It happened in 1976, during my sophomore year in college. After completing my final exams in December, I returned home for the Christmas break. I was looking forward to spending time with my family and friends during the three weeks I had off from school.
Word on the street was that there was a good boxing movie playing at the theater. It was about an underdog who takes on the heavyweight champion of the world. I was a huge fan of boxing and was an avid follower of Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer the world had ever seen. He was strong, fast, bold, confident, charismatic, and unstoppable. I had heard that the newly released movie had a character who was modeled after Muhammad Ali.
Back then, there was no internet where you could watch a trailer or other videos about a newly released movie. The only way we heard about movies was through word of mouth, television news reports, articles in print publications, and late-night talk shows, where actors would come on to talk about their upcoming movies.
I ended up going to the movie with my cousin Danny Williams. The movie was about Robert “Rocky” Balboa, a young, kindhearted working-class man who was born and raised in an Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia. Rocky worked in the slums of Philadelphia as a debt collector for a loan shark. He was also a small-time boxer who fought in local nightclub boxing matches that took place in the Philadelphia area.
The main story line of the movie begins with Apollo Creed, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, who is scheduled to participate in a title fight in Philadelphia. Five weeks before the fight, Creed’s opponent backs out of the fight because of an injury to his hand. Creed then decides to create some publicity for himself by challenging a local fighter to fight him in the ring. After checking out the local boxers, Creed decides that the opponent who has the highest potential of generating the most publicity for him is Rocky, a local southpaw boxer who is well-known in the area as “the Italian Stallion.”
Rocky accepts Creed’s challenge and begins training for the fight. One of the most famous scenes from the movie shows Rocky working out, jogging, and then running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the theme song of the movie, “Gonna Fly Now,” playing in the background. (The song became so popular that in July 1977, it was named the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 list.)
During the first round of the fight, Rocky stuns Creed by knocking him down, the first time Creed has ever been knocked down in a fight. Until then, to Creed, the fight has been a publicity stunt, but now he’s forced to take Rocky seriously. They end up going at it for 15 rounds, beating each other senseless. At the end of the fight, Creed is declared the winner by virtue of a split decision.
The movie was the highest-grossing film released in 1976 and the second highest-grossing film of 1977. Because of the success of the movie, six sequels followed: “Rocky II” (1979), “Rocky III” (1982), “Rocky IV” (1985), “Rocky V” (1990), “Rocky Balboa” (2006), “Creed” (2015), and “Creed II” (2018). The two most recent films, “Creed” and “Creed II,” are about Apollo Creed’s son, who sought out and convinced 72-year-old Rocky Balboa to train him to be a champion boxer.
At one point during the 2015 Creed movie, while he is training Creed, Rocky walks Creed over to a mirror and tells him to look at himself in the mirror. While Creed is looking at his mirror image, Rocky points to the image and says, “Every time you get into the ring, that’s who you’re going against. I believe that in boxing, and I do believe that in life.” He then tells Creed to throw some punches at the image he sees in the mirror while attempting to dodge each of the punches.
Rocky’s statement to Creed is a metaphor for all the challenges we face in life. While we may have to deal with other people on a regular basis, when a challenge comes our way, the primary person we’re up against is ourselves. Before we can successfully move forward, we have to be able to identify and overcome our own limitations, faults, and fears. The only way we can ever hope to do that is to first overcome our number one enemy: ourselves.
What is it that gets in the way of our daily battle with the person we see in the mirror every morning? Our biggest enemy is pride, the one root passion that everyone struggles with. We were all born with a strong tendency toward pride, the mother of all sins. And because of our fallen human nature, combined with the individual unique traits we were born with, the environment we grew up in, and our life experiences as children and young adults, each of us also developed a primary fault which caused us to become attached to and adept at one of the other six root passions — anger, lust, envy, gluttony, covetousness, or sloth.
From a practical standpoint, how does all this apply to the battle we have to wage against ourselves every day?
Do you know why people who have a problem with procrastination are never able to overcome it? It’s because they have not learned how to overcome their pride and their primary fault. Do you know why some people are always late and are never able to change or modify their behavior? It’s because they have not learned how to overcome their pride and their primary fault. Do you know why some people who are well-organized and able to accomplish a lot in a very short amount of time are never able to fully understand or empathize with people who are not like them? It’s because they have not learned how to overcome their pride and their primary fault. Do you know why some people who repeatedly eat or drink to excess are never able to change or modify their behavior? It’s because they have not learned how to overcome their pride and their primary fault.
Is there a process a person can go through to momentarily overcome their pride and their primary fault so they can win each battle they have to fight within themselves? The answer is yes. I’m going to begin explaining that process to you next week.