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Boxing, with its Darwinian savagery, was always the sport the show world took most readily to its combative, tortured heart. Frank Sinatra billed his last live TV concert as the Main Event. Barbra Streisand appropriated the title for her latest movie. The Champ has jerked tears for at least two generations. But the most heroic boxing property of all time was Rocky, in which Sylvester Stallone rose from nowhere to become Hollywood's No. 1 box office star of 1977. Then, in the glow and hubris of it all, Sly set himself up for an artistic fall in F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley, a semiautobiographical indulgence about a Hell's Kitchen kid like himself. That left the Italian Stallion turned Hollywood Overreacher one final shot: a rubber match with the world that was telling him, he groused, that his career was "in the toilet." The movie was Rocky II, and the kid won.

Once again the public so loved it that the critics had to be ambivalent. The film earned $40 million in just three weeks and has already been sold to CBS for another $20 million (the highest price per showing ever, breaking Gone with the Wind's record). But, like his co-stars Talia Shire, Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith (following pages), Stallone, 33, must once again cope with the crazy time of a hit.

"He's got all of his emotional problems, family problems and this big success beside two failures—and it's all coming at him at once," observes Meredith. Indeed, after a reconciliation that lasted over a year (and produced a second son, Seth, now only 7 weeks old), Sly has again left long-suffering Sasha, his wife of four years. The previous split occurred in the afterglow of Rocky I, over Paradise Alley co-star Joyce Ingalls; this time it's Goldengirl Susan Anton, 28. They met while taping tracks for their respective movies. "It's easier when someone's in the business to understand," says longtime pal Linda Grey, who had a bit part in Rocky II. "Sly loves loving women and he loves women loving him. It's just a little hard on a wife, that's all." Insists Sly, "There are no plans for remarriage at this time." But Anton has split from her manager-husband, Jack Stein, and Sasha has filed for divorce. "Hollywood says she should take the money and sing 'Gonna Fly Now'," quips Rocky lyricist Carol Connors.

Sage Moonblood, 3, Seth and Sasha live in the Stallones' four-bedroom French country home in Pacific Palisades while Sly, who sees them every day, is alone in their Malibu beach house. After surgery on a pectoral muscle he injured pumping iron for Rocky II, Stallone will promote the movie all the way to Japan. Then, before he gets too old, he will start work on the third (but perhaps not last) Rocky. Sly leaks that Meredith will suffer a stroke and be replaced as trainer by the old champ, Weathers. Rocky, of course, will have marital problems, and the Italian Stallion's climactic fight will take place—where else?—in the Roman Coliseum. Stallone plans other movies, like a love story with Jackie Bissett and, of all things, a biography of Edgar Allan Poe. And why not? "People call you unrealistic," Stallone shrugged. "But what's happened to me is unrealistic. I am the product of unrealism."

For Talia Shire, dating is her apocalypse now

One evening last month Talia Shire put on a robe, plopped her pajama-clad 3-year-old into her car and cruised the theater district near her Beverly Hills home. When Matthew asked what was going on, Talia told him, "We're driving around to see if there are any lines at Mommy's films. If there are, I can buy you more toys." Now, she sighs happily, "I guess I'm going to be buying him more toys."

Her pregnancy in her two current smash movies was happenstance—in Prophecy she carries a possible monster and in Rocky II a potential one, an incredibly hirsute Rocky Jr.—but Shire, 34, is all for productivity. "I'm nuts for being a mother. I would love to have another child—and soon," she says. There's just one problem. Like Stallone's, her marriage is taking the count; she and composer David (All the President's Men) Shire separated last July.

Back-to-back Oscar nominations for her role in big brother Francis Coppola's Godfather II and as Rocky's mousy Adrian enabled her to hold her own in a showbiz family but made for other stresses. After studio make-believe "your personal life can break down unless you have marks on the floor to guide you," she finds. "At home there are no marks."

Talia plunged into work "to avoid the pain." She finished a TV movie, Daddy, I Don't Like It Like This, with Burt Young, her brother in Rocky. (Though his role may be phasing down in the trilogy, Burt credits Sly with "raising my standard of living about 90 percent.") And this spring Talia was also seen in Old Boyfriends with John Belushi. This fall comes "my Apocalypse Now," an untitled work about a woman's self-discovery. Shooting it "was hard for me emotionally," she says. "But you learn to be a pro, to wash your hair and go to the set. If your heart is broken, you let that happen in front of the camera. I was falling apart."

Since moving into a rented home, her personal life is slowly coming together. "I am only now starting to have a breather," she says. "I was turning Matthew into the man in my life." Though she palled around with Prophecy director John Frankenheimer, she claims "there is no relationship" and sees several men casually. "I'm in that strange new place, the dating ritual: 'Do I pick you up, or will you pick me up?' " she winces. "I am a package deal, a woman with a child. That's a good barometer, a test of the self-indulgent man." With a hot career, she can afford to be choosy. "I am more self-reliant than ever before," says Talia.

Carl Weathers is the 'scared' kid turned champ

"Don't let this calm exterior fool you, baby," smiles Carl Weathers. "I'm straining to keep my equilibrium. Just a couple of years ago nobody knew who I was. Then it was Rocky, Close Encounters, Force 10 from Navarone, Semi-Tough, Rocky II. AN invites me to a party. Don Rickles says nice things about me. I meet Alex Haley. Don't think I don't keep waiting to wake up. It's just mind-blowing."

At 31, Weathers has finally learned to handle it. He set foot on the Rocky road to raves by convincing producer Irwin Winkler "I'd knocked out everybody along the Canadian border from the Atlantic to the Pacific," he recalls. "I'd never had a glove on, but by the time I had to step into the ring, I knew what I was doing." As for his acting style, "I don't want to be the second Brando or another Pacino, I want to be the first me," he says.

Pre-Apollo Creed, Weathers was less confident. While playing on the special teams for the Oakland Raiders some years back, Weathers wanted to meet a schoolteacher who lived in his apartment building and fumbled it. "I told her I admired her thumb, green thumb—the plants. She was nice enough not to laugh in my face," he grins. Six years ago he married Maryann Castle, unconcerned by the question of race. "I was too damn worried about the male-female thing to even think about the other," he says. "I'd come a long way from my New Orleans ghetto, but not so far in my insecurity with women.

"Growing up, people in my neighborhood tended to get in a downward spiral. I was real afraid of falling into that vortex and never being able to get out," he says. For him, football led to commercials and then TV acting. Now Matthew, 3, and Jason, 5 months, are growing up secure in the Weathers' sumptuous San Fernando Valley home. Their father wants to start a production company to do "films for kids with no self-confidence. God, I care about those people, because I was one of them," says Carl. "I still sometimes have to reassure myself that I'm okay, that I should love myself. If I can learn that, anyone can—'cause I was one scared little boy."

To Burgess Meredith, Sly seems like Orson Welles

After 50-odd years in acting and more than 130 movies, Burgess Meredith, 71, eyes the cyclone of wealth and woe swirling around his co-stars with the kindly cynicism of Rocky's trainer, Mickey. "I know from past experience," he nods, "when it comes down like thunder and lightning out of heaven, it's not easy to shoulder." He sees a close parallel to Orson Welles in his friend Stallone. "People don't like upstarts."

"It's different for me," notes Meredith. But after a hell-raising youth of fights, drinking and romance, including flings with Hedy Lamarr and Marlene Dietrich (she once spit in his eye), not to mention four marriages, Meredith has had his share of ups and downs. Rocky II is just another up like Day of the Locust or Magic, and these days packs of kids follow him down the Malibu beach in front of his woodsy, multilevel home.

Separated last February after 20 years from his fourth wife, Kaja Sundsten, Meredith now concentrates on his children, Tala, 27, and Jonathon, 28, his wine cellar and his neighbor John Lilly's dolphins. "I'd like to work on nothing right now, so that I could devote more time to the Human/Dolphin Foundation," says its fund raiser-spokesman. But he has The Day the World Ended with Jackie Bissett and Paul Newman upcoming and is now in Malta finishing The Clash of the Titans with Lord Olivier. "Working keeps me resilient," he notes, possibly thinking of Sly and Talia. "And resilience is the name of the game."