Sylvester Stallone wanted a real boxer for his opponent in "Rocky Balboa," so when he hired Antonio Tarver, he knew he was in for a real fight. To make their movie match look real, Stallone accepted that they could each get hit, and Tarver obliged.
"I think he got dazed a couple times," Tarver said. "I think that’s the skill that I brought to the movie. He’s been in the ring with a lot of fighters, [like] Joe Frazier, and he’s gotten injured, hurt from those fighters because they just didn’t have the wherewithal to, not pull the punches but not turn them over. I think that’s what I brought to the table, the ability to do that. To jab hard but just really right at impact pull it back. I mean, it’s a talent so I’m just glad that I was able to do that and I’m glad that he was able to see that I had that special thing."
Tarver took his licks too. "Well, he didn’t accidentally hit me. He purposely hit me. It wasn’t accident."
The final fight may have been inspired from Tarver’s real career. His character, Mason "The Line" Dixon, repeatedly asks the ref to stop the fight as he’s pounding on the old man. He had a real fight with the same situation.
"I often wondered how close to real life this thing was, man. That did happen. I hurt the guy pretty bad and I thought the ref should have stopped it way before he did. But we got him out of there and I guess Sly saw that fight."
The film also mentions Dixon injuring his hand during the fight, to compensate for a real injury Tarver suffered. It was originally a larger subplot but now it is just a mention. "Well, I pampered it, I worked on it, I used stimulation on it but it was just one of those things like real life. If you get injured in a fight, you’re not going to quit. You’re going to go through. I fought with a broken jaw for four rounds in the first Eric Harding fight. That’s the mark of a champion. Sometimes you get hurt. But what are you going to do? You’re going to fold? That’s the true life Rocky story. It’s the underdog overcoming your obstacles and becoming better for it."
"Rocky Balboa" opens Wednesday.