Watching Creed III, I had several thoughts: I love the Creed series — and can anyone remind me again how Adonis Creed exists? When was Adonis Creed born, and why didn’t anyone know about him in the Rocky movies after Rocky IV? Is it even possible for Apollo Creed to have a son Adonis’ age?
The short answer: I did a lot of Rocky and Creed rewatching, and it all makes perfect sense. And now that Creed III is available on VOD, you can pause, rewind, and relive the whole saga, too. Read on.
The Story of Apollo Creed, Adonis Creed’s Dad
Adonis Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan, is a thirty-something boxer whose dad is famously Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weather in Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV. If you haven’t seen those films, you may still know Weathers from his excellent work in films like The Predator and The Mandalorian. (His Mandalorian character, Greef Karga, plays a very prominent part in the Mandalorian Season 3 premiere that arrived Wednesday.)
Many Rocky and Creed spoilers/reminders follow, but we’ll avoid Creed III spoilers since it just came out. OK?
Apollo Creed is key to the whole Rocky and Creed franchise because it was Creed who decided in 1976’s Rocky, when he was the World Heavyweight Champion, to give Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) a chance to fight him. Though he beats Rocky, it’s a very close fight, and the “Italian Stallion” wins Creed’s respect — which leads Creed to fight him again in Rocky II.
By Rocky III, Rocky has gotten a little cocky. He under-prepares for a fight with the awesome Clubber Lang (Mr. T), and even accepts a kiss while riding an exercise bike. “He ain’t gonna kiss you,” Rockey’s manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith) warns Rocky. “He’s gonna kill ya.” This is amazing foreshadowing for what follows, and one of the most crucial lines in the Rocky and Creed saga.
Lang defeats Balboa, and Mickey dies of a heart attack. Rocky and Apollo then go from adversaries to friends as Apollo takes over as his manager, helping him recapture the “eye of the tiger” he’s lost. Rocky goes on to beat Clubber Lang, thanks to Apollo. Rocky III ends with Rocky and Apollo facing off in a friendly match, the outcome of which was mystery for more than three decades.
But in the first Creed, in 2015, Rocky finally admits to Adonis Creed that his father was the winner.
When Did Apollo Creed Die?
As Rocky IV fans painfully remember, Apollo Creed was killed in the ring by the brutal Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV. Apollo Creed was woefully unprepared for his fight with the towering, steroid-fueled Drago, dancing into the ring in red-white-and-blue and even a top hat as James Brown sang “Living in America.” Drago knocked him out and uttered emotionlessly, “If he dies, he dies.”
Well, he died. Which fueled Rocky’s epic Christmas Day battle with Drago in Moscow on Christmas Day, in which he defeated the Soviet goliath. (It also led to Creed II, in which Adonis fought Drago’s son, Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu, who returns in Creed III).
The question is, when did Apollo Creed die, exactly? This is tricky. Rocky IV doesn’t give dates, but was released on November 27, 1985. Rocky fandom generally accepts his death as taking place near the end of the summer of 1985. This is a little weird, since Rocky IV ends at Christmas, which would mean the end of the film takes place a month after Rocky IV was released. But let’s roll with it, because it allows for the existence of Adonis Creed and the fantastic Creed franchise.
Who Is Adonis Creed’s Mother?
Apollo Creed was married to a woman named Mary Anne Creed who has been played by three different actresses: Lavelle Roby in Rocky, Sylvia Meals in Rocky II and Rocky IV, and Phylicia Rashad in the Creed films.
But she is not Creed’s birth mother: That would be a woman known only by her last name, Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a woman about whom little is known, but we do know this: She was having a seemingly carefree affair with a beloved athlete in the summer of 1985 that turned out to have life-changing consequences when he died suddenly — and left her pregnant, alone, and with no one to turn to for help.
How Old is Adonis Creed?
As we learn in Creed, he was born in 1986, months after Apollo Creed’s death. 1986 also happens to be the year Michael B. Jordan was born, which means Adonis Creed is 36 or 37. (Michael B. Jordan is 36.)
Yes, that means that when he debuted in Creed in 2015, he was pushing 30 – a little old for a professional fighting debut. But let’s remember that Adonis Creed kept in shape with many secret fights in Mexico before going pro.
Mary Anne eventually forgave Apollo, and adopted his secret son, Adonis, after Ms. Johnson’s death. But not immediately after her death — Creed III addresses what happened in the years between the death of his biological mother, and his adoption by his father’s wife.
‘He’s Not Gonna Kiss Ya, He’s Gonna Kill Ya’
Scoldish know-it-alls may wonder why Apollo Creed was cheating instead of training. But a rewatch of the Rocky films finds that his death is sadly on theme with the Creed and Rocky franchises — and that Mickey’s advice turned out to be sadly true for the man who replaced him as Rocky’s manager.
In the films, both Rocky and Adonis are torn between their duties in the ring and their obligation to the women in their lives: Adrian (Talia Shire) in the Rocky films, and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) in the Creed films. Can they be lovers and fighters? Does love make them soft, or make them stronger?
Apollo Creed never got to hear Mickey’s advice, and his weakness in this area may have contributed to his death. Watch his Rocky IV entrance again and tell me he doesn’t seem like a man who feels indestructible.
In the Creed and Rocky films, Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa find that they are at their best when their wives are in their corners. The old joke about Adrian is that she constantly begs Rocky not to fight, and discourages him even mid-fight. But that’s not really true.
A major emotional turnaround in Rocky IV takes place after Rocky has gone off to train almost alone for his fight wife Drago, doing it very old school in a barren Soviet wasteland. Adrien has refused to come to the U.S.S.R., because she doesn’t want to see Drago kill her husband like he killed Mary Anne’s.
But then this happens.
Creed III finds Adonis Creed facing a new adversary, Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), who tries to drive a wedge between Donny’s identities as a family man and fighter. You’ll have to see the movie to see how that works out.
Creed III is now available on VOD.
Main image: Carl Weather as Adonis Creed dad Apollo Creed.