How Did the Secret 3rd Fight Between Rocky & Apollo Play Out?

Editor’s Note: This post by Arda Ocal was originally published on Nov. 27, 2017

Thirty-two years ago today Rocky IV hit theaters.

In honor of that, I decided to revisit one of the biggest mysteries in Rocky history … nay, movie history …. nay, world history … is the result of the secret third fight behind closed doors between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.

We all remember the last scene in Rocky III. Rock and Apollo walk into an empty gym, sometime after Rocky got his revenge on Clubber Lang, once again world champion. Apollo’s one request for helping train Rocky?

Facing him in the ring one more time. No media, no fans, just the two of them. They trade verbal jabs, circle the ring, and the film ends on both men throwing a punch at each other … nobody ever knowing what happens next.

In “Creed,” the latest installment of the series from 2015, Apollo’s son Adonis Creed finds Rocky in an effort to enlist Rocky to train him to box. In one scene, Adonis asks Stallion about the secret third fight, and Rocky reveals that Apollo won.

But how?

Here is my theory:

First, let’s assume that Rocky was telling the truth in that scene, and that Apollo did actually win that third fight. Let’s also assume that both fighters cared about winning the fight and gave it their best effort.

Rocky IV begins immediately after Rocky III ends. Rocky drives home after the third fight ends and you can see he has a big mark on the right side of his face, which wasn’t there before the fight, which means it happened during the fight.

The first time we see Apollo in the movie he is in his pool, with no marks on his face at all.

This is the famous last image of Rocky III, the freeze frame. Apollo’s punch is coming to the left side of Rocky’s face. No mark there on Rock’s face after the fight, just the right. Hold that thought.

Let’s set up where both fighters are physically and mentally before the secret third fight. Rocky just went through a long training camp and a championship fight (albeit three rounds) with Clubber Lang. You can make the case that Rocky is in better shape than Apollo at the time of the fight, because Apollo was, in fact, helping Rocky train, and not training for a title fight himself (unless he was secretly training that entire time, but we will assume he wasn’t for the purposes of this theory).

In Rocky IV, after the secret fight, Apollo is extremely confident, even more so than his usual braggadocios self. He is over the top when dealing with Ivan Drago before their fight. History shows that this can happen after a spectacular win (see Conor McGregor knocking out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds before a setback against Nate Diaz three months later as one example).

Let’s go back to the positioning of both men in the freeze frame, and the crux of the theory itself: Apollo throws a right hook to Rocky, who is leaning forward. Apollo gets a left from Rocky.

Now, this is what happens after the freeze frame.

Apollo’s right hand grazes Rocky, who is leaning forward. Rocky’s momentum brings his head down and to his right, towards Apollo’s left hand. Apollo absorbs Rocky’s first punch and counters with a surprise left that Rocky doesn’t see and floors him.

A first round KO for Creed.

[Listen: Arda Talks With Chuck Wepner, The Inspiration Behind Rocky]

Did Rocky get up? Maybe, but Rocky might have just conceded the fight to Apollo at that point. A hard shot lands, Rocky goes down, is stunned. It’s easy to think that, especially after the grueling last two fights against Lang, one where he got knocked out, and this fight being so soon after the second Lang fight, that Stallion was done.

Was this just an “exhibition?” Sure, there were no judges around, no fans, just the two of them. But remember Apollo’s words before they got into the ring. “You beat me by one second. Do you know what that does to a man of my intelligence?” And then he admitted he lied about getting over it.

It would have been a stretch to think Apollo could have won a 12 round fight against the world champion who had just gone through a training camp, especially if he wasn’t himself training. So a quick finish would have been Apollo’s best chance.

Apollo took every shot Rocky had in their first two fights, how could we believe one shot did the trick? The element of surprise helps a lot here. Rocky’s stance suggests he leans in after the first punch. Apollo’s right may have moved the course of Rocky’s head just enough that he doesn’t see the left coming and is in prime position to take it on the button.

So there is the theory, and the updated trilogy results:

1. Apollo Creed defeats Rocky Balboa by Split Decision

2. Rocky Balboa defeats Apollo Creed by KO in the 15th round

3. Apollo Creed defeats Rocky Balboa by KO in the 1st round

Plug holes in this theory, debate it, fire away on Twitter @ArdaOcalTV!