The Underdog

Take it from Sylvester Stallone—even the biggest underdog can rise up and offer a tough knock-out punch to their circumstances.

Boxers aren’t known for their humility. “There’s not a man alive who can whup me,” said the great Mohammed Ali. “I’m too fast. I’m too smart. I’m too pretty. I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.” In his prime, Ali faced a relatively unknown boxer named Chuck Wepner. Nobody thought Chuck would last two minutes. But Wepner took the world by surprise by knocking the champ down in the 9th round. Ali got back up and won the fight, but Chuck did the unthinkable, lasting 15 rounds against the greatest boxer in the world.

A young man watched that match and was inspired. He too was an underdog. A troubled kid with a partially paralyzed face, he was expelled from schools and spent time in foster homes. Moving to New York City to pursue an acting career, he scored only minor roles. He slept at a “flophouse,” later joking that it had “hot and cold running roaches.” But when he watched the Ali/Wepner match, Sylvester Stallone had an idea. Back in his apartment, he began writing. In 3 days, a finished script sat on his desk…the story of a down-and-out boxer without a chance, Rocky Balboa.

Stallone sent his script to producers. Nobody wanted it. To complicate things, his wife was pregnant, and they had $107 in the bank. Unable to feed his dog Butkus, Stallone sold Butkus for $40.

Then came the call. “We’ll give you $125,000 for the Rocky script.” Stallone was ecstatic. But this was his story. He couldn’t sell it and walk away. “Let me play the lead role in the film,” he said, “and you’ve got a deal.” They said no. They offered him $250,000…$360,000. When Stallone held his ground, they finally agreed but gave him a small slice of their original offer. With the money in hand, Stallone tracked down the man who purchased his dog and bought Butkus back for $15,000.

Rocky went into production on a shoestring budget, using handheld cameras, family and friends in the cast, yes, even the dog Butkus. Rocky grossed $200 million, won three Academy Awards including Best Picture, and became one of the most beloved underdog stories of our time.

Few things inspire like an underdog story. Think of Moses. Esther. Joseph. David, the shepherd boy was overlooked by his father when the prophet Samuel came looking for the next king. But David had the eye of the tiger. He was God’s choice to face Goliath and lead God’s people. And of course, there’s Jesus, who became a man to deliver death the ultimate knock-out punch and reconcile us to God.

Have you been knocked down? Think of those who have faced overwhelming odds with courage, persistence, and faith. And remember Romans 8:37, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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