Knock-Down Drag-Out Fight
There are two big fights at the climax of Rocky, but only one of them gets national publicity. Before Rocky brawls with Apollo for the heavyweight title, Adrian and Paulie battle each other for independence.
Let's deal with the second one first.
When Paulie comes home drunk, he lays into both Rocky and Adrian. Rocky stays out of it because he doesn't want to choose between his best friend and his girlfriend. But Adrian, who could barely string two words together at the beginning of the movie, stands up to her brother. "You made me feel like a loser!" she shouts. "I'm not a loser!" Adrian: 1. Paulie: 0. Someone give her a championship belt.
Because Rocky's practically family, he smoothes things over, letting Paulie advertise on his robe, giving him the break he wanted all along.
In the last twelve minutes of the movie, we finally get the big title fight we've all been waiting for. Like the argument between Paulie and Adrian (in which Adrian is the underdog who triumphs), Rocky also has the odds stacked in his favor. He has to do two things he would never do before—take advice, and take a risk that gets his nose broken. Rocky sacrifices his vanity and his stubbornness in his efforts to go the distance with Apollo.
The fight lasts fifteen rounds, and the movie's makeup effects show us how brutal the fight is. Each fighter gets bloodier and more swollen. Rocky's eyes have more purple around them than Ariana Grande's. The announcer even says, "They look like they've been in a war, these two."
Rocky doesn't care to win the war, though—he only cares about the battle. And he is determined to not surrender. Rocky's fighting with himself even more than he's fighting with Apollo. He needs to prove to himself that he can go the distance—a full fifteen rounds—without giving up.
Adrian doesn't watch. She stays in the locker room, but she comes out just as Rocky's knocked down in the final round. The camera shows her, as if Rocky knows he is there. Thinking of her gives him the strength to survive the fight.
Rocky doesn't win, but the verdict doesn't matter. When the ref announces Apollo's victory, his voice is almost lost in the hullaballoo. Adrian rushes the ring, and she and Rocky say "I love you" for the first time. The love is the prize that means more to Rocky than any gaudy title belt.