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,
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
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
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
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