The Real Boxers That Have Appeared in the Rocky Franchise


    At the start of March, the newest installment in the Rocky franchise was released. Michael B. Jordan returns to the big screen in his starring role of Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed, son of beloved former World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed within the fictional universe. The film grossed $114.3 million at the box office and even features a cameo appearance from the reigning undisputed Super Middleweight World Champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

    The film has received rave reviews the world over, and it seems that fans are as in love with the franchise as they ever have been. While pay-per-view sensation Canelo does indeed make an appearance in the blockbuster, he isn’t featured in a starring role. But many professional boxers have stood across the ring from either Rocky Balboa or Adonis Creed throughout the seven-movie franchise.

    Over the years, the Rocky story has become a pop culture phenomenon. Philadelphia has a statue of Rocky Balboa in the city, online casinos similar to have slot machines bearing the name of the beloved fictional boxer, and the current UFC Welterweight Champion Leon Edwards even has the nickname “Rocky” courtesy of his rags-to-riches story. And none of that would have been possible without the real-life fighters that stood either alongside or across from Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan at some point over the last 47 years.

    Tony Bellew: ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan – Creed

    Many boxing fans were stunned to find out the former WBC World Cruiserweight Champion Tony Bellew was the primary antagonist in the franchise’s first spinoff, Creed. The British fighter stars as ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, the reigning and defending WBA, WBC, The Ring, and Lineal Light-Heavyweight World Champion. He defends his title against an upstart Adonis Creed in the first movie’s main fight scene, which takes place at Goodison Park, home of Bellew’s real-life favorite football team Everton.

    In real life, Tony Bellew is one of the finest British boxers of his generation. He bounced back from a 2013 knockout loss to Adonis Stevenson to claim the WBC World Cruiserweight Championship three years later. He claimed the prize with a third-round knockout of Ilunga Makabu at Goodison Park, the same stadium which hosts Conlan vs Creed in the movie franchise.

    Following his coronation as the cruiserweight, Bellew embarked on an ambitious endeavor to send former Heavyweight World Champion David Haye into retirement. And that’s exactly what he did. He would twice knock out the former WBA Heavyweight king in back-to-back fights and secure a shed load of money in the process.

    His career wouldn’t have the fairytale ending, unfortunately. He would suffer a knockout loss to Ukrainian sensation Oleksandr Usyk in his bid to become the undisputed cruiserweight king. His performance in that fight was heroic, however, he came up just short.

    Antonio Tarver: Mason ‘The Lion’ Dixon – Rocky Balboa

    Back in 2006, Antonio Tarver cashed in on his knockout victory against Roy Jones Jr. by securing the role of Mason ‘The Lion’ Dixon in Rocky Balboa, the fifth and final installment in the initial Rocky franchise. In the movie, Dixon is rated as the number one heavyweight on the planet and has a perfect 33-0 record with 30 knockouts. He is searching for respect however and decides to face off with former Heavyweight World Champion Rocky Balboa in an exhibition bout, the latter’s first fight in 21 years.

    In real life, before securing the role of Dixon, Antonio Tarver was coming off the back of consecutive fights against Roy Jones Jr. First, he would lose via a controversial majority decision. The Magic Man would leave no doubt in the rematch however, handing Jones his first-ever knockout loss and taking his undisputed light heavyweight title.

    Following that famous victory, Tarver would trade victories with Glen Johnson before defeating Jone Jr. again, this time via unanimous decision. His career at the championship level came to an end following a defeat to Bernard Hopkins, followed by back-to-back losses to Chad Dawson in 2008 and 2009.

    Tommy Morrison: Tommy Gunn – Rocky V

    Back in 1990, undefeated heavyweight up-and-comer Tommy Morrison secured the role of Tommy Gunn, the main antagonist in Rocky V. Gunn initially trains under Balboa before the pair part ways and the talented young fighter becomes the heavyweight champion of the world. Despite his success, Gunn and Balboa would never have an official fight, with the latter already being retired as a professional fighter.

    In real life, Tommy Morrison was a genuine problem in the heavyweight division. When Rocky V was released in November 1990, The Duke had a professional record of 24-0 and was on his way to greatness. He would challenge Ray Mercer for the WBO Heavyweight Championship the following year however, he would come up short, ultimately losing via fifth-round TKO.

    Morrison would have to wait another two years for his next title shot, and he wouldn’t pass on the opportunity. He defeated the legendary George Foreman via a unanimous decision to pick up the WBO strap. He would hold the title for just four months, however, after suffering a stunning first-round knockout defeat at the hands of Michael Bentt.