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The Story Behind THAT “Creed” Knockout Punch

So how did director Ryan Coogler get his star to agree to a full-on shot to the jaw? Two words: Sly Pressure.

Creed is one of the year’s best critical and commercial surprises. The latest film in the Rocky series is perhaps the finest seventh film in a long-dormant franchise to date (and if The Force Awakens can snatch that title away, fans around the world will have plenty to celebrate this Christmas). It’s also one of the most interesting boxing films ever made. While the story tropes of boxing movies are well-established–an up-and-comer gets a shot, trains, overcomes adversity, excels, and lands him or herself a big match where they has to prove their mettle–the visual identity of Creed, particularly around how the fights are shot, are unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a boxing film before. Whether it’s an entire fight filmed as a single take that highlights the isolation that a fighter faces in the ring, or it’s the film’s iconic image of protagonist Adonis Creed taking a shot to the jaw for a knockdown, the visual language of boxing films will bear the mark of Creed for years to come.

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But that knockdown shot–which appears in the film in slow motion, delivering a protracted meditation on the hows and whys of enduring punishment as the fighter, played by Michael B. Jordan, falls to the canvas–didn’t come easy. As Jordan told HBO’s Bill Simmons on his podcast, the shot required the actor to take a real punch–otherwise, the slow-motion would make clear that it never connected. The only problem is that, legally, a filmmaker can’t tell an actor working on his movie that he has to get punched in the face at full power. So director Ryan Coogler (who collaborated with Jordan on his first feature, Fruitvale Station) had the film’s supporting actor, Sylvester Stallone, cajole Jordan into taking the punch.

During the podcast, Jordan tells Simmons about the footage that Stallone captured on his cell phone of the punch getting delivered. “I had to willingly step up and be like, ‘All right, I’ll take the hit,'” Jordan says after showing the host the clip. “But I definitely got peer-pressured.” And now that Stallone has shared the 9-second clip of the dramatic punch being filmed, we can see exactly what it was that Jordan got peer-pressured into. In the film, the punch leads to a moral interrogation of violence and why we fight–but in real time, the punch is just a dude getting hit right in the damn face for his art. It may not be as dramatic, but somehow that makes it even more brutal.

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.

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