Say it ain't so, Sly! Stallone announces Rocky Balboa's retirement

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Creed II.

Creed II is the latest heavyweight box-office champ in the long-running Rocky series. Now, after 40 years of playing Philadelphia’s most beloved fictional boxer, the architect of the franchise, Sylvester Stallone, is making it clear he’s gone the distance. In a new Instagram post, the actor suggests that Rocky Balboa — who retired from the ring in 2006’s Rocky Balboa — is leaving boxing behind for good. “This is probably my last rodeo,” Stallone remarks in the Instagram video announcing his retirement, which was filmed on Creed II‘s last day of production. “I thought Rocky was over in 2006, and I was very happy with that.”

But then Rocky, and his creator, were coaxed back into service by director Ryan Coogler for 2015’s Creed, which introduced Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, son of Balboa’s rival-turned-pal Apollo. Besides transforming the younger Creed into fighting shape, Balboa also won a serious bout against cancer in that earlier film, ensuring that he’d still be in his protégé’s corner for the sequel as Adonis faced his biggest opponent yet: Viktor Drago, the son of Rocky’s greatest foe.

Stallone co-wrote the script for Creed II and seizes the opportunity to gracefully end Balboa’s story for a second time. After spending much of the movie expressing regret about being estranged from his son (Milo Ventimiglia, reprising his role from Rocky Balboa), the elder Rocky turns up on Rocky Jr.’s doorstep and is greeted by his cherubic grandchild before being ushered inside. It’s a much more upbeat conclusion than some of the other final acts Stallone has had in mind for the Italian Stallion over the years. In an early draft of Rocky V, for example, Rocky died after his street fight with Tommy Gunn.

That’s exactly the kind of ending that Creed II director, Steven Caple Jr., was personally dreading when he cracked open Stallone’s screenplay. “When I read the script, part of me was scared that he was going to die,” he admits to Yahoo Entertainment. At the same time, he found a way to work our collective concern for Balboa’s mortality into the finished film. “I just want everyone to remember Rocky in a great way, so I played with the idea of him being sort of ghostly. Because the whole theme of this [film] is the ghosts in the past.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Of course, the fact that Balboa is still alive at the end of Creed II leaves the door open for Stallone to change his mind by the time Creed III goes before cameras. Based on his farewell video, though, it sounds like he’s ready for Adonis to be the sole star of his own story. “There’s a whole new world that’s going to be opening up for the audience, for this generation,” he promises, before ushering Jordan over to join him on camera as he passes the torch for the franchise. “Now you have to carry the mantle.” We have no doubt that Jordan’s got the eye of the tiger required to keep the Creed — and Rocky — name alive for years to come.

Creed II is playing in theaters now.

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