Every year at Christmas time, if I was good, my father would let me place a bet. Usually it was small time, a few bucks on three NFL team parlay, which I’d usually lose by picking the Jets. However in 1985 I was putting down real money, well it was real money for me. I was eleven years old and I was putting all of my money on the Rocky Balboa – Ivan Drago fight.
I can’t believe it’s been 24 years since the Balboa/Drago fight which took place in Russia on Christmas Day 1985. Some of you may be too young to remember what a big deal that fight way but let me tell you, it was the biggest news of that year. We were all shocked when Drago killed Apollo creed at that exhibition fight and we were equally shocked when we found out that Rocky was going to fight Drago on Christmas in Russia. As soon as the fight was announced I knew this was going to be my Christmas bet. From late summer through the fall I saved all of the money I made cutting lawns, raking leaves and shoveling snow and then a week before Christmas I gave my dad all of it so he could place my bet with his bookie. I put $145 on Ivan Drago to win in four rounds or less.
On Christmas Day we opened our gifts, called all of our family to wish them a happy holiday and the waited for the fight to start. Remember the fight was in Russia so the Pay Per View broadcast started at noon NY time and the fight itself at about 1:30 in the afternoon or 9:30 PM in Moscow. A few of my dad’s friends came over and they gave me a hard time about betting on the big Russian but I thought there was no way Balboa could win. First of all: Rocky was at most 5′-8″ and was really better suited for the light heavyweight division. Second, while Rocky had won a few big fights his main talent was taking a beating and not falling down. Plus I felt like after two retirements from the ring there was no way he could get in shape in time. Yes I had heard about his crazy training regimen in Siberia but in my mind Ivan Drago was too big, too fast and too fast for Balboa, plus he had the much hotter wife.
Right after the fight started it looked like I was going to cruise to some easy money. Drago put on a clinic at first, pummeling Balboa until, as Rocky said he “was seeing three of him (Drago)” leading to his corner man’s advice to “hit the one in the middle”, but as usual Rocky fought on. After another round of brutal shots from Drago he managed to stun the big Russian with haymaker that actually drew a little blood. It was the first time Drago had been hit like that in a fight but I figured he would regroup and put Balboa away in time for me to have a merry, cash filled Christmas, but that never happened.
As everyone now knows Balboa had exposed Drago with that single lucky punch and never looked back. While both fighters exchanged blows over the remaining rounds Drago never took charge like he did at the start. After round 4 I was sad that I had lost all of the money I had saved but by round 7 I was cheering for Rocky. I don’t think any of us sat down during the last few rounds and we chanted U-S-A, U-S-A. in between rounds. It was hard to tell from the broadcast but we later found out that the crowd had actually begun to cheer for Rocky too. When Balboa finally knocked Drago out we all hugged each other. I’m not ashamed to say that we all got choked up when Rocky gave the famous “If I can change, you can change, we all can change” speech and embraced Drago after the fight because we had just witnessed a miracle, but it wasn’t the last miracle of the day.
After a couple of I told you so’s about betting against Rocky Balboa my dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a betting slip, it took a few seconds after he handed it to me for me to realize what I was looking at. My dad had placed a bet with my money but he didn’t place it on Ivan Drago like I had asked: he put it all down on Rocky Balboa to win by knockout. When he told me how much I had won I nearly fainted and then he said something I’ll never forget. He said: “Never take a Commie’s side on Jesus’ birthday” and you know what? I never did again.