to be opening up with the audience, with this generation,” Stallone said. “Now you, [Michael B. Jordan], have to carry the mantle.”