In Defense of: Clubber Lang (Mr. T from Rocky III)

This is the 5th installment of a 5,257 part series on the Spew: ‘In Defense of:’. This series is meant to defend the helpless, the meek, and the bullied in our pop culture.

The other day I was watching Rocky III on AMC, which has apparently taken it upon itself to show all the Rocky movies whenever they are not playing Walking Dead. I remember loving this movie as a kid, seeing it several times and always re-enacting Rocky taking down Clubber Lang.

Upon seeing Rocky III now through adults, eyes, a few things occurred to me:

  • It is not that good

  • Kids have no sense of taste for movies, including me as a kid

  • The term ‘Eye of the Tiger’ was used quite liberally throughout the film

  • The song ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is sort of stupid

  • Lastly, and most importantly, Clubber Lang should NOT be viewed as such a bad guy

Clubber Lang was supposed to be the thuggish villain who is bullying and trash-talking his way to the top of the Heavyweight ranks, poised to take down our great white hope, Rocky Balboa.

And he does.

Then Apollo trains Rocky and then he beats Clubber to regain the title.

Game over. We as viewers should all be happy that Rocky reclaimed the ‘eye of the tiger’, and hence his title back.

But wait!! Let’s look at this a little closer.

In the movie, James ‘Clubber’ Lang was from the mean streets of Chicago; the bad side of town where older kids would beat the shit out of you for your milk money. Lang was an orphan and later spent some time in jail for simply being poor and black. From these trying times, James rose like a Phoenix from the ashes, took the long and hard route and fought his way to the top. In other words, Clubber Lang was a self-made man, just like Rocky was in the original movie.

Rocky was becoming a star; a pop icon that made cameo appearances on the Muppet Show and performed in exhibition matches versus Hulk ‘Thunderlips’ Hogan for publicity. In other words, Rocky was growing a big fat ego and becoming soft in the process. His hubris and carelessness was the reason he lost the title. Hmmm, sort of reminds me of a certain champion in the original movie named Apollo…..

Anyway, Rocky III is almost like the first Rocky except now we are supposed to root for the hot shot who has everything going for him. Now I am not saying that Clubber Lang is the most amiable sort: I know he did rough up Mickey which sort of caused his death, Clubber did spend 5 years in the clink, and he did say some mean things to Rocky that I feel were very unnecessary. But he isn’t THAT bad. Remember, originally Rocky was a goon for a bookie who was paid to break legs of unpaid debtors. If we can root for that type of guy, well I feel OK rooting for Clubber.