Rocky Balboa is a down-on-his luck boxer/loan shark enforcer; eking out a meager existence in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Most people there think he’s a bum, but Balboa has a huge heart, and knows he’s destined for something more.
Apollo Creed is the charismatic Heavyweight Champion of the World who wants to have a bout in Philadelphia during the United States Bicentennial, which would be the year 1976 for you non-history buffs. Unfortunately, five weeks before the contest is to be held, Creed’s opponent pulls out due to injury. With such short notice, all viable replacement fighters are unavailable.
Creed, being the showman that he is, decides to give a local fighter the chance of a lifetime, and selects Rocky partially because he has a marketable name in “The Italian Stallion,” and partially because Balboa is a lefty, which is Creed’s kryptonite, and that might make people think that Rocky stands a chance.
Balboa signs on to the fight, and eventually agrees to let Mickey Goldmill train him even though Mickey has been overly critical of Rocky over the years for wasting his potential.
During this time, Rocky has been doing his best to impress the extremely shy pet store clerk, Adrian, with terrible jokes, but Adrian is socially awkward, and his advances go nowhere. Eventually, with the help of Adrian’s bum of a brother, Paulie, Balboa begins dating her, but with Rocky’s blossoming love and fame, Paulie becomes very jealous of Rocky. In order to appease him, Balboa agrees to advertise Paulie’s meatpacking business at the big fight.
On the eve of the contest, Balboa gets pre-fight jitters, and confesses to Adrian that he doesn’t think he will win, but just wants to go the distance with Creed. The next night, Balboa humbly enters the ring, and watches as Creed flamboyantly enters dressed as George Washington, but Creed hasn’t trained properly for the fight, and Balboa is able to knock him down in the first round, which is the first time anyone has ever knocked Creed down in a match.
That gets Creed’s full attention, and he takes the rest of the fight seriously. Eventually Creed breaks Balboa’s nose…the first time anyone has ever been able to do that to him. The fight ends up going the full 15 rounds; leaving both men bloodied and battered. The final bell rings, and Creed tells Rocky there will be no rematch. As the announcer declares Creed the winner by split decision, Adrian and Rocky embrace amidst the mayhem of the arena; solidifying their love for one another.