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GRUDGE MATCH

Getting into Fighting Shape
Boxing is a solitary endeavor requiring discipline, determination and a belief in one's self. There's no team to train with or fall back on, no tools, uniforms or equipment. The spotlight is on two contenders, making it as psychological as it is physical, a test of skills, temperament and personality. Thus when Kid and Razor meet up after thirty years to slug it out once and for all, it represents a culmination of a lifetime of choices, regrets and long-held dreams.

Having directed the 2005 remake of the 1974 sports comedy classic "The Longest Yard," Segal understood the visceral reality of sports and wanted to make sure "Grudge Match" was grounded in that reality. "It had to be credible and authentic. This was not a parody or a spoof. These actors would have to look and move like boxers, and would have to undertake their physical preparation for the role as seriously as the hell bent rivals in the story. The integrity of the boxing was important."

Stunt coordinator Kevin Scott says Segal knew what he wanted and how to get it. "He's a very visual person and he knows a tremendous amount about boxing," says Scott. "He knew what would work and what wouldn't work visually. A great punch may be technically accurate and correct, but might not work for the lens. It's a whole different set of rules for the camera and Pete knows that."

"Pete immediately realized the opportunity to do something extraordinary with these two guys," says Gerber. "It really is much more than the sum of the parts and they both took it so seriously. It's all there to see."

Preparation for the much-anticipated Grudgement Day started long before the principal photography began. When De Niro and Stallone signed on to "Grudge Match," they both made a commitment to train and get into shape, and that meant months of preparation. Segal says, "Both Sly and Bob totally dedicated themselves. For Sly, staying in shape is a lifestyle, especially because of the films he's been doing this over the years. For Bob, it was a real challenge and physical commitment. But he really dug in and worked his butt off."

De Niro worked with boxing trainer Robert "Bob" Sale, who worked previously with Stallone as technical advisor on "Rocky Balboa." Based at the famed Fortune Boxing Gym in Los Angeles, Sale hit the road to train De Niro and was blown away by the stamina and determination he saw in the veteran actor.

"It was a 101 percent, complete and utter sacrifice," says Sale. "The commitment Mr. De Niro brought was unwavering. When I started to work with him, the plan was not to try to have him imitate a fighter, but to develop him as a fighter and let him take it from there for the performance."

De Niro undertook cardiovascular and strength training, changed his diet and lost more than 35 pounds. He was in a gym every morning at 5:00 a.m. training for an hour, followed by 45 minutes of boxing in the months before he started filming "Grudge Match."

"Bob's a terrific trainer," De Niro says of Sale. "Sly's worked with him for a long time so I knew he could get me into shape for the movie." The actor also worked with his own personal trainer, Dan Harvey, "trying to get the weight down. It was grueling but I think we succeeded."

Scott offers, "For two men in their 60s to physically commit to spending eight to nine hours throwing punches, physically fighting under hot lights in a scorching arena as they had to in the fight scene, was amazing. People may say, 'Well, it's not a real fight,' but it's just as demanding in a different way-the body mechanics, retaining all the fight moves and repetitive takes.

Additionally, there are hundreds of people standing around and the clock is ticking, so there's a lot of mental duress and scrutiny. That raises the stakes, too."

Executive producer Kevin King-Templeton says the 67-year-old Stallone looks "the same as when I met him when he was 38. Physical fitness is a lifestyle for him. It's not, 'I need to get in shape for this movie'; he keeps fit. That's the key to his longevity. He's got an amazing work ethic."

Even so, for Stallone, preparing to enter the ring after seven years required changing his diet and workout routine. He cut almost all carbohydrates to shed pounds and went on a diet of 95 percent protein, increasing cardio exercises with strength training to develop lean muscle mass. Stallone also did exercises to bulk up his neck while letting his shoulders and upper arm muscles shrink so he and De Niro would appear to be in the same fighting class.

"Bobby is lighter than I am, so I had to come down to 168 pounds. I've not been there since 1981," Stallone says. "For me that's really thin. I mean thin."

With the physical preparations underway, Segal approached Stallone about working on the boxing choreography for the fight, so the two actors could also be rehearsing their match. "I went to Sly and said, 'Look, there is no other stunt coordinator on Earth who has choreographed more fights than you have,' and I asked him if he would write out a detailed beat sheet of the fight. Sly took the story beats and then filled them in with what punches would lead from story beat A to story beat B, and that's what we used to choreograph what we called the fight script."

Since boxing styles reflect personality, in the fight script, Segal, Stallone and De Niro worked to have Kid and Razor's fighting styles reflect their characters.

Segal notes, "Razor was a bit more of a dancer. We wanted to make him fairly light on his feet-a boxer not a brawler. Kid, on the other hand, with a tip of the hat to his Jake LaMotta iconography, was less of a dancer. I wanted him to bring thunderous, pounding blows-a much more in-your-face style."

"Sly has boxing in his heart; he could have been a professional boxer," says Scott. "He is an amazing technical boxer and is a fantastic on-screen fighter. Just walking in a ring with Sly, having worked with him in rehearsals, was an absolutely magical experience."

Stallone notes one real difference choreographing this film fight from those of his earlier films goes hand-in-hand with one of the movie's themes: how old is too old? "I had to factor in they're not in their prime, they're not speed demons, they are clumsy and a little arthritic. They can't do the things they used to do," Stallone says.

Rehearsing the extensive choreography that went into the fight proved difficult with De Niro working on a film on the East Coast immediately before coming to film "Grudge Match," and Stallone busy in Los Angeles. To close the distance between his co-stars, Segal devised a system to rehearse the fight moves and story beats that are woven together in the complex dance of boxing choreography.

"We rehearsed Sly's side of the fight with Bob Sale on the West Coast, and when Bob [De Niro] became available I flew to New York with Sale, and we rehearsed DeNiro's side," says Segal. "Sale acted as Razor in a ring in Manhattan with Bob, and when we were in L.A. with Sly he played Kid. That's how we really rehearsed this bi-coastally. We only had Sly and Bob together in New Orleans maybe three or four days before we started to shoot the actual fight, so we didn't really know how things would fit together. It was a little nerve-wracking."

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