Throwback | Today we take a look back at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. Jean Claude Van Damme along with Dolph Lundgren were there to promote their new film Universal Soldier. There were plenty of rumors at that time that during the filming of the movie, Van Damme and Lundgren were near blows almost everyday. Well they crossed paths at the festival.
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Ivan Drago, a Soviet Russian boxer, arrives in the United States with his wife, Ludmilla, and a team of trainers from the USSR and Cuba. His manager, Nicolai Koloff, takes every opportunity to promote Drago’s athleticism as a hallmark of Soviet superiority. Motivated by patriotism and an innate desire to prove himself, Apollo Creed challenges Drago to an exhibition bout. Rocky has reservations, but agrees to train Apollo despite his misgivings about the match. He asks Apollo whether the fight is against the Soviet, or “you against you?”
During a press conference regarding the match, hostility sparks between Apollo and Drago’s respective camps. The boxing exhibition takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Apollo enters the ring in an over-the-top patriotic entrance with James Brown performing “Living in America” complete with showgirls. The bout starts tamely with Apollo landing several punches that have no effect on Drago. It soon turns serious though, as Drago starts to retaliate with devastating effect. By the end of the first round, Rocky and Apollo’s trainer, Duke, plead with him to give up, but Apollo refuses to do so, and tells Rocky not to stop the match “No matter what”. Drago continues to pummel him in the second round, Duke begs Rocky to throw in the towel. Eventually, Drago lands one final punch that kills Apollo. In the immediate aftermath, Drago displays no sense of remorse commenting to the assembled media: “If he dies, he dies.”
Enraged by guilt and the Russians’ cold indifference, Rocky challenges Drago himself. Drago’s camp agrees to an unsanctioned 15-round fight in the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, an arrangement meant to protect Drago from the threats of violence he has been receiving in America. Rocky travels to the USSR without Adrian, setting up his training base in Krasnogourbinsk with only Duke and brother-in-law Paulie to accompany him. Duke opens up to Rocky, stating that he raised Apollo and that his death felt like a father losing his son. He expresses his love and faith in Balboa to prevail. To prepare for the match, Drago uses high-tech equipment, steroid enhancement, and a team of trainers and doctors monitoring his every movement. Rocky, on the other hand, lifts and throws heavy logs, chops down trees, pulls an overloaded snow sleigh with Paulie atop, jogs through heavy snow under treacherous icy conditions, and climbs the largest icy mountain. Adrian arrives unexpectedly to give Rocky her support after initially refusing to travel to the Soviet Union because of her worry that Rocky would be killed like Apollo.
Before the fight, Drago is introduced with an elaborate patriotic ceremony inspired by Apollo Creed’s intro at the fatal match. The home crowd is squarely on Drago’s side and hostile to Rocky, the American representing the Main Enemy. In contrast to his match with Apollo, Drago immediately goes on the offensive. Rocky takes a fierce pounding and is thrown and shoved across the ring in the first round, but comes back toward the end of the second round and cuts Drago’s left eye, stunning both the Russian and the crowd. This prompts Rocky to continue punching even after the bell rings. While Duke and Paulie encourage Rocky, they remind him that Drago is not a machine, but a man. Drago ironically comments to his trainers that Rocky “is not human, he is like a piece of iron,” after his trainers reprimand him for his performance against the “weak” American.