Let it never be said that Sylvester Stallone wasn’t ambitious, since it sounds as though Rocky III could have involved pope John Paul II if he’d been able to get his way. To be honest, it’s probably best that it never happened and there are likely several reasons why it didn’t that were never fully aired and given the proper attention. But the point is that Rocky’s run up the Vatican steps and the meeting with the pope before fighting Clubber Lang in the Colosseum never happened, and fans should probably be glad, as should Stallone. Why? Well, one thing about the Rocky franchise is that he’s a guy that came from the streets and worked his way up after getting what people should realize is a monumental chance that was supposed to be an exhibition, a kind of joke to let Apollo Creed take out some of his frustrations on a subpar boxer.
That sounds harsh and almost like fighting words, but it’s pretty much how the story of Rocky goes since he was a street hood working for a loan shark in Philadelphia, with a hole-in-the-wall apartment and a love for hitting people in the ring. Once he got that shot though, his name became known and his star began to rise. As of the second movie, Rocky moved up again because Apollo couldn’t stand the idea that a supposed nobody had gone the distance with him. By the third movie, Apollo had calmed down just a tad and realized that Rocky was the real deal, but he still wanted to be a part of his story. It feels as though heading to the Vatican and speaking with the pope would have been too big, too much, and way too grandiose for a story like this since Rocky has been for the people and about the people in its own way since it started. The Vatican City State, which became a separate area in 1929, was in the wrong direction of the story at that time.
Keeping Rocky in the US was a far better idea since it made the people believe that this story was theirs as Americans and instilled a great deal of pride in a lot of folks across the country. As ridiculous as the story eventually became it was still something that inspired a lot of individuals since the Rocky story has been one that has transcended one generation after another. Most folks know Rocky just from the mention of the movie, or at least know something about it since this story is hard to get away from. In terms of being iconic, Rocky is one of the franchises that a lot of people have no trouble identifying since, despite all the boxing movies out there, this one name has been on the lips of so many people over the years that many fighting movies have actually been mistaken for another version of Rocky.
Pushing things to such an enormous scope as having Rocky and Clubber Lang fighting in the Colosseum though would have been a big mistake, that’s an opinion but it’s one that a lot of folks might agree with. The reason why this is easy to say is that Rocky, for all his grit and determination, was meant to stay at home as much as possible. His trip to fight Ivan Drago felt right for Rocky IV, kind of, since it put him in a location that was inhospitable and forced Rocky to work even harder to win, even if in reality Drago probably would have buried him. Reach, size, and weight does make a pretty big difference in boxing, and with Ivan able to launch one bomb after another from a safe distance the only thing Rocky had was getting in close where the reach factor wasn’t negated but was at least neutralized a bit. But in Russia, Rocky was up against an entire country at one point since no one liked him and no one wanted him there. This kind of conflict wouldn’t have been present in Rocky III since it’s very possible that no one would have liked Clubber either. In fact, Rome might have said ‘meh’ to Rocky.
It’s best that things didn’t get so big in Rocky III that the pope was involved since this would have taken the franchise in a direction that it would have had to walk back from in a big way, and as it went, Rocky III moving into Rocky IV still felt kind of awkward since it was more akin to one boxer suffering a mid-life crisis and fighting against an inferiority complex and the other seeking to avenge his friend, even though the object of the match wasn’t to kill Drago but to beat him down. The Rocky franchise has gone the way it needed to go, more or less, and it’s better off for it.