One interesting things about the Rocky films is that, regardless of when they were made, they can be divided into three distinct periods of two films each, reflecting different points in the life of fictional boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Mild spoilers if you haven’t seen the films. Note: This isn’t an analysis of the quality of the films but rather how they reflect a character’s life.
Pre-Fame Period: Rocky (1976) and Rocky II (1979)
This period features Rocky before he becomes truly famous, before the media of his world views him as a great boxer. In Rocky, champion boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) pulls Rocky Balboa out of publicity as part of a publicity stunt. Then in Rocky II, Rocky and Apollo have a rematch. In this period Rocky is streetwise but a bit out of his league. In Rocky he’s inexperienced in terms of dealing with a real professional boxer (to the point where in the first movie, winning over the woman he loves, Adrian, played by Talia Shire is to a degree a greater priority for him than winning the match) while in Rocky II, his inexperience in dealing with the media is also evident. He’s not quite the contender that he will eventually become and is truly an underdog in these films.
Peak Career: Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1984)
During this period, Rocky has become quite successful; he’s the undisputed Heavyweight Champion and his now a lot more adept at playing to the camera. By all rights he should cease to be any sort of underdog during this time, and as a result he is given more powerful opponents, both a bit over the top, such as Clubber Lang (Mr. T) in Rocky III and the near superhuman Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV. Against such powerful opponents there’s some suspense, but it’s clear that any newcomer would have no chance against Balboa during this period.
Declining Years: Rocky V (1990) and Rocky Balboa (2006)
During this period Rocky is no longer at his peak, due to injuries received during is fight with Drago (Rocky V) and then later due to advanced age (Rocky Balboa). Physically he’s back to being an underdog again and both of his opponents in these films (Tommy “Machine” Gunn in Rocky V, played by Tommy Morrison, and Mason “The Line” Dixon in Rocky Balboa played by Antonio Traver), while no slouches (Dixon is even the current champion in Rocky Balboa), neither of them are superhuman powerhouses like Lang or Drago (and Creed would probably have beaten Dixon if both were at their peak). Rocky is again more grounded, more down to Earth. While he has the boxing knowledge, his being past his prime is a liability for him in any fight.