“And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning.”

Where have you heard this line before?

It’s the backbone behind Apollo Creed’s ”Eye of the Tiger” speech from Rocky III. It’s one of the most inspiring quotes I have ever heard.

Why is this quote so inspiring to me?

In keeping with the truth behind the quote’s meaning, let’s go back to the beginning.

Preface: Background Behind Apollo Creed’s “Eye of the Tiger” speech

  • Movie: Rocky III
  • Year: 1982
  • Writer & Director: Sylvester Stallone
  • Production Company: United Artists
  • Characters – Actors in Scene:
    • Rocky Balboa: Sylvester Stallone
    • Apollo Creed: Carl Weathers

”Eye of the Tiger” scene – light setup

The scene started presumably either in the late evening or early morning, some time after Rocky, Adrian and Paulie laid Rocky’s trainer, Mickey, to rest at the mausoleum. Rocky was still suffering and in shock from the three rounds in which he lost both his heavyweight title to Clubber Lane and, more importantly, his mentor to a stroke. A few minutes before the “Eye of the Tiger,” scene, Rocky had ridden his motorcycle to the steps of the recent-erected Rocky statue and threw his motorcycle helmet at the statue, thereby epitomizing his lack of faith in anything he has earned or accomplished.

In the next scene we find Rocky in the dark at Mickey’s gym, toiling around in the agony of his own footprints when his cathartic jab at the punching bag is chastised by a sharp-dressed man standing in the shadows. The man was Apollo Creed, the same man Rocky beat in the rematch in Rocky II to earn the title. The same man who was at ringside serving as a guest commentator when he saw Rocky get clobbered by Clubber Lang, a man Apollo quickly came to despise.

Rocky, never much for words, asks Apollo why he’s there.

Apollo’s full stump speech

Look, man, when you beat me, I hurt all over and I didn’t wanna know from nothin’ or nobody – not even my kids. Hell, every fighter knows that hurt, and we get sick inside trying to live with it, so don’t back off now. Make it right for yourself or you’ll be sorry you didn’t.

We held the greatest title in the whole world, babe. You lost that fight for all the wrong reasons. You lost your edge. All right, I know your manager dying had you all messed up inside, but the truth is you didn’t look hungry.

Now when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man, the edge. And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean?

Heh-heh, maybe we could win it back together.

Eye of the tiger, man.

YouTube Video of Apollo Creed’s “Eye of the Tiger” speech

It’s even better to watch.

Why the Eye of the Tiger Speech was initially effective

1) Rocky’s mindset

Rocky hadn’t just lost his title and his mentor, he lost himself. Rocky had announced his retirement during the statue erection, at the peak of his career. He had already given everything he had to give to boxing. It was only when Clubber Lang disrupted the ceremony, called Rocky a “paper champion,” and accused Rock’ of ducking him for lesser opponents in order to hold onto the title for a little bit longer that an enraged Rocky accepted the challenge on the spot despite Mickey telling Rocky that Rocky would have to fight Clubber without his help.

It wasn’t until after Rocky and company got back to the house that Mickey confessed to Rock’ that although he wasn’t a paper champ, Mickey was avoiding Clubber Lang because Clubber:

“…ain’t just another fighter. He’s a wrecking machine. And he’s hungry.
“Hell, you ain’t been hungry since you won that belt!”

And that though the fighters Rocky fought during his 10 title defenses weren’t terrible, they “were hand-picked.” The revelation sends Rocky into a funk and presumably affects his training: glitz and glam, but nothing serious enough to prepare for Lang.

Throw in that Rocky eventually got Mickey to help for one last fight before they go enjoy the good life of retirement and that the last bit of anxiety killed Mickey, Rocky is climbing a mountain of regret centered within a horizon of remorse going into the “Eye of the Tiger” scene.

2) Rocky’s history

For those who didn’t watch the first Rocky film, and by the way, you should watch it, here’s a little relevant history: when we first meet Rocky in the first film, he’s a haphazard, admittedly “slow”, happy-go-lucky, 30-year-old boxer who was paid peanuts for fighting the circuit fights and unknowingly ripped off by the promoters by way of predatory billing. To make ends meet, he was starting a new gig working the docks as a collector for an Italian loan shark. When he was home, he was talking to his pet turtles and practicing new jokes in the bathroom mirror of his run-down townhouse so he could tell them to the local pet shop attendant, Adrian, in hopes of capturing her affections.

Rocky only received a title fight as a last-second, carnival-attraction replacement when Heavyweight Champ Apollo Creed’s opponent backed out of their New Year’s Eve fight because of an injury. Creed’s team had already sunk way too much money into promotion and they wanted to recoup their investment. Creed picked Rocky out of a listing book because he liked the nickname, “Italian Stallion,” and thought he could sell the immigrant angle as part of a kickoff party for the US’s bicentennial celebration.

Hell, when Rocky went to the office to sign on for the fight, he thought he was volunteering to be a sparring partner for Creed. He had no idea what he was in for.

Rocky had been in Mickey’s gym for 10 years and only got Mick’s attention when Rocky agreed to the heavyweight title fight. This set up a tumultuous beginning to their relationship.

In light of learning about his hand-picked title defenses and recent defeat, Rocky now probably believes he’s still that happy-go-lucky mush-mouth who’s what he feared he was, a bum.

Which would explain why the words and the training don’t take full effect until Adrian pulls out of him what has him really afraid:

The results?

It starts with a little theme music and training. Real, serious, break yourself down and build yourself back up training, tuned to the Rocky theme song, of course: Bill Conti’s iconic, “Gonna Fly Now.”

And as for the fight? Let’s just say it, “Ain’t so bad. Ain’t so bad.”

Why the Eye of the Tiger Speech was effective to me

Well, in the spirit of Rocky, that’s the sequel to this: “And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. [Eye of The Tiger Pt 2.]”

And, yes, I went the whole post without referencing the song. Here, if you need to hear it now.

Sources Consulted

photo credit: Stefan Ogrisek via Flickr. Image discovered on a creative commons “for use with modification” Google Image search and intends to comply to the linked-to Creative Commons license from the original source page.

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