Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lessons from 'Rocky III'

The 1976 movie "Rocky" ended up with the Academy Award for Best Picture. And with such a blockbuster effort the sequels -- many of them quite forgettable -- follow very quickly.

That said, however, one exception for me was the third in that series, which I saw in 1982. It has become my favorite movie and in fact, as I think about it now, provides a lot of life lessons.

Of course you may remember the plot: Rocky Balboa, "comfortable" as a heavyweight boxing champion and cultural icon, went into the ring with trash-talking challenger Clubber Lang, who knocked him out in the second round. After Rocky's trainer Mickey died, Apollo Creed, with whom Rocky had had two memorable bouts, decided to train Rocky for the rematch, which he won by third-round knockout.

But here are some things to remember:

1) The theme song, of course, was Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" -- a synonym for heart, guts, passion, focus -- and it was a synonym for what Rocky had lost in all those years as a champion. Indeed, Mickey had told him, "Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt!" You see, Rocky had forgotten what had gotten him to the top in the first place.

2) Lang's boast: "I live alone! I train alone! I win the title alone!" Big mistake -- because no one achieves anything worthy without help. Lang also insulted Creed, causing him to tell Rocky before the first bout, "Give us all a present and drop this chump" -- apparently he felt that Lang disgraced the sport.

3) Don't allow yourself to be goaded into a fight that you might not be able to win. Rocky accepted Lang's challenge only after he had propositioned Rocky's wife Adrian.

4) Sometimes you have to change your MO. Creed took the flat-footed Rocky to Los Angeles to train, teaching him to "dance" in the ring.

5) A pep talk from a loved one doesn't always hurt -- after Rocky was struggling with memories from the first bout during training, causing Creed to haul off at him, Adrian said to him, "If you lose, you lose with no excuses." (The "Rocky" theme came after that -- and you knew what was coming.)

6) With all his braggadocio, Lang in the second bout proved to be an undisciplined fighter, allowing Rocky to tire him out due to moving around and avoiding punches.

7) Most importantly, when you do find your groove, you may inspire other people -- notice that Creed was throwing some shadow punches of his own when it became clear that Lang was going down for the count. (In fact, I think it was a much a catharsis for Creed as for Rocky.)

In short, life's victories come not to the swiftest or most talented but often to the person who is the best prepared -- and the most committed.

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