The original Rocky movie might be the cinematic darling of critics far and wide, but ask fans of the Italian Stallion to name their favorite film in the franchise, and chances are that they'll say Rocky IV.
It’s a Rocky film that’s got everything: Cold War intrigue, a killer soundtrack, a few tear-jerking moments, and arguably the most fearsome opponent Sylvester Stallone’s titular boxer has ever faced: Ivan Drago.
Decades on from that memorable in-the-ring encounter and it would appear that a Drago comeback is on the cards, with Stallone confirming plans to bring the Siberian Express back with a role in the upcoming Creed 2.
What better time to revisit one of the franchise’s most memorable characters and a man of few words – here are 18 things you never knew about Ivan Drago.
18 Ivan Drago Fell Out With Apollo Creed In Real-life
Dolph Lundgren brought a special level of intensity to the role of Ivan Drago – one that nearly landed him and the entire Rocky IV production in a whole heap of trouble. The story goes that, during one bit of in-the-ring filming, Lundgren literally tossed Apollo Creed actor Carl Weathers into the corner of the ring like a rag-doll.
Weathers, so incensed at what happened, stormed off the set and threatened to quit the film entirely. Production was halted for four whole days and, in the end, the pair only reconciled when Stallone intervened and negotiated a truce between the two. Thankfully, Weathers and Lundgren soon moved on from the incident and are thought to be on very good terms now. But could you imagine a Rocky IV without Apollo Creed?
17 Dolph Lundgren Almost Killed Sylvester Stallone
A few rounds in the ring with Ivan Drago almost proved lethal for Rocky Balboa in real ife. While filming the final few scenes of their epic fight, Stallone hit upon the idea of having he and Lundgren actually punch each other for real.
Though Lundgren came away largely unscathed, after just one day of shooting, Stallone was rushed to a nearby emergency room after suffering difficulty breathing. Doctors discovered his blood pressure was well over 200 and he was immediately flown, at low-altitude, to Santa Monica Hospital.
Stallone was put in intensive care for eight days – it turned out Lundgren had hit him so hard in the chest, his heart has slammed into his breastbone and had started to swell. This had cut off blood supply and oxygen flown through the body as a result. He very nearly broke him for real.
16 Drago Had A Miserable Life After Rocky IV
Details remain sketchy on how things turned out for Drago in the aftermath of his defeat to Rocky Balboa at the end of Rocky IV. According to Rocky: The Ultimate Guide, the Russian returned home in disgrace and was not allowed to continue as a boxer. He eventually did turn professional after the fall of the Soviet Union and accumulated a solid enough record of 14 wins, one loss, no draws and 14 knockouts. However Drago never came close to winning a major title and never fought another top contender again, because of politics in the sport at the time.
Sylvester Stallone originally saw a different future for Drago, though – a much, much darker one. Once quizzed on where he envisioned Drago ended up after the events of the film, Stallone said he imagined Drago would have returned home in disgrace. Back home, he became addicted to alcohol and steroids before eventually committing suicide. So bleak.
15 Dolph Lundgren Fought To Be Ivan Drago
Dolph Lundgren was rumored to have been one of 8,000 actors to show up for a 'cattle call' audition for the part of Ivan Drago. Born Hans Lundgren, he had worked as a bouncer for Grace Jones, whom he eventually became romantically involved with, before heading to MIT on a Fullbright Scholarship.
Jones introduced him to the world of showbiz, and before long, Lundgren ditched his studies to pursue a career in acting. Initially rejected by Stallone for being “too tall”, Lundgren, a self-confessed fan of the franchise and martial arts expert, was undeterred. He took photos of himself in boxing gear and had them sent to Stallone. While back in Sweden he got the call to go and meet with Stallone in LA. After six months of training and screen testing, he landed the role of Ivan Drago.
14 His Catchphrase Got Lost In Translation
Ivan Drago is a man of few words, but one of his few lines in the film still ranks among the most iconic in the entire franchise: “I must break you.” It’s right up there with that other classic “If he dies, he dies”. Or at least, it is unless you watched the film over in Italy. In the Italian version of Rocky, the line is dubbed as something slightly different: “I will break you in two”.
It’s the kind of slight change that would drive most die-hard Rocky fans mad. Except, it ended up being a popular quote among fans of the film in Italy, with young cinemagoers regularly using the line “I will break you in two” and thus ensuring it entered the popular lexicon…in Italy.
13 He Has Super-Human Strength
Dolph Lundgren, the man, is obviously a very strong, athletic guy – you need only look at him to see that. But Ivan Drago, the Rocky IV character, is on a whole other level when it comes to athleticism. Evidence of this came during one particular weight-lifting sequence featuring the Siberian Express in his element. Keen to offer a contrast to Rocky’s pre-fight preparations, viewers see Drago doing a pretty hefty standing press with an astonishing amount of weights.
Based on the footage from the film, Drago appears to be pressing around 455 pounds, which is crazy. Some weight sets carry a maximum of 400 pounds, and Drago’s record far outstrips Arnold Schwarzenegger’s own efforts as a professional bodybuilder. Still, the joke is on Drago if Mike Tyson is to be believed. He always felt traditional weight lifting was a largely pointless practice in the run-up to a fight, and has as much resemblance to punching as “cheesecake”. Maybe that’s why Drago lost.
12 Ivan Drago Almost Got Another Rocky Sequel
Rocky IV did big numbers at the box office, raking in just over $300 million off the back of a budget of just $28 million. The film’s success even prompted Stallone to consider writing a sequel that focused on both Rocky and Drago in the aftermath of their bruising encounter.
The film wouldn’t necessarily have been a boxing encounter either, instead focusing on the two former fighters in their post-boxing life with the action moving between their two, markedly different lives, in America and Russia. However, Stallone eventually decided to have the focus of Rocky V center on the damage Rocky sustained in the fight, as a means of showcasing the dangers of boxing, while introducing Tommy Gunn. And we all know how that went.
11 Arnold Schwarzenegger Was Almost Ivan Drago
With as many as 8,000 actors auditioning for the part of Drago, it’s hardly a shock to learn that a few familiar names came close to landing the part. Arnold Schwarzenegger was rumored to be in the frame for the role, which is surprising given the rivalry Stallone and the Austrian shared later in the decade. Arnie was still a rising star back then, though, and had only just broken through with The Terminator and Conan The Barbarian, which helped make him a recognized name.
The “Muscles from Brussels” Jean-Claude Van Damme is also believed to have auditioned for the part. A complete unknown at the time, Van Damme’s next major part would be in Predator, where he briefly played the titular alien hunter before quitting (or being fired; accounts vary) the project early on in production. German actor Jürgen Prochnow was also in the frame, having risen to prominence a few years earlier with his starring role in the epic war film Das Boot.
10 He Has Only Nine Lines In The Film
English was not Lundgren’s native language, and it took him several years to learn to speak it fluently – he sounded out all of his lines, phonetically, on his next film Masters of the Universe -- meaning his input as Ivan Drago is pretty limited. To nine lines, to be precise. Short and rarely sweet appeared to be the order of the day when it came to writing Drago’s dialogue, with the Russian keeping things brief but aggressive with pretty much everything he says.
Drago’s nine lines read as follow: “You will lose”, “I cannot be defeated”, “I defeat all men”, “Soon I defeat real champion”, “If he dies, he dies”, “I must break you”, “He’s not a human. He’s like a piece of iron”, “I fight to win, for me. For me!” and “Until the end.”
9 Ivan Drago Has Three Nicknames
A good nickname can make or break a boxer’s career. Get it right and the fighter becomes that bit more fearsome. Rocky Balboa had a pretty good in-the-ring moniker – the Italian Stallion – but Drago didn’t have just one. He had three.
Despite hailing from the Russian capital of Moscow, Drago earned the nicknames the Siberian Bull and the Siberian Express, with the latter of these two arguably the catchier of the pair. Given that he served in the Soviet army, there’s a chance Drago may have spent some time in Siberia, but it’s unlikely. The third and final of his nicknames is Death From Above, which Drago earned after he managed to kill Apollo Creed during their fight early in Rocky IV. It's...a touch insensitive.
8 He Has A Super-human punch
Drago’s punching strength isn’t just incredible – it’s super human and extremely lethal, if the stats are to be believed.
In one training montage sequence, it’s revealed that Drago’s strongest punch comes in at well over 2,100 pounds per square inch (PSI). His average punch is also roughly 1,850 pounds PSI.
Both of those numbers are made to look all the more ridiculous, though, when you consider that the average heavyweight boxer’s punch comes in at around 700 pounds PSI. In fact, any force over 2,000 PSI is technically more powerful than the force generated by being shot, at close range, with a shotgun. That might explain why Apollo Creed was killed fighting Drago, but then surely, Rocky would have also died during their bout?
7 Ivan Drago Totally Took Steroids
Part of what helped Ivan Drago become the man mountain he is in Rocky IV is undoubtedly steroids. The Siberian Express is even shown, in one scene, receiving a series of mysterious injections. There’s no doubt what Stallone is trying to convey here: Drago is a drugs cheat. It’s clearly implied that Drago is using anabolic steroids, whether it’s via those injection scenes or his astonishing punching power and weight lifting abilities.
Of course, there’s a scene in which his wife, played by Brigitte Nielsen, insists he is not a doper, but simply like Popeye because he eats his spinach every day. But that’s clearly intended in jest. So how does Drago get away with taking steroids? The most obvious theory is that, because his fight with Rocky was an exhibition match, standard drug testing did not take place.
6 Those Iconic Shorts Were Stolen
Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago costume is the stuff of cinematic legend, and undoubtedly one of the most iconic and enduring images from the Rocky franchise as a whole. They were symbolic of the character’s violent, blood-thirsty capabilities, as well as the ethos of the old Soviet Union. You’d think Lundgren probably has them hung on his wall, in a place of pride, as a lasting memory of the moment he first arrived in Hollywood. Except, he doesn’t.
According to Lundgren, the Ivan Drago costume was actually stolen from his home sometime around 1990, and its whereabouts are currently unknown. And apparently, the acto has a bad record when it comes to these kinds of home invasions. In 2009, Lundgren’s home was raided again while he was away, and his wife was restrained. Or at least, she was until the thieves realized whose house it was, released her, and quickly fled.
5 He's A Russian War Hero
As any Rocky fan knows, Ivan Drago was in the Soviet Army and, if his uniform is anything to go by, he was a pretty respected military figure at that. Or so it would appear. During the scene in which Lundgren’s Drago attends a press conference ahead of his fight with Apollo Creed, he’s wearing his Soviet Army uniform. According to his military get-up, Drago has been quite the soldier: not only has he risen to the rank of Captain, but he also appears to be wearing a Hero of the Soviet Union medal.
This is the highest honor available to a soldier fighting for the Soviet government, and it suggests that he was an incredibly successful military man prior to embarking on his boxing career. That, or his endeavors in the ring have earned him praise from the highest echelons in Russian society. Either way, he’s kind of a big deal.
4 The Crew Thought Drago Actually Killed Creed
During that early fight between Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed, actor Carl Weathers decided to improvise something a little special for the climactic moment where the Russian kills his American rival in the ring. The minute Drago’s punch connects, Creed is seen sprawling to the canvass, where he twitches briefly before dying. It was a little moment of inspired improvisation that proved all too convincing for some.
“Doctors [on set in case of accidental real injury] and people filming thought that I had been actually hit on that one,” Weathers recalled in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “It worked so perfect to book-end the life of Apollo Creed — a man who in the very beginning comes into do this as a lark ... and in the end, a guy who has already left, but there is still that fighter in him and that muscle memory in him where he is still trying to move, and it's gone."
3 Ivan Drago Is The Ultimate Rocky Loser
Ivan Drago may seem like Rocky Balboa’s toughest opponent to some, but the reality is that his record against the Italian Stallion makes him arguably the franchise’s biggest loser. Put it this way: all of Rocky’s previous major opponents in the franchise, before and after, celebrated at least one victory over Balboa.
Apollo Creed was victorious in Rocky, Clubber Lang beat the champ in Rocky III and – SPOILER ALERT – Mason “The Line” Dixon won out in Rocky Balboa. Drago, by contrast, never gets the better of Rocky. Sure, he not only beats but kills Apollo in the ring, but what good is that when you can’t get the better of the Italian Stallion? No wonder Drago returned to Mother Russia as a loser.
2 His Adventures Continued In An Awesome Game
Ivan Drago may not have lived on in the Rocky movie franchise, but he’s still very much part of the pop culture lexicon. There’s even an unofficial game centered on the Siberian Express. Ivan Drago: Justice Enforcer is an online game created by I-Mockery. The tongue-in-cheek title sees players take control of Ivan Drago as he fights his way through the crime-ridden streets of the United States.
The game starts off inside the confines of the Soviet Embassy and ends inside Micky’s famous gym from the films. Along the way, Drago must fight a cyborg version of fallen foe Apollo Creed and, later, Rocky Balboa himself. Ivan Drago: Justice Enforcer boasts plenty of cool additional features too. After playing through the game, fans can unlock Apollo as a playable character and Herbert The Dinosaur. There’s also a side game – Rocky Balboa’s greased lightning game.
1 There’s An Unproduced Script for An Ivan Drago Movie
Most people probably think Ivan Drago’s return for Creed 2 is a good thing. Screenwriter Andrew LeMay probably disagrees, though. For a few years now, he’s been hawking a script around Hollywood for a Ivan Drago spin-off called Red Glove, which sounds awesome. In the script, Drago is sent back to Russia and imprisoned for 30 years as punishment for losing to Rocky Balboa. While inside, he takes on the role of Mafia enforcer and eventually faces off against a fellow prisoner in a brutal prison fight.
Rumor has it that real-life two-time WBA heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev was tapped to appear in the film but ultimately rejected the opportunity. Eventually, Drago would walk free from prison to face-off against a Mason Dixon-style boxer, regaining his life and fitness in the months that follow. Eventually, the fight arrives, but Drago learns his brother, who was also in prison alongside him, will die unless he wins.
Alas, fans may never see the film for real.
Did we miss any other fun bits of Ivan Drago trivia? Have your say in the comments.