If there is any real successor to “Rocky” in the original series, it has to be “Rocky III.” While “Rocky II” was an interesting enough look at Rocky dealing with fame, “Rocky III” puts us right in to where we were in the original film that started it all. Now “Rocky” is a champion in his prime who has settled in to his wealth and luxury, and there’s a hungry new fighter named Clubber Lang out there who wants what he has, and is willing to whatever it takes to get it. For the first time ever, Rocky Balboa has a lot to lose, and he meets his match in Clubber Lang, a humongous and deadly boxer who wants to take on Rocky Balboa.
Rather than Rocky looking for soft punches to maintain his championship, he’s a man who is willing to defend his title again and again, and is shell shocked when the world he thought he knew turns out to be completely fraudulent. During all the press meetings and television show appearances, Rocky is horrified to learn that trainer Mickey has set him up with a lot of fighters that were pretty much set up to lose to him from the beginning. Now Rocky has to re-evaluate if he was ever a champion, or just someone who scored a lucky shot by taking on the champion Apollo Creed. The debut role from Mr. T paved the personality as an eighties icon, and really helped provide one of the most charismatic villains Rocky ever crossed.
While Rocky poses as the figurative “great white hope” for boxing, Clubber Lang feels obligated to take the title back, and can somehow sense that Rocky’s been dealt a soft hand after fighting so hard to take down Apollo Creed. Lang is enigmatic and given very little back story, but he’s definitely a complex figure who provides one of the few challenges Rocky has had since fighting Apollo. He’s a surefire monster in his prime, who has a few years on Rocky, and probably suffered for his lot in life more than Rocky ever did. “Rocky III” is the film where Mickey passes away, prompting Rocky to completely re-think his training methods, as well as his passion for fighting altogether. Apollo begins playing a more prominent role in getting Rocky back in the ring to re-claim his pride, emphasizing the unusual relationship Rocky and Creed always had with one another.
They were never really best friends, but more nemeses with a surefire respect for the fire and passion they brought to the ring and to life. Rocky helps Apollo remember why he began fighting, and Apollo brings the fire back to Rocky in his efforts to defeat Clubber Lang and avenge the death of Mickey. Along with a fun walk on role by Hulk Hogan, and the premiere of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” it’s hard to argue “Rocky III” isn’t the best of the sequels.