Some ideas are a little ahead of their time when they’re first thought up since it would appear that Sylvester Stallone had a plan for Rocky V that didn’t involve the headstrong and kind of transparent Tommy Gunn. Instead, Rocky V would have followed Balboa and Drago following their war in the ring as it would detail the physical and psychological damage that was inflicted upon each man. As it was revealed in Creed 2, Drago was so shamed after the fight that he had to suffer through everyone turning their back on him, and he eventually lost even his wife to the onslaught of public opinion and ridicule. In the meantime, Rocky lost everything due to a shady accountant and had to move back to Philadelphia. It’s fair to say that Rocky didn’t suffer nearly as much as Drago when it came to having someone to help build him back up since Adrian was always there and Paulie, who was kind of a hit-and-miss character, was there as well. Drago was turned out like a stray dog as the story of Creed 2 tells us, but apparently this wasn’t the type of story the studio wanted back in those days, and instead, we were given the story in which Rocky retired from boxing, discovered Tommy Gunn, and tried to make it as a coach and a manager before losing his boxer to George Winston Duke, who offered Tommy more than Balboa could ever give him. The fifth movie really derailed at some point since the whole idea of Rocky becoming a coach while trying to juggle that life with his home life wasn’t a huge issue, but it was something that didn’t appear to be handled with that much care. Plus, it felt like a rather lame way to commemorate everything that Rocky had been through up to that point.
Seriously, a guy that even Duke admitted “fought wars in the ring”, being upstaged by someone that didn’t have the patience to make his own name and legacy, was kind of a tough story to sell. Tommy Gunn came off as the type of smack-talking punk that was easily swayed by riches and luxury, while Stallone remained the guy that was genuine and not too bright, but had more heart than most fighters could ever hope to have. A street fight between the two was likely the only way that things were going to get settled, but if anyone’s ever been near a street fight, or been in one, they’ll know that the person raised by and around the streets has a pretty distinct advantage. It’s kind of like a strong swimmer trying to fight a fish underwater; the swimmer might know how to move, but the fish has been there, done that, and is probably going to come out on top at the end. Yeah, it’s a weird analogy, but it’s fitting since Tommy vs. Rocky wasn’t a fight that was going to play out in the ring, mostly because Rocky had already hung up his gloves, but also because Tommy did something extremely stupid, he demanded respect without earning it. There’s one reason why it was easier to respect Drago and actually cheer for his return in Creed 2, and it was because he went the distance with Rocky and pummeled the man until his hands couldn’t stop shaking. It’s not a celebration of how badly Rocky was hurt, but definitely recognition of the fact that Drago was, unlike Tommy, a force of nature that required so much of Rocky that he was certain that something inside of him had broken.
But it might have been too soon to go back to the story of Ivan Drago and how badly both men tore each other up. For Ivan, the pain of being disgraced was unbearable since his country had been rested on his shoulders for a brief moment and he’d failed in the eyes of his superiors. In Rocky’s case, he was fighting for pride, much as Ivan was, but he was making it known that the USA wasn’t going to be pushed around on any front. In other words, this movie was a product of its time, but when Rocky V came around that time had passed, and the idea wasn’t quite as attractive, which meant things had to change a bit in order to really push another narrative that saw Rocky moving forward with a new prospect. It really feels as though bringing Ivan Drago back for Rocky V might not have been the best idea at that time simply because the character had been demoralized in such a way that one had to wonder at how low Ivan’s existence must have been up until Creed 2. But things did work out obviously and the most recent movie was pretty intense.