In 1985, Ivan Drago (Lundgren), an immensely muscular 6-foot 5, 261-pound Soviet boxer, arrives in the United States with his wife Ludmilla (Nielsen), and a team of trainers from the USSR and Cuba. His manager, Nicolai Koloff (Pataki), takes every opportunity to promote Drago’s athleticism as a hallmark of Soviet superiority. Motivated by patriotism and an innate desire to prove himself, Apollo Creed (Weathers) challenges Drago to an exhibition bout. Rocky (Stallone) has reservations, but agrees to train Apollo despite his misgivings about the fight. He asks Apollo whether the fight is against the Russian, or “you against you”.
During a press conference regarding the match, hostility is created between Apollo and Drago’s respective camps. The exhibition takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Apollo enters the ring, wearing his old Uncle Sam outfit, in an over-the-top patriotic entrance with James Brown performing “Living in America” complete with showgirls. The bout starts tamely with Apollo landing several punches that have no effect on the Russian. It soon turns serious though, as Drago starts clobbering hard. Apollo is worn by the end of the first round. Rocky and Apollo’s trainer Duke (Burton) plead with him to give up, but Apollo refuses to do so, and tells Rocky not to stop the fight. The second round doesn’t go any better, and despite Duke begging Rocky to throw in the towel, he reluctantly honors Apollo’s wish. This turns out to have fatal consequences as Drago lands a final punch on Apollo that knocks him to the ground, killing him. In the immediate aftermath, Drago displays no sense of remorse commenting to the assembled media: “If he dies… he dies.”