It turns out that Apollo Creed’s character in the Rocky movies was inspired by real-life boxing champ Muhammad Ali, and the athlete reportedly loved the cinematic semi-portrayal. The beloved Rocky series has always generated plenty of discussion in the decades since its widely-lauded release. This is due, in part (there’s a slew of variables that make the films “work” so well), to the franchise’s layered, memorable, and generally interesting characters. Sylvester Stallone has said that the titular protagonist of the Rocky series is based on boxer Chuck Wepner. Stallone has also said that Wepner made it on his radar when he famously fought Muhammad Ali in 1975. Interestingly, Ali also inspired another Rocky character: Apollo Creed.
The Rocky franchise came out swinging in 1976, when the world met the debut movie’s loveable namesake character. A good-hearted Philadelphia native from a financially strained and rough-and-tumble background, Rocky Balboa finds love, a resilient and unrelenting fire within himself, and much more as he becomes a boxing icon and navigates life throughout the series. In addition to other vital characters such as Adrian and Mickey, Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed is a profound asset to the franchise’s wide array of engaging personalities.
Sadly, the world now knows that Apollo Creed is killed off in Rocky IV. Regardless of this, his fiery nature and showman-like antics in and outside of the ring leave quite the legacy behind. It’s easy to see how Creed strongly resembles Muhammad Ali, a world-renowned boxer who had an explosive career in the 1960s and ’70s. According to a 1979 interview with Ali documented by legendary film critic Roger Ebert, not only are the parallels intentional, but Ali loved how he was part of the inspiration behind the larger-than-life Rocky character. He’s quoted as acknowledging Creed’s flair for athletic showmanship and purposeful attempts at intimidating those he fights in the films. He said while viewing Rocky II with Ebert, “That’s me, all right. Apollo sounds like me. Insulting the opponent in the press, to get him psyched out. That’s me exactly.” Based on what’s written in the interview, Ali seems to have really enjoyed his similarities with Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, and also gave a trained, experienced boxer’s take on what parts of the second entry are realistic and which came across to him as creative liberties taken for storytelling purposes.
In addition, Ali really enjoyed the film as a piece of entertainment. He took his family to a special viewing of it that’s discussed in the article, and he also called it a “great movie” with “all the [right] ingredients.” This, of course, is reassuring to learn. It’s great that both Ali and Chuck Wepner have been quoted voicing positive feelings about how their stories helped inspire central characters in the Rocky franchise.
After all, there have been plenty of movies and TV shows over the years (e.g. The Hurt Locker, The Social Network, The Blind Side, and many more) that portray real-life figures – or, at least, characters and/or plot pieces that are semi-based on them – in ways that reportedly disappoint or even anger those people. Ali, on the other hand, seems to have enjoyed his all-American Rocky character as much as anyone else. And not only that, but thanks to Ali, the Rocky movie franchise has the profoundly important character of Apollo Creed as part of its wildly beloved and well-done creative formula.