Rocky V (1990): Rocky vs Tommy Gunn

Out of all the Rocky movies, Rocky V is considered as the most hated in the series.  Even the creator and star of the series had to make a part 6 to correct what he thought was a misstep in the franchise.  Fans would throw similar shade at the film.  Even with all that hate, I gotta say, up until the release of “Creed”, this was my favorite Rocky movie.

By the time Rocky was in his fourth outing, he was a superhero.  Rocky beat Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in their rematch, fought Clubber Lang (Mr. T) twice, faced off against Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan), his physique totally transformed,  and faced an unstoppable monster in Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).  Ivan had a whole country’s support and the most high tech equipment at the time.  Rocky was all old school and trained in a barn.

But after an epic battle with Ivan Drago, “Rocky V” shows what that battle cost.   The movie starts with Rocky experiencing a panic attack and can’t stop shaking.  A doctor tells Rocky that he had suffered serious damage to the brain and is forced to retire.  To make things worse, due to bad business decisions from his brother-in-law, Paulie, Rocky’s fortune is taken from him.

This where the story starts.  Our hero is starting from the bottom again, adjusting to a life he that he thought left years ago.  When he moves back to his old neighborhood, Rocky helps out at his old Gym.  It is here where an up and coming boxer, Tommy Gunn, asks Rocky to train him.

Rocky opens his home to Tommy.  While Rocky develops a relationship with his new protege, Rocky doesn’t realize that he’s tarnishing ties with his own family, especially his son.

Rocky would later fix his relationship with his family, but Tommy’s greed and jealousy would lead him to leave Rocky.  The media would start calling Tommy “Rocky’s puppet” and this is where the movie reaches its climax.

We’ve seen movies like this before.  The Star Wars prequels is the most popular Master vs Student film.  Kung Fu movies like “Fearless” had the main star start over to relearn what got him to be great.  So when these themes start to reveal itself in the film, I knew what was coming next.

So when I witnessed the final reel, I thought this movie was made specifically for me.  The last fight wasn’t in a ring.  His opponent wasn’t a unstoppable machine.  What it all came down to was two men meeting in the street to settle a beef.  Teacher vs Student. Old School vs New School.  Power in youth vs Old guy with Street Smarts.  It was all there.

The fight starts like any fist fight in 80s and 90s movies, haymakers all day.  Tommy Gunn is on the floor.  Rocky expresses the love he had for him.  As Rocky walks away, Tommy Gunn charges at him a throws a number of punches at Rocky until he is knocked down.  People in the crowd try to intervene, but are met with Tommy Gunn’s fists.  But one guy gets a left front kick from Tommy Gunn.

I was already excited to watch a last fight in a movie, but to see that this is an actual street fight in a Rocky movie widened my eyes even more.  This is pre MMA.  So when they get into some ground fighting, the fight looks very Hollywood.  There’s a lot of rolling around and rabbit punching.  Nothing really happens on the ground.  When the two are back on their feet, Tommy Gunn continues to connect punch after punch at Rocky.  After every punch, you see the crowd’s reaction.  Rocky is now getting Ivan Drago flashbacks.

The editing is of its time.  Slow motion and the multiple shots of one hit (made famous in Van Damme films) are prevalent.  Tommy Gunn knocks out Rocky and this is where the fight should be over.

It’s not until Rocky sees a vision of his old mentor, Mickey, that he gets the strength to get up and yells at Tommy Gunn, who’s already walking away, “One more round”.  Thinking  Rocky is in no shape to continue, Tommy Gunn pushes Rocky before throwing a right hook.

Up to this point, this was just a street fight.  I was already excited that this fight was outside the ring.  But what happens next would inspire me for the next 25 years.

Rocky defends Tommy Gunn’s right hook with a right arm and proceeds to punch him in the in the back of the head until he knocked down.  Tommy Gunn then gets up and rushes Rocky.

Rocky does the best move in the whole series where he grabs Tommy left arm and sweeps his leg.  It’s such a beautiful and unexpected move.  But Rocky isn’t don’t yet.  He follows up with a sweep to his left leg with his right arm.  The fight continues on with mainly fists and the fight ends Rocky as the victor for no other reason than having more heart than his former pupil.

The only downside to this epic fight would be the wack ass hip hop song.  It felt like some cheap knock off version of CMC Music Factory.  It was very out of place for a fight of this scope.

This was my go to when it had its run on HBO and Cinemax.  I just loved watching the back and forth of the fight.  There wasn’t a time lapse of rounds during this match.  It was a straight up fight.  The hits were hard and there were plenty of knock downs.  What I learned from this movie is that stylized fight scenes doesn’t have to come from martial arts films.  The choreography made my head spin for years.  Every movie i saw with a boxing scene  would be compared to “Rocky V” and would fail.

I would hold “Rocky V” as the standard for boxing choreography for years.  Though there were glimpses of good boxing fight scenes through the years, it would  be more than 25 years for me to give it up to “Creed” for its choreography and cinematography.  Still, when looking back, the Rocky vs Tommy “The Machine” Gunn still holds up.


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