For generations, Rocky Balboa has served as an inspirational character personifying the pursuit of dreams in the face of insurmountable odds. Rocky is more than an underdog story. It’s a series of life lessons shared through the eyes of one of the most recognizable figures in cinema history.
Perhaps the best example of the life lessons told through the Rocky franchise is the “How Winning is Done” speech. Rocky, after announcing plans to go through with an exhibition fight against the current champion, is confronted by his son with pleas to pull out of the match to save face.
Rocky Balboa responds with what is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the most brilliant speeches in cinema history. Not only because of its messaging, but in how well it complies with the rules of good speech writing.
“I’d hold you up and say to your mother, ‘This kid’s going to be the best kid in the world.’”
Rocky starts the speech off with a complete introduction hitting on numerous points of informative speech writing.
He begins with an anecdote, a short story about the size of his infant son and how he used to fit in the palm of his hand. This seemingly unrelated piece of information sets the stage for the entire introduction. It creates an emotional jumping-off point for the sentences to follow.
Rocky takes his son through his youth, growing up as an upstanding young man that went out into the world. He then brings it around to the point that inspired the speech in the first place: “Somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good.”
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
Rocky dives into the body of his speech by laying out the challenge in front of them. Life is difficult. The world is hard and everyone takes hits throughout life. He is providing evidence to support his narrative later on.
“Life isn’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the speech. Explaining that while life is challenging, it’s how we deal with those challenges that define us.
This statement echos throughout the sub-plots of numerous characters. During the fight, Rocky reminds himself of what he says at this moment. Mason Dixon, the champ, is advised to find an opponent that brings them to the point where they’re “too tired to breathe” in order to prove they’re a worthy title holder. Then there’s Rocky’s son himself, struggling to find himself amidst the corporate clowns that surround him.
“Cowards do that, and that ain’t you! You’re better than that.”
The ending of the speech brings all the points together. Rocky ties in the beginning, appealing to how good of a person his son started out being, and how he needed to find that person again. His description of those that blame their troubles on others, paints a picture of someone that doesn’t win, but rather deserves to lose.
“How winning is done” is a life lesson in character and perseverance. It ties in beautifully with the primary story arch of the movie and several sub-plots. In terms of cinematic speeches, it sits among the greatest to ever grace the silver screen.