After the success of Rocky, the producers were eager to make a sequel. While Sylvester Stallone would write the script and star again, John G. Avildsen was tied to Saturday Night Fever (a script disagreement led to him being removed from the film three weeks before shooting started; he was replaced by John Badham). Stallone went all out to get the job, just like he did to get the starring role in the original film. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff understood how much of the success of the first film came from Stallone and helped him get the job.
The film begins immediately at the close of the last movie: world heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has defended his title against Rocky Balboa (Stallone), yet his promise of no rematch is rescinded the moment reporters surround the two men. Their private moments are much different then public; when Rocky goes to Apollo’s hospital room, he asks if he gave his all. The champion agrees that he did.
Rocky decides to retire after learning that he has a detached retina and that one punch could blind him. He has a new life now, one of endorsements and agents, but also one of true love as he marries Adrian and they expect a child.
Apollo is on a different path, as he’s now obsessed with a rematch. Rocky is the only mark on his perfect career. Despite everyone close to him telling him to drop it, he demands a rematch, smearing the good name of Rocky even in retirement.
Rocky’s inexperience with money and inability to read basically reduces his life to pure pain. Even a job at a slaughterhouse doesn’t last as the film compounds the boxer’s tragedy, moment by moment. Rocky begs Mickey to take him back and train him, but the older boxer refuses until he sees the way Apollo is taunting him.
Adrian has gone back to working at the pet store and refuses to support Rocky’s need to fight one more time. She goes in labor early and while their child is healthy, she remains in a coma. Rocky blames himself and stops training, but days before the fight, she awakens and tells him to win.
Apollo boasts that he will beat Rocky in no more than two rounds to prove the first match was a joke. Yet Rocky fights right handed instead of left, taking an even more brutal encounter into the fifteenth round, yet Apollo is way ahead on points. Rocky switches back to southpaw — leaving his bad eye open to damage — and takes out the champ with a massive punch that takes both to the canvas. Luckily, he rises in victory.
According to John G. Avildsen, another reason he didn’t do this film was because he didn’t like the story. He was, however, excited to do the third movie, where Rocky would have been elected mayor, only to be caught in a scandal when Paulie stole from the treasury. Rocky would take the blame and end up back in his old neighborhood. Notably, a similar plot occurs — spoiler warning — in the movie Stallone and Avildsen did collaborate on, Rocky V.