Dolph Lundgren reveals that an early draft of Creed II featured Carl Weathers' Apollo Creed returning as a ghost. Released in 2015, Ryan Coogler's Creed breathed new life into the Rocky franchise by bringing together Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa with Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Creed, the son of deceased Rocky character Apollo. In 2018, Creed 2 continued the story of Adonis while bringing back other key characters from the franchise's past, including Lundgren's hulking Russian boxer Ivan Drago.
Much like the original Creed, the sequel tapped into nostalgia while bringing in fresh characters and story elements, a formula that helped the film ring up $216 million worldwide. Directed by Steven Caple Jr., the film saw Adonis doing battle with Ivan Drago's son Viktor against the wishes of his mentor Rocky, while also facing his own personal struggles. Among other things, the film provided a chance for Lundgren to revisit the Ivan Drago character and play him with more humanity after his cartoonish portrayal of the same character in the generally schlocky Rocky IV.
In a recent appearance at Monster-Mania 42 in Philadelphia, Lundgren discussed the making of Creed II and shared an interesting revelation about an early draft version of the script. During a Q&A session, Lundgren let it drop that at one point in the film's writing Apollo Creed himself was to make an appearance, despite being dead. While remarking on Brigitte Nielsen's appearance in the film, Lundgren talked about the other return that never happened (via YouTube user Christopher Beaumont, Lundgren's quote begins at around the 27:40 mark):
It was a great idea I thought [to bring Nielsen back]. In the original first draft it was Apollo came back. Or like his ghost or something. It was a little hokey, you know. So I think it was much better to bring Brigitte back.
Lundgren's character Ivan Drago was of course responsible for turning Apollo Creed into a ghost, when he pummeled Creed to a pulp in Rocky IV and Rocky failed to throw in the towel fast enough to save Creed's life. In Creed II, the ghost of Apollo still figuratively haunts both Rocky and Adonis, which is why Adonis jumps at the opportunity to battle Drago's son Viktor, who carries his own demons into the ring with him. Given the movie's theme of sons bearing the burden of their fathers' legacies, Adonis and Viktor naturally do all the actual fighting, though at one point there was a scene written that saw Rocky and Drago duking it out. However, the Rocky vs. Drago re-match never made it to the screen.
The decision not to have Rocky and Ivan Drago fight again was indeed one example of how Creed II mostly avoided blatant fanservice while trying to deliver a solid Creed follow up. The decision not to have Apollo Creed's ghost appear also demonstrates the wisdom of the film's production team, as they avoided the pitfalls that might have made the film descend into Rocky IV-style camp. Of course, there's still a chance to go the campy route and bring in Apollo's ghost for Creed III, which seems a lock to get made (though there's some question whether Stallone will return himself).
Source: Christopher Beaumont