The following article beautifully captures the spirit of Patriotism, but also of acceptance. Special thanks to guest columnist Charles DeMarr (Clayton) for digging this treasure up and reminding all of us how much we truly have to be thankful for.
|Rocky was not broken that day, but hate barriers were.|
There were many critical events that happened in the 1980’s that paved the way for the eventual end of the Cold War in 1991. Some of these events were quite literal, while others were more symbolic. No one will ever forget Ronald Reagan’s immortal words spoken in Berlin in 1987, “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall!” Likewise, the images of the 1980 United States hockey team pulling off the stunning upset of the Soviets are permanently ingrained in the memories of everyone who witnessed the feat.
It has now been over 25 years since another epic sporting event helped bring an end to communism in the former Soviet Union. I am speaking of the larger than life boxing match between American heavy weight champion Rocky Balboa and the Russian challenger, Ivan Drago.
The Miracle in Moscow is still one of the most memorable boxing matches of all time. Both fighters entered the match coming from completely different situations. Balboa hadn’t fought anyone in three years since a stunning third round KO of then champion Clubber Lang. Despite this large gap between fights, he still was a veteran of 78 matches, sporting a record of 56-22. Drago, on the other hand, was relatively unknown and just months removed from a shocking victory over former champion Apollo Creed, in which Creed suffered fatal injuries from the powerful punches of Drago.
Drago was immediately recognized as a villain in the United States after Creed’s death, especially with his callous remarks following the fight, saying of Creed, “If he dies, he dies.” In addition to this there were wide spread rumors of Drago using anabolic steroids, which were later substantiated in 1998.
For fear of his safety, Drago’s camp was insistent the fight take place in Moscow, instead of the United States. “They call him a killer. He is a professional fighter, not a killer,” said Drago’s wife, Ludmilla. “We are getting death threats. We are not involved in politics. All I want is for my husband to be safe, and to be treated fairly.”
Nicoli Koloff, who served as Drago’s business manager until 1988, was especially critical of the U.S. government and wanted no part of another fight in America. He accused the American government of trying to slander Drago’s reputation. “We fight in Soviet Union or we fight nowhere,” he said at a promotional press conference for the match. “It’s all lies and false propaganda to support this antagonistic and violent government.”
Not only was Balboa 45 pounds lighter than Drago, but he also surrendered seven inches of height to the daunting Russian. Many were surprised when Balboa had agreed to the fight, saying it was suicide, that he couldn’t win. “I was concerned because we had seen him,” said Adrian Balboa, Rocky’s wife. “We knew how strong he was.”
Drago was unquestionably a juggernaut. Anyone who witnessed the fight against Creed had to be impressed by Ivan’s astonishing strength. “Whatever he hits, he destroys,” Koloff remarked on Drago’s punches.
Balboa himself knew he faced an up hill battle. “No, maybe I can’t win,” he said before the fight. “Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything he’s got. But to beat me he’s gonna have to kill me, and to kill me he’s gonna have to stand in front of me and be willing to die himself. I don’t know if he’s ready to do that.”
To say the atmosphere in Moscow was hostile to begin the fight would have been a huge understatement. Balboa was serenaded to a steady chorus of boos from the angry Soviet crowd as he entered the arena. It was as if they finally had the opportunity to release 40 years of pent up frustration on America, all on the shoulders of one man.
The first round of the match went exactly as everyone expected. Drago landed heavy bombs on Balboa, who’s wobbly legs didn’t look like they would last three rounds. But in the second round Drago received an unexpected cut over his eye thanks to a hook from Balboa. “I was pretty excited about that,” Balboa’s trainer Tony “Duke” Evers would later say. “I told him he’s not a machine. He’s a man! He’s a man!”
Even though Drago controlled much of the fight, it was clear Balboa was not going to go down easily. Over the course of the 15 round match the gritty American took the best punches the dominant Soviet could throw at him. “He’s not human,” remarked Drago. “He’s like a piece of iron.”
Perhaps more astonishing than Balboa lasting through the entire fight, was the reception he was receiving. Towards the latter end of the match, the venom from the Soviet crowd was turning into applauds. Everyone in the arena was inspired by the heart showed by the determined Balboa.
Still, Balboa entered the last round well behind in points and needed an improbable knock out to come out victorious. About half way through the round it was clear to everyone Rocky was going to do the impossible. After sustaining a series of blows Drago finally hit the canvas, unable to get up. Balboa had won.
The inspiring battle now complete, Balboa’s post game remarks to the crowd stirred everyone, both Soviet and American alike: “During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. I guess what I am trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”
The fighters went their separate ways after the match. Drago fell into relative obscurity, only making news again after evidence of his steroids scandal surfaced in the late ’90’s. Balboa went into retirement after he sustained brain damage from the blows dealt to him over a lustrous career in pugilism. Later he briefly managed eventual heavy weight champ, Tommy Gunn, until their relationship soured in 1990. He followed that up with a return to the ring in 2006 only to be defeated by Mason Dixon.
The dream Balboa had in 1985 of change slowly took place. Four years later the Berlin Wall fell, two years after that communism and the Soviet Union collapsed. Balboa’s assistance in ending the Cold War is certainly understated, but as evidenced by history, it also cannot be denied.
|A little-seen photo of Rocky personally toppling the Berlin Wall|