With an Assist from Al Silvani, Carl Weathers was Magical as Apollo Creed


By Arne K. Lang

Carl Weathers, who passed away last Thursday (Feb. 1) at age seventy-six, appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows but is best remembered for portraying the Muhammad Ali-inspired character Apollo Creed in the first four installments of the “Rocky” franchise.

Weathers never boxed, but he was a good athlete; good enough to play in the NFL where he played one season with the Raiders as a back-up linebacker and strong safety. However, had he chosen to pursue a career in the prize ring, forsaking football and acting, he may have carved out a very nice career. So said Al Silvani who coached Weathers and Sylvester Stallone for their fight scenes and appeared in “Rocky II” as Rocky Balboa's cutman, lancing Rocky's eye to reduce the swelling in a memorable scene in the movie. “[Weathers] has natural ability. I’ve been teaching him Ali movements and he picked things up right away. He could have been a very good professional fighter,” Silvani told Los Angeles Times writer Lee Grant.

Like Carl Weathers, Al Silvani never boxed. However, he came from a boxing family (his brother Joe’s first documented bout was against future light heavyweight champion Maxie Rosenbloom) and he learned the ropes at New York’s fabled Stillman’s Gym at the knee of such legendary trainers as Ray Arcel and Whitey Bimstein. Before he found his way to Hollywood, Silvani worked the corner of such notables as Henry Armstrong, Lou Ambers, and Rocky Graziano. After moving west, where he succeeded Mushy Callahan as Hollywood’s most in-demand technical advisor for boxing-themed movies, Silvani kept his hands in the fight game. He was in the corner of Nino Benvenuti when Benvenuti regained the world middleweight title from Emile Griffith in 1968 and later worked with Alexis Arguello and Mustafa Hamsho, among others.

Silvani’s introduction to Hollywood came via Frank Sinatra. They met in 1942 when Silvani was training Tami Mauriello and they became lifelong friends. Sinatra sang the National Anthem before Mauriello’s 1942 fight with Lou Nova at Madison Square Garden and the singer later purchased a little piece of the Bronx Barkeep who fought Joe Louis for the world heavyweight title in 1946. (The Brown Bomber knocked him out in the opening round.)

Sinatra,Silvani, and Mauriello

Sinatra, Silvani, and Mauriello

Besides Stallone and Weathers, Silvani, who passed away in 1996 at age eighty-five, choreographed fight scenes for Paul Newman (“Somebody Up There Likes Me,” the Graziano biopic), and Barbra Streisand (“The Main Event’) to name just two. He spent months with Robert De Niro at New York City’s Gramercy Gym preparing the actor to play Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.”

The fight scene in “Rocky II” reportedly took three weeks to shoot. The scene, said Sylvester Stallone while on tour to promote the movie, “is four times as long and has eight times as many punches as the first one. A lot of those shots aren’t fake. It’s as hard to learn not to hit someone as to hit them.”

The original “Rocky” won three Academy Awards including Best Picture. It was a tough act to follow, but the critics, while conceding that the script was hackneyed, were in general accord that “II” was just as entertaining and as uplifting as its low-budget 1976 predecessor, an instant classic. Muhammad Ali, who had fallen asleep during a private showing of the critically acclaimed “Fat City,” thoroughly enjoyed it

Ali was then living in Los Angeles and was (temporarily) retired. The previous year he had defeated Leon Spinks in their rematch to become boxing’s first three-time world heavyweight champion. Accompanying Ali and his entourage at the special screening of “Rocky II” was the late, great Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.

“A great movie,” Ebert quoted Ali as saying. “It had all the ingredients. Love, violence, emotion. The excitement never dulled. Perfect acting.”

Carl Weathers didn’t write the dialogue that he mouthed in the “Rocky” movies, but it would have been hard for anyone else to portray a fictionized version of Ali and get a “two thumbs up” from none other than The Greatest himself.

“He was magic, and I was fortunate to be part of his life,” said Sylvester Stallone who shed tears upon learning that Weathers had passed away.

The actor died peacefully at his home according to a spokesman for the family. May he rest in peace.
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