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Rocky’s still fighting for respect

Sly warms up for one more round

Sylvester Stallone is reaching back to his glory days, and companies are lining up to relive the memories.

As the actor pursues plans to resurrect the “Rambo” franchise, Columbia, Revolution Studios and MGM are teaming to co-produce and co-finance “Rocky Balboa,” the sixth pic in the “Rocky” series.

Stallone will reprise his role as Philadelphia working-class hero and former champ Rocky Balboa. He will also write and direct.

“We’ll try to capture the essence of the first couple of films,” Stallone told Daily Variety.

Stallone wrote all the previous “Rocky” films and directed the second, third and fourth entries.

And “Rocky” has been around so long, some familiar names — but of different generations — are in the mix.

Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler and Kevin King are producing. Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, who produced the previous “Rocky” pics, are aboard as exec producers.

Burt Young returns in the role of Paulie; Bill Conti, who wrote the original “Rocky” score, returns as well.

Pic will shoot starting in the first quarter of 2006 in Philadelphia and Las Vegas. No release date has been set yet.

Stallone said the story has the aging, widowed Rocky initially refusing a chance to get back in the ring.

“There’s a computer fight between the reigning world champion and Balboa, and Balboa wins,” he said.

“The champion’s management says let’s do this for real, for charity. Rocky says no but decides to be true to himself even though he’s going to be berated by everyone. Just to compete, not to win.”

Stallone said former heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. is in talks to play Rocky’s opponent, Mason Dixon.

The rest of the cast will likely be unknowns, he said.

Stallone said the project has been gestating for four years.

“You had the studio difficulty, two studios in transition, then there was a reluctance to go forward until everyone felt there was a script that echoed the kind of sincerity and values the first one had, and had some poignancy like the first one had.”

Stallone said Joe Roth was instrumental in bringing the project together. He “worked very closely with Irwin Winkler and Bob Chartoff and was instrumental in just putting all the pieces together.”

He added that Rocky’s arc has been autobiographical for him over the years, and this is no exception.

“I am drawing on a lot of my feelings that are in synch with many people’s feelings about facing the last chapter of their lives and how they want it to be written. Rocky goes through the skepticism of trying to go against the tide, to go against common sense.”

Stallone said it was tough to be back in the writer’s chair after several years away. “It’s like going into the barn to start an old engine and see it smoke, rattle and belch, then eventually it starts humming.”

He also said the business had changed quite a bit in the 30 years since the first “Rocky.”

“In the ’70s and ’80s, you could change start dates and be flippant about commitment. You can’t do that anymore. It’s very, very precise; it’s run as a strict business now. And I like it. There’s no illusion anymore. It’s not a dream factory now, it’s a real factory. In a good way.”

The “Rocky” franchise has grossed $495 million in the U.S. alone.

Stallone was last seen on the bigscreen in “Spy Kids 3-D.” He was an exec producer on reality boxing skein “The Contender.”

He has apparently slated to revive the “Rambo” series with “Rambo IV” next year. He also plans to write and direct “Poe,” starring Robert Downey Jr. as the author.

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