Single Father Character Spotlight: Ivan Drago

The dynamics of families are often displayed in the media. The entertainment industry depicts countless stories of families in the past, present, and future. In honor of Fathers Day and keeping with the premise of Degrees Single, it felt appropriate to acknowledge single fathers that are portrayed visibly and subtly in television and movies. Every Sunday in June, a new father, although fictional, will be discussed.

This week’s spotlight is shined on a character from the Rocky movie series and more recent Creed installments. Rocky Balboa has been played by Sylvester Stallone since its inception in 1976; and Michael B. Jordan joined the ranks as Adonis (Johnson) Creed, son of the late Apollo Creed, in 2015. Although both characters became fathers, this week’s spotlight goes to Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren.

Ivan Drago was introduced as the antagonist of Rocky IV in 1985. Like other Rocky Balboa fans, I hated Drago for the tragic death of Apollo Creed and triumphed when Rocky avenged Creed’s death by defeating Drago in his home country of Russia. But the Ivan Drago I would like to highlight is that of Creed II (2018). He is no longer a one-dimensional, married, “mountain of muscle”; but a divorced, single father of his son and protégé, Viktor Drago.

“He is no longer a one-dimensional, married, ‘mountain of muscle.'”

It is apparent that Ivan experienced a fall from grace after his loss to Balboa. His loved ones and society as he knew it in Russia viewed the loss as a dishonor and Ivan as a disgrace. Hence, Viktor was trained to restore honor to his country, his family name, and ultimately his father. It is easy to maintain disdain for Ivan in Creed II as he trains his son to be another lethal fighter. But that feeling was offset [in me, at least] by some degree of sympathy when it became apparent that Ivan’s wife and his son’s mother, Ludmilla Drago, abandoned them both.

It is not clear from the movie when Ivan’s marriage to Ludmilla, portrayed by Brigitte Nielsen, ended. Viktor’s outburst at the celebratory dinner in Russia, following his initial fight with Adonis Creed, indicated that it must have been early in his life for him to not “know that woman.” So it seems that Ivan became all Viktor had early on. And Viktor eventually became all Ivan had when everyone else turned their back on him. In no way is it easy, or ideal, for a parent to raise their child alone. But society has conditioned many to believe that a woman is better suited to raise a child alone than a man. It is heartwarming to see that Ivan did not shy away from the responsibility of doing so. I am not commending Ivan for being a father to his son. That is his job as a parent. But I am commending Ivan as a father for not making the same choice as Viktor’s mother.

“I am commending Ivan as a father for not making the same choice as Viktor’s mother.”

Ivan obviously succeeded at raising Viktor to be a physically well and strong man; although, the morals and mentality that he instilled in his son may be in question. Ivan implored Viktor to defeat his opponents at all costs even if it did not result in an actual win. Viktor was disqualified for illegal blows against Adonis Creed in their first fight; but not before Ivan reminded him that embarrassment and losing is what caused their society to look down on them and his mother to walk out on him.  Ivan was not above taking a life in the ring which he demonstrated with Apollo Creed. He reiterated this lack of regard and sportsmanship as he continuously charged Viktor to “take him out,” “break him,” and “finish him,” in reference to Adonis during both fights. Ivan’s motivation stemmed from a place of hurt. He wanted them to win in the worst way.

Yet, Ivan did not raise a monster. Viktor was still a man who longed for genuine love. Although there was an obvious void left from his absent mother, Viktor had a sense of self-worth and pride that he urged his father to have for himself: ”They’re the ones who ran you out. Why are we here?” Ivan justified the treatment he received, and essentially the life they had lived, with a simple, “I lost!” But when Ivan witnessed Viktor losing his rematch against Adonis as his mother walked out on him again, perhaps that impending loss seemed more self-inflicted.

Ivan loved his son. Viktor loved his father. They shared a love for the same sport and excelled in it. The instances of Ludmilla’s return, although brief, brought no joy to Ivan nor Viktor. Being restored to a position of power and respect at their society’s table felt insincere and conditional. No amount of success in boxing or any other capacity would bring Ivan or Viktor love that would remain through the ups-and-downs. Truth is, they already had it between themselves. Rather than see his son get pummeled physically for what they lacked emotionally, Ivan threw in the towel. He gave up the fight. The fight for love. The fight for acceptance. The fight for approval. Ivan saved his son, and he saved himself.

“Ivan saved his son, and he saved himself.”

This is monumental because not throwing in the towel cost Apollo Creed his life. It is a decision that Rocky will forever regret. It cost Adonis his father and Apollo’s wife her husband. Adonis nearly met the same fate as Apollo had it not been for Viktor’s disqualification during their first fight. Not throwing in the towel was a costly a decision each time, and none of our favorite characters could ever bring themselves to do it. However, a character as cold and unfeeling [or so we thought] as Ivan Drago forfeited his son’s fight; vicariously subjecting himself to the very defeat that once cost him everything. And he did it to save his son. By the way Viktor looks at him as they jogged during their final scene in Creed II, Ivan did the right thing; the fatherly thing.

It is worth mentioning that in Creed II, Adonis becomes a new father. He also goes to visit his father’s grave site for the first time. Additionally, we see Rocky battle with feelings about his strained relationship with his son. In the end, he is given a new opportunity to be present for his grandson. The Rocky and Creed sagas are steeped in elements of manhood and fatherhood. But that’s just my womanly opinion.

2 thoughts

  1. Very well written and thought out. I didn’t realize how much the theme of fatherhood resonated within Creed II. I noticed it individually, but not collectively. Understanding what Viktor’s mom did to them, left me feeling compassionate towards them both. She was a definite disappointment 😒 Love the way Ivan realized what was important and allowed his love for his son to overshadow the alienation and abandonment he felt from his country and ex-wife. Great movie, great article!!

    Liked by 1 person

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