Rocky III did more than just extend the franchise. It boosted the careers of two nascent superheroic characters, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan, as they made their way into the 1980’s cultural zeitgeist and even a titanic team-up at WrestleMania. Yet here, they’re just enemies for Rocky to gather his wits and eventually defeat. 1,200 people auditioned to be Clubber Lang, but there couldn’t be anyone else but Mr. T in this role.
Stallone went hard to get into shape for this movie, getting his body fat percentage down to his record low of 2.8%. He did that by eating only ten egg whites and a piece of toast a day, with fruit every third day, along with two miles of jogging, two hours of weight training, eighteen rounds of sparring, two more hours of weight training and swimming every single day.
Rocky has held the heavyweight championship for five years and defended it ten times, leading to fame, wealth and celebrity. In fact, he’s even moved into boxing versus wrestling matches against opponents like Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan). But his manager, Mickey (Burgess Meredith) knows that James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) is the man who can beat him.
While unveiling a statue of himself, Lang shows up and challenges him to a title match, claiming that Rocky has been hiding from him. That turns out to be true, because unbeknownst to our hero, Mickey has been keeping Rocky away from anyone who would hurt him as badly as Apollo Creed did. He goes on to tell him that Lang is hungry and that Rocky will never last three rounds with him because he’s become civilized and lost the eye of the tiger.
The training montage here shows that Rocky is distracted while Lang has risen from the Chicago streets and is very much like a younger Balboa, save that he’s cocky and brutal. When the two first meet, it erupts into a brawl that causes Mickey to suffer a heart attack before the match even starts. After the fight — a second round KO title win for Lang — Rocky tells his mentor that the fight is over and that it ended in the second round. He doesn’t tell him that he lost and his father figure dies happily.
Rocky slips into a deep depression that is only stopped when Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), his former arch enemy, offers to train him in exchange for a favor. Along with Tony “Duke” Evers (Tony Burton), Apollo brings Rocky into his Tough Gym, giving him the footwork, style and speed that he lacked, finally becoming the gladiator that he was born to be.
The fight between Lang and Rocky is different the next time — Rocky destroys him in the first round, then allows his opponent to batter him in the second, taunting Land and claiming that he can’t put him away. This is all a ruse, as Rocky defeats him in the third, finally finding, as the song sings, “The Eye of the Tiger.”
Apollo’s favor? One more rematch, this time in private at Mickey’s gym. Now the men have become friends and finally are on the same level as the film ends.
When Mr. T took his mother to the premiere, she angrily walked out, upset at the lurid way that he yelled at Rocky’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire), saying “I did not raise you to talk to a lady like that.”
As always, Stallone knows where his characters ended up. He saw Clubber Lang as later becoming a born-again Christian and a ringside announcer.
This would be the last time that Rocky would battle for the title. Now, it would be time to go to Russia and then back to the streets. Stay tuned.