Could there really be anyone else to become the first inductee for the Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame?
The inaugural Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame Class of 2013 has only one inductee, a character that is not only considered by many to be the greatest sports characters of all time, but one of the top characters in film regardless of genre. That man is Rocky Balboa.
In the mid 1970’s, the idea of an Italian-American Heavyweight Boxing Champion seemed preposterous, but only a couple of decades before, Rocky Marciano retired as the undefeated Champion of the World. The Balboa character, would appear to modelled after Marciano, and thought the fictitious pugilist was clearly a fan of Marciano, the inspiration came from Chuck Wepner.
Nicknamed the “Bayonne Bleeder”, Wepner was a middle of the road Heavyweight contender who received a championship match against the legendary Muhammad Ali in 1975. Very few gave Wepner a chance, as he entered the contest with 30 and 9, which though respectable, was hardly the record of a champion. The overmatched Wepner, would fight his heart out, and almost lasted the full 15 rounds with Ali, even knocking the champion down in the 9th. It was his story that inspired that of Rocky Balboa.
Like Wepner, Rocky had a winning record, but still had a large amount of losses on his record. A Philadelphia club fighter, Balboa was granted an opportunity of a lifetime, when the then Champion, Apollo Creed needed an opponent when his original one backed out due to injury. Looking to create an event, Creed decided to market an opportunity with a Philadelphia (a key city in the colonial history of the United States) with an Italian American (Italians, being a large demographic of American settlers) during the country’s bicentennial.
However, this was not so much the story of an Italian American, or even an American. It began as the story of an “everyman”, and that is what pulled people together regardless of age, demographic or gender. Rocky’s original story was beautiful in its simplicity and you did not have to be a sports fan to appreciate his arc.
Sylvester Stallone often is roasted for his acting, but he was perfect (and actually nominated for an Oscar in the first film) as Rocky Balboa. We cared about him, cheered for him and even after he sold his soul to the box office in sequels, we still loved him.
Perhaps what was best of all is that we received closure on the character. After we saw him slum it in Rocky V, Stallone gave us “Rocky Balboa”, the final instalment which resurrected the character and gave us the redemption we all wanted.
The greatest testament that we can give placing Rocky Balboa into the Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame immediately is that there is a statue in Philadelphia that permanently exists in his honor. It was erected for the Rocky III film, but the people of Philadelphia had asked that it remain as a tribute not only to Rocky Balboa, but to the city itself. If that’s not a First Ballot Inductee to the Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame, then we don’t know what is.