Sylvester Stallone Can’t Fight

I read an interesting story recently about former #1 Heavyweight contender Earnie Shavers.  Apparently, when Stallone was casting for Rocky III he was considering, among other people, Earnie Shavers for the role of Clubber Lang.  Now, a lot of people don’t know this but Stallone used to consider himself quite a boxer in his early years, which is obviously where he got a big helping of the inspiration for the Rocky movies in the first place.  The other bit of inspiration came from watching a late Ali fight vs a large white guy from New Jersey named Chuck Wepner, the so called “Bayonne Bleeder.”  Chuck won a few of his larger fights, mostly due to having just enough punching power to supplement his unbelievable chin.  Chuck also retains the distinction of being the only man to know Ali down when he was champion.  Shortly thereafter, Ali gave Chuck such a beating that he was almost unrecognizable and stopped him in the 15th.  Fighters like Chuckie don’t typically have long careers for obvious reasons.
So anyway, by the time Rocky III was coming out Stallone was a big shot Hollywood guy, and he “worked out” in a fancy boxing gym where he would “test” potential cast members for their ability to look like boxers.  The further BS-y aspect of all this is that over the years Stallone has somehow gotten a reputation as being a boxing expert, which he is absolutely not.  At least not any more so than your average 60 year old black man in a barbershop.  (Name that movie:  “Joe Lewis lied about his age all the time!  Frank Sinatra came in here once, and I said, “Hey Frank, you know Joe Lewis.  How old was he when he fought Rocky Marciano?  You know what he said?  Joe Lewis was 137 when they fought!”  “Man, you don’t know no Frank Sinatra.”)   Anyway, on top of that, Rocky has gotten such a reputation as the most beloved figure in the history of boxing that there are a significant number of people on this planet who don’t fully realize that those films weren’t documentaries.  It’s sad, but whatever.  The point is that those films gave him a feeble reason to run his mouth about how he sparred with famous boxers who would otherwise turn his pretty little face into a Garbage Pail Kid under the pretext of casting a film. To add further insult to ignorance, there’s a giant statue of Rocky Balboa in Philly…and most people don’t even know who Joe Frazier is.  Ali does.  Look it up.  Now, just so we’re all clear as to my position before we go on:  IT’S NOT ‘SPARRING’ IF ONE OF YOU GETS A FREE PASS FROM GETTING YOUR BEHIND KICKED BECAUSE YOU’RE A MOVIE STAR ANY MORE THAN ANY OF US ‘BEAT’ OUR DAD AT SPORTS WHEN WE WERE FIVE BECAUSE HE PRETENDED WE COULD OUTRUN HIM.   
So Stallone magnanimously extends the honor of entering his gym to a man who, at the peak of his career, sported a 40-something-and-3 record while  stepping into the ring to face Muhammad Ali, possibly the greatest heavyweight in history.  I will repeat that.  Earnie Shavers went twelve full rounds with one of the top two greatest ass-kickers in the history of the sport of people kicking each others’ asses, which places his high in the running for one of the baddest ass-kickers in the history of the mankind.  Incidentally, after the fights Ali said unequivocally, and for many years hence, that Shavers was the single hardest puncher he had ever faced, and that list included legendary punchers like Foreman, Liston, and Frazier as well as a list of contenders so deep that even the second tier guys would have been legendary champions had they been fighting any time in the last 25 years.  And when Shavers fought Larry Holmes, one of the top ten best heavyweights of all time, for the second time, Shavers ALMOST put him on the deck for the count and took the belt off of him with one punch, and the only reason he didn’t is because Larry Holmes had one of the biggest ballsacks in the history of the sport.  It is a well known boxing fact that the primary reason Larry Holmes developed the best jab in the history of the sport is because it was virtually impossible for him to get inside without lowering his right hand to push his enormous balls out of the way.  
So Earnie graciously shows up to play pattycake with Mr. Big Movie Star whose made about ten times as much cash in a third of the time as Earnie ever did without having to get his fanny kicked in the ring in the process.  As he waits in his corner, Stallone is pounding his gloves and running his mouth with all the confidence of a UFC fighter who is about to enter the octagon with the nice older lady from the corner office who organizes the luncheons for the donors.  Just imagine a frat boy who is way more excited than he should be about downing fifteen beers at a keg party because he doesn’t have the developmental capacity to appreciate the truly insignificant nature of the overall acheivement and you start to get a picture of how this shaped up.  I mean, here’s Stallone: he’s young, rich, pretty, and doesn’t understand that boxing is way harder than it looks, and  taking a few light taps from Carl Weathers on a movie set doesn’t quite equate to experiencing a  professional prize fight even if the makeup guys make it look like you won.  Oh wait, I mean, lost a split decision…

Now Shavers is a quiet kind of guy, and in the ring he was a bit of a plodder anyway, so when the bell rings he kind of shuffles into the center of the ring  looking more than a little bored and entirely unassuming.  You know, like a professional.  Off they go.  Stallone is bobbing and weaving, and doing all those things that a boxer who is trained to make an action film learns how to do to look good dodging punches you already know are coming, and Shavers is calmly and methodically picking off his punches like it’s another day at the office.  Stallone is dancing like Tinkerbell with MS and throwing his wussy little combinations with great authority because he doesn’t really know the first crap about boxing, and in the interest of prolonging this amusing little exhibition Shavers limits himself to tossing back an occasional soft jab.  After a few minutes of this Stallone starts to get frustrated because he thinks he’s way tougher than he actually is, and if he’s going to be able to perpetuate his absurdly undeserving personal belief that he is a real man he needs to box against an opponent who is really, really good at making Stallone think that he’s actually trying to hit hard and can’t hurt him.  So Stallone starts jawing at him to not go easy and throw a real punch:
Stallone:  Earnie, don’t take it easy on me!  I can take a punch, throw something real!
Shavers:  ignores this unbelievably ill-advised statement and continues throwing jabs   
Stallone:  C’mon Earnie, Let those hands go!  Show me something!   
Shavers:  (inside)  …did this clown read my resume? 
Stallone:   Don’t go light on me ’cause I make movies man!  Throw for real!  You aren’t going to hurt me!
Shavers:  …….
It is at this moment that things took a turn. 
I want to say something about what kind of people boxers are.  Boxers are not normal people.  Sure, George Foreman smiles really big and sells grills to white people at Walmart, but deep down boxers aren’t like you and me.  These are people who hurt other people for a living.  They knock people out, and not people like douchey little wuss movie stars either.  They destroy people you and I consider hard, like the local bully or tough man contest winner.   People who get in barfights and win.  They fight people who train themselves to kick ass and take punishement, and they by-and-large come from the streets where you have to back up your mouth  every day.  They have literally made a career of being able to kick the crap out of everyone else on the planet under any and all circumstances, and so naturally, there’s some things you just don’t say to people like that.  And on that list, “Throw for real, you aren’t going to hurt me” is way, WAY up there, probably in the top three.  Boxers are by definition a collection of macho individuals who believe in the “if you want it you got it” remorseless world of professional fighting, and they simply don’t feel bad about causing someone else pain.  Sugar Ray Robinson once killed a guy in the ring, and when the commission asked him if he realized Doyle was in trouble, Robinson’s response was, “I’m in the ‘getting people in trouble’ business.” Oh, and it’s especially unadvisable when you are dealing with a guy like Earnie Shavers who has made a LIVING out of knocking people cold with ONE PUNCH.   Boxers have trained their brains to operate in the black and white world of the ring, where you can go around beating the hellout of people and get applause for it.  Seriously, and I cannot possibly stress this enough, you DO NOT EVER call out a boxer on their punching power unless you want to drink from the pain fountain. 
So Stallone keeps jawing, and Shavers gives it a good think and decides to hit the kid for real.  Now to his credit, he reasoned that if you’re going to hit a movie star you should at least have the courtesy to go to the body rather than the face.  I mean, he’s still in the running for the part so there’s no sense in ruining the movie because he broke his nose, right?  So Earnie takes a step forward, shifts his weight to the left, and twists a left hook into his gut just below his ribs and into his liver.  The effect was immediate.  By all accounts the glove virtually disappeared up to the elbow into Stallone’s midesction, plowing through various organs and several expensive meals from an upscale Hollywood bistro in the hills.  Stallone, in what I can only imagine was a moment of pure transcendental clarity of his true place in the universe, doubled over, completely broken in half, and only narrowly avoided knocking himself out cold by smacking his head into his kneecaps because his legs were buckling like the Oakland Bay Bridge in the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake.   For a moment, everyone stood there in total silence, with only the slight gurgling sound of of a man struggling to breathe when paralysed from the balls up.  Finally, without saying a word, Stallone rolled over onto his stomach, groped his way across the boxing ring on his hands and knees, fumbled through the ropes like a salted slug, and drug himself hand over hand to the men’s toilet where he proceeded to vomit uncontrollably for about ten minutes. 
Back in the ring, nobody said a word.
Finally, a palid and janidiced Stallone slunk back into the gym, hair fucked up, a slight dribble of bile flecking his right glove from where he wiped his mouth, and with a slight quaver in his voice like a whipped puppy, said, “OK Earnie, I think we’re done for the day.”  Shavers, the consumate professional, didn’t even bother asking if Stallone was OK.  He knew otherwise.  He simply said, “Sure man.  Thanks for having me come down.”  “No problem” Stallone replied, “We’ll call you.” 
Needless to say, Earnie didn’t get the part.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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