What Happened To Rocky In Creed III? Explaining Sylvester Stallone’s Absence

"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place..." - Rocky Balboa

by Abhirup Sengupta
Image: Barry Wetcher, Warner Bros. Pictures

Following much controversy between Sylvester Stallone and Rocky franchise producer Irwin Winkler, Creed III finally hit theaters on March 3. However, the dispute drags on as the former series lead, Stallone, did not return to reprise his role as Rocky Balboa.

The absence of Stallone in Creed III is not a surprise to those following the drama regarding rights of the Rocky series and its spinoffs. Since 2019, Sylvester “Sly” Stallone has been quite vocal about his strife with Irwin Winkler and his sons, who own the rights to the series.

Warning! This article contains spoilers for Creed III.

Rocky Balboa’s Absence In Creed III – Explanation, Controversy, And More

Creed III dealt with Rocky’s absence in an ambiguous manner. Though the film had several callbacks to previous films, Rocky was merely referenced briefly in conversation by Adonis when he spoke about getting Jonathan Majors’ Damian “Diamond” Anderson a shot at the title.

In the film, Adonis referenced the events of Rocky (1976), where Apollo Creed gave a shot to Rocky Balboa at the World Heavyweight Boxing title. Thus in a similar manner, Adonis attempted to set up Damian as a worthy underdog and said: “Do you know how many people tuned in when Apollo fought Rock?”

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Is Rocky Alive In Creed III?

Though there were no clear indications of whether Rocky is alive, it is doubtful that the character would be killed so soon in this franchise. In the triumphant return of the Italian Stallion in Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler, Rocky Balboa was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fortunately, the retired boxer beat it with the support and care of his protégé, Adonis Creed.

However, Rocky’s cancer was likely in complete remission in Creed II (2018). Moreover, Michael B. Jordan, who also directed Creed III, recently addressed the possibility of Rocky’s return to the franchise. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Jordan said: “I think there’s always space for Sly, for Rocky, to come back. That’s one of those amazing things about that character.”

This further proves that Rocky is alive and possibly well in the Rocky/Creed universe. In accordance with the ambiguous references to Rocky, there could be a very simple explanation behind his absence in the film. Since Creed III is based in Los Angles instead of the usual location of Philadelphia like the previous films, it is plausible that Rocky is simply back in Philly, managing his restaurant.

Additionally, it is also possible that Rocky is in Vancouver with his son Rocky Balboa, Jr, who was last seen in Creed II. Thus it is highly plausible that Rocky would like to spend further time with his son’s family, especially his grandson, in an attempt to reconnect with them following a strained relationship with Rocky Jr.

Controversy Over Franchise Rights

As mentioned before, the primary reason why Stallone did not appear in Creed III is due to the conflict he had with Irwin Winkler. In the last few years, Sly has publicly accused Irwin and his sons over their recent decision with the spinoffs.

After a series of strongly-worded Instagram posts, which have since been deleted, Stallone patently addressed the situation in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The 76-year-old icon said: “That’s a regretful situation because I know what it (Creed III) could have been. It was taken in a direction that is quite different than I would’ve taken it. It’s a different philosophy… Irwin Winkler’s and Michael B. Jordan’s.”

Over the years, Stallone has frequently mentioned how he does not own the rights to the Rocky franchise. The actor, who wrote and directed five out of the six original Rocky films, apparently sold the rights to the franchise to Winkler for around $350,000 in 1976.

Since then, Rocky spinoff Creed has utilized several characters based on or written by Stallone. This includes significant characters like Apollo Creed’s wife and Adonis’ stepmother, Mary Anne, and Ivan Drago. Furthermore, characters like Tony “Little Duke” Evers, the son of Apollo Creed’s trainer Tony “Duke” Evers, and Ivan’s son, Viktor, are related to the original characters Sly wrote. This explains Sly’s strife over the recently announced Drago project.

Interestingly, Sylvester Stallone’s claims were challenged by Irwin and co. as per Variety’s claims. There is a further contradiction as Sly claimed that he is not an executive producer on Creed movies in his 2022 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. However, Michael B. Jordan stated that Stallone is a producer on Creed III, per his interview with Sports Illustrated, which is also backed by the official IMDb listing, which credits Sly as a producer.

With reference to the current controversial status of Stallone’s relationship with the Rocky/Creed franchise, it is improbable that the star will return for any future installments. Unfortunately, this adds to the likelihood of Rocky Balboa being killed off in future projects of the series.

- This article was updated on March 3rd, 2023