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Breaking Down Every Round of the Balboa-Drago Fight In ROCKY IV

“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

Lot of things cost Apollo Creed his life that fateful day he fought Ivan Drago. The Russian didn’t think it was supposed to be an “exhibition.” The referee didn’t stop it in time. Apollo was too proud to quit. And, of course, Rocky didn’t throw in the towel. It’s one of the saddest days in sports movie history. Now, another Creed will fight another Drago in Creed II, as Adonis prepares to fight Viktor Drago, another enormous foe. What chance does the son of Apollo have of beating the bigger progeny of Ivan? To find out we went back and looked at the most improbable boxing match of all time, another seemingly physical mismatch – Rocky Balboa versus Ivan Drago in Moscow on Christmas Day.

What lessons can Adonis take from that legendary Rocky IV fight that led to the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union? To find out we broke down the entire Balboa-Drago fight to see how Rocky did it.

Pre-Match Scouting Report

No one in the West had seen Drago fight until his tragic bout with Apollo. Here are the biggest lessons Rocky learned from it:

  • Don’t frighten him with a big pre-fight spectacle starring James Brown. Drago is like a bear. Best not confuse him with lights and music.
  • Watch Drago’s devastating overhand right, it can literally kill you if you take one flush.
  • Try to get under him and work the body. Use his size against him.
  • Make sure Rocky isn’t the one holding the towel.

Before the Opening Bell

Duke, Apollo’s trainer now training Rocky, says, ““Take it to him.” This seems like bad advice to go right at the giant killing machine, but it actually proves prescient.

Round 1

Rocky goes right at him, but gets backed into the corner with a flurry of body shots and some straight rights. Rocky is off balance and hunched over, but keeps coming at him with his head down. It looks like a child chasing his father.

They go at it in the center of the ring, but Rocky doesn’t come close with his jabs. Drago also misses with his own before Rocky gets him in the corner where he lands some body blows. Drago easily gets out by throwing Rocky aside like a doll. The Russian then lands a nice combo to Rocky’s head as Rocky refuses to cover up. (Note: Rocky fights this entire match like he wants Drago to murder him with the hardest punch ever thrown.)

Rocky gets Drago to the corner, but Drago is willing to give up the body to protect his head and avoid getting tagged by an uppercut. He easily reverses the position and throws Rocky into the corner before leveling Balboa with a bevy of power punches to the head. Rocky goes down but gets up at eight.

It’s only round 1 but Rocky takes so many huge blows to the head and body that he should be dead. Instead he’s only bleeding from the outside of his right eye. That does lead to an amazing exchange between rounds from Duke, Rocky, and Paulie .

”What’s happening out there?”
“Hes winning. I see three of him out there.”
“Hit the one in the middle”

Drago’s trainer says he’s not doing as he’s told and that the American is weak and small. This is wrong in every way. Drago just had one of the most impressive rounds in boxing history, and Rocky might be immortal.

Round 2

Duke tells Rocky to “hurt him” so he can “take his heart.” Duke was nails during this fight.

Rocky tries to stay in the middle of the ring, bobbing and weaving, but he’s unable to connect with a jab. Drago eventually lands a big punch and gets Rocky into the corner, but Rocky fights out quickly, landing his best blow yet. Drago then picks him up and throws him like a sack of potatoes.

Rocky, never that bright, jumps right up – straight into a huge punch that knocks him down for a second. Drago then throws another barrage of punches. The Russian gets him in the corner and continues to wail away when hubris gets him. Drago lets his guard down, forgetting a wounded animal is dangerous, and Rocky lands a massive right hook that opens up Drago’s eye. “He’s cut!”

Having never been injured before, Drago doesn’t know how to respond. He clearly gets emotional and overwhelmed. Rocky goes on the attack, putting together a great string that backs Drago into a corner. Drago briefly fights back, but Rocky pursues into the other corner and hits a massive overhand right hook that has Drago spitting copious amounts of blood. Rocky then goes to the body with some brutal punches. The scrappy American ends the round with a flurry, but keeps attacking after the bell. Drago then grabs him by the throat and tries to murder him with a straight right downward at Rocky’s face. Rocky responds by tackling him, and things have turned “no-holds barred in Moscow!”

Drago’s manager, a stupid idiot, says Rocky is “soft.”

On the other side, wise Duke tells Rocky, “You got him hurt bad! Now he’s worried! You cut him! You hurt him! You see? You see? He’s not a machine! He’s a man!” Rocky has  already won the psychological war.

That’s why Drago knows something no other Russian in the building does: Rocky is not like any boxer alive. “He’s not human, he is like a piece of iron.”


Most of the fight is shown in montage form, so we have to treat what we see as being a fair representation of how things went in each round.

Round 3

All Drago. Rocky seems to think blocking every punch with his head is a winning strategy.

Round 4

Rocky lands a few body blows, but then it’s all Drago again. The Russian connects with more vicious punches. Drago, over confident, feels good enough to lift his arm in tribute to the Russian premiere watching.

Round 5

All Drago again, who continues to land huge blow after blow. Drago’s wife looks smugly at Adrian who can barely watch. Drago knocks Rocky down again. After the round Rocky looks exhausted.

Round 6

Drago comes flying out of his corner with a ton of energy, but Rocky hits him with some nice body shots. Then he lands a “big right hand” before connecting with a flurry of body punches that very clearly hurt Drago. This is Rocky’s best round and the first he wins. It’s also the first time the Russian government looks worried. This fight should be over by now, instead Rocky looks his best yet.

A solemn Drago looks tired and frustrated between rounds.

Round 7

They go toe-to-toe. Rocky looks like he’s getting stronger while Drago is dragging, but the big Russian still gets the far better of the exchange. Rocky only avoids going down because of the ropes.

Rocky seems to know he is getting better while Drago is tiring.

Round 8

Drago looks pissed as he comes out for the round. The Russian starts out with some nice jabs, but Rocky lands some of his best punches and hurts him, first with some of the best body punches of the fight, and then with a huge right hook that stuns Drago. It has Duke screaming with excitement.

Drago looks terrible in his corner, tired and bloodied. He throws up a lot of blood as Rocky’s body shots are wearing him down. He likely is bleeding internally, like a slab of meat in a freezer.

Rocky doesn’t look much better, but at least his eyes are open. The cuts on both men have gotten worse.

Round 9

Drago tries to manhandle Rocky like he did earlier. He tosses him and lands some good punches, but Rocky has more energy at this point and gets out of it, even connecting with his own flurry.

Then Drago lands a monstrous left hook that knocks Rocky down. He looks out of it, but miraculously gets right back to his feet. Drago looks confused, since that punch should have probably killed Rocky. He gathers himself anyway and his next punch knocks Rocky down again. Adrian can’t stand to watch and it’s hard to blame her.

Round 10

They trade a couple of big punches before Drago lands another left hook that has Rocky spitting up blood.

In his corner Drago refuses to sit down. Rocky gestures at him and yells, “C’mon,” and Drago grunts in Russian and heads back into the ring like a bull. Rocky is manipulating Drago emotionally.

Round 11

Rocky lands two huge rights and a big left, but that’s followed by Drago’s own punishing body shots.

Round 12

NOTE: It’s not obvious where round 11 ends and round 12 begins, but if you pay close attention those last body shots happen in a different sequence than Drago’s next big punch that immediately follows. That happens in round 12 when a big right knocks Rocky down yet again, but only for a second. This is the moment when a “few cheers” for Rocky are heard in the arena. “Suddenly Moscow is pro Rocky!” All it took was an inhuman performance by a piece of sentient boxing iron fighting a roided-up monster.

Rocky lands a bunch of body shots in the corner, followed by Drago landing a bunch of power punches to Rocky’s face. They then go toe-to-toe, but only Rocky does any damage. Drago’s punches are weak and barely making contact, whereas Rocky is throwing wild hooks and connecting.

Then they exchange a series of huge punches that would kill most people. Back in their corners Rocky’s face is swollen and bloodied, but he’s awake. Drago looks just as bad but he can barely keep his eyes open.

Rocky looks across at Drago as Duke screams at him, “No pain!” Drago looks back, as though seeing an equal he didn’t expect to meet.

Round 13

Rocky lands more body shots before landing some big blows to Drago’s head. Drago grabs Rocky, spins him into the corner and throws some huge overhand rights, followed by a big left. Drago keeps throwing punches after the bell rings.

The entire crowd is now chanting “Rocky! Rocky!” The entire arena is rooting for the American.

Round 14

Doesn’t exist. No, seriously, there’s no way to tell if/when 13 ends and this begins. No title card pops up, and there’s no other between-round break. (Note: I am officially in the weeds now.)

Round 15

Rocky doesn’t know what round it is. Drago looks almost unconscious as sways on his stool. His manager Nicolai Koloff leaves the government box to come to ringside. He calls Drago an idiot and pushes his face. Drago stands up, picks Koloff two feet off the ground by the throat and throws him. Drago then screams in Russian, “I fight to win! For me! For me!” Drago seems to have completely lost it, as the pressure from his government is literally in his face as his own people chant his opponent’s name.

Duke astutely tells Rocky, who has lost almost every round, that “to win you gotta knock him out.”

The two boxers touch gloves and stand in the middle of the ring. Drago throws a series of “stiff” jabs. Eventually Drago starts throwing overhand rights, big wild blows that are connecting. Rather than fight back though, Rocky starts to taunt him. He starts ducking punches, which makes Drago throw even wilder ones. Eventually Drago starts to connect again, but he’s leaving himself wide open.

Rocky doesn’t throw his first punch of the three-minute round, which he must win by knockout, for over 50 seconds.

When he does, they are giant hooks – right, right, left, right – it just goes on and on. Drago gets backed into the corner and Rocky lands more left hooks, then goes for the body with two punches that clearly hurt Drago before he lands another blow to Drago’s chin.

Drago finally responds with some big punches of his own. Rocky answers with two great shots, but Drago quickly gets the upper hand again and connects with even more. Drago won’t quit either. As he backs out of the corner The Russian screams and gestures wildly. He’s barely holding it together, having been taken to a place both physically and emotionally he never imagined. It’s a place Rocky experienced twice fighting Apollo.

They stand in the middle of the ring trading huge blows. Drago’s punches don’t seem to be hurting Rocky as much as he’s hurting the Russian.

Drago is wild, and Rocky finally returns to working the body with uppercuts. They are so powerful they are literally lifting Drago off the ground as he screams in pain. Now the Russian can’t lift his arms to protect his head, and Rocky goes in on him against the ropes.

Rocky hits right hook after right hook, then a left overhand. He does it again and again as Drago stumbles across the ring, stumbling like a drunk moving like a crab. Finally, after a series of massive right hooks, Drago goes down after a huge left.

Drago gallantly tries to answer the count, but falls back through the ropes at 9.

Rocky wins, and everyone realizes that “if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” The world is a better place because the Soviet Union is kaput even if no one knows it. That’s why Rocky’s win will be commemorated as the deciding moment in the Cold War when the Soviet Union dissolves on the anniversary of his win on Christmas Day 1991.


How did Rocky do it? (Win the fight that is, not bring down the Berlin Wall.)

  • Work the body. He did the most damage to Drago by beating up his insides from below. It physically brought Drago down to size and left him vulnerable. Use Viktor’s size advantage against him the same way.
  • Keep your composure. Drago wasn’t disciplined because he was over confident at first, which is how Rocky made him bleed, and then he was desperate to win a fight he had easily already won on every judges’ card, allowing himself to get knocked out when he just had to stay away from Rocky. The fighter who keeps emotions under control will have a huge advantage.
  • Experience helps. Adonis has gone the distance in a big fight. The longer the match goes on, the more the odds tilt in your favor.
  • Have a good corner man who can recognize not only your opponents strengths and weaknesses but your own. Listen to your trainer. (But since that’s Rocky let someone else hold the towel, just in case.)

Oh, yeah, but try not to take all of his punches directly to your head without blocking them. Rocky Balboa was not a man, he was a piece of iron, but your father wasn’t. Defend yourself so you won’t die.

And remember: this is not a damn show, it’s a damn fight.

Images: MGM

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