Seen brawling with fellow “ham ‘n’ egger,” the fictitious Rocky Balboa in the opening scene of the 1976 oscar-winning classic, is real life boxer Pedro Lovell – AKA Spider Rico. After landing the ultimate cheap shot head-butt on a badly fatigued Balboa, Spider gets taken out, the nasty butt reawakening the fighting spirit in Rocky.
Lovell has just one line in “Rocky,” – “you really got lucky tonight,” Spider says to Balboa as he sips on a cold beer, the two sharing a post-fight dressing room, awaiting the doctor. But Lovell returned in the reaffirming “Rocky Balboa” of 2006, enjoying a larger, nostalgia-filled role.
As a pro fighter off screen, Lovell did better than the character he played (“he’s a bum,” Rocky’s trainer, Mickey, tells his fighter when describing Rico in another early scene in the film). Going pro in November of 1970, the Argentinian relocated to Los Angeles and he reeled off 11 KO wins (with one draw) and looked for a time like a serious puncher; Lovell’s nickname being “The LA Bomber.” Lovell became a big draw, his fights being exciting affairs. But then, in August of 1973, Lovell was taken out by Terry Krueger. Lovell won the rematch, busting Krueger’s jaw and scoring three knockdowns to get the quick TKO, yet his limitations had been exposed.
Lovell’s best win probably came in April of 1975, when he decisioned Joday Ballard. Then, in his next fight, Lovell was stopped in five rounds by Ken Norton in the soon to be actor’s biggest career fight. Lovell was stopped on his feet in the fight seen on national TV in America. Lovell fought on, engaging in four more bouts. During this time, Lovell managed a draw with future WBC heavyweight title challenger Leroy Jones, while Lovell exited after a decision loss to Mike Weaver. His final career record reads 18-3-2(14)
That was in late 1977 and by then Lovell had turned in his performance in “Rocky.” An interesting footnote in boxing history, Lovell may be, but he has some story to tell. And the fighter was perfectly cast for his short but memorable role in “Rocky.” The look Spider gives his conqueror inside that filthy dressing room really says it all; Rico is too exhausted to be able to do anything, yet he is thinking about resuming his fight with the slugger he so blatantly and disgracefully fouled in the ring only minutes earlier.
Spider’s battered face also tells the story of what a no-hoper fighter is thinking deep down inside; he knows that, as far as boxing goes, he IS a bum, and he knows it only too well. Yeah, we get quite a lot from Lovell’s short performance in “Rocky.” No wonder Stallone got in touch with Pedro and offered him a significantly bigger role in “Rocky Balboa.” Lovell sure adds something to the final installment in the series, too.
Today, Lovell turns 75. Happy birthday, champ.