Rocky Balboa is a fictional boxer created and played by Sylvester Stallone in the long-running “Rocky” franchise. The character has inspired many to pursue their dreams, but none have followed in the Italian Stallion’s footsteps quite like Mike Kunda.
Kunda has always emulated his heroes. Ever since he was a little boy, he has been enamored with the character of Rocky Balboa. He was only eight years old when Rocky was released in 1976 and already dealing with bullies at school.
“I was coming home with bruises from the bullies. The way I handled it? I would wear a Superman costume underneath my school clothes thinking it would give me superpowers. But that only made the situation worse as the bullies noticed my cape and tore it.
My dad showed me Rocky and I tell you, it punched me in my heart. No matter how supportive my family were, I just couldn’t believe in myself or be confident. I couldn’t find that within myself until I saw Rocky.
It didn’t matter that he lost the fight, he just wanted to go the distance. He would know he wasn’t a bum from the neighborhood, and that was enough for him. He didn’t have to be champion or the best in the world, he just had to be the best in his world, achieve his personal best.”
Mike Kunda then shared the scene that really struck home for him. He said:
“After Gazzo leaves him, there’s this slow sad music and Rocky starts bouncing a ball on that lonely street. I said that’s me. I said I don’t fit in. Rocky didn’t fit in. I just could not fit in with people around me.
I always felt odd, or different. People would deal with me similarly to how they dealt with Rocky, and that was my initial reason why I loved this character.”
After graduating from high school, Kunda took several jobs. Although he did continue to dress as Rocky and still watch the movie nonstop, his chance of becoming the character is getting bleak.
Just when he was about to lose hope, the owners of The Victor Cafe in Philadelphia, a.k.a. Adrian’s restaurant had invited Kunda to a get together to celebrate Stallone’s 60th birthday. This was the first time Mike Kunda met the man who played his hero, and the two had and chance to have a moment together outside.
“Here I was, standing in front of The Victor Cafe with Sylvester Stallone. He is waiting for me to say something, and so I tell him I just saw the trailer for Rocky Balboa, and we start talking about that.
My wife Sue comes out and goes ‘Sly, if I don’t get a picture of you two together, he’s going to kill me’. He points to her and goes ‘yo, Adrian’. Because he said that as Rocky, I go into my best Rocky impersonation, and there we were, both doing our best Rocky lines.
He said ‘wow, you do a great Rocky impersonation, and you look like me 30 years ago’. He said ‘you should do something with that, like an Elvis impersonator but only Rocky’. I thought he was being kind so it went in one ear, out of the other.”
Mike Kunda eventually became a professional Rocky impersonator for hire after winning a look-alike contest in 2006. He then wrote a memoir published in 2010 called “Cue the Rocky Music,” and it ended up in the hands of none other than Sylvester Stallone himself.
The picture hit the press and social media, drawing attention to Kunda who decided now was the time to launch his own business, running “The Yo, Philly! Rocky Film Tour.”
When Mike Kunda started running the tours, he was doing about three or four a year, but following the picture of Stallone with his book going viral, this number went up to 25 a month.
Sylvester Stallone would once again change Kunda’s life when he officially endorsed the tour, promoting it on his own Instagram page.
A documentary film called “The Pretender” was recently made about Mike Kunda.
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