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I seriously doubt he was, but since the theme of the film was Rocky losing his edge, could it be that even Paulie was posing a threat to Rocky? It obviously parallels the scene in the first Rocky when Rocky subdued an angry, drunken Paulie when he was screaming at Adrian. But if Rocky can handle an angry, younger, drunk Paulie...why was he so fearful and defensive against a heavier, depressed, hungover Paulie?

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I've deleted all the comments here as they either related to the discussion about migrating from scifi, or they started to sound like an argument with the users here who had no control over that decision. Gelfamat - the users here were just suggesting the comments be cleaned up, it was not our decision to migrate this question. It is perfectly on topic here - and I hope you get some great answers. –  iandotkelly Mar 29 at 22:38
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I don't think he was fearful, but he was being defensive so that Pauly didn't hurt him. While it's not a straight up fight (Either street or boxing type match), a wild swinging, angry drunk can cause quite a bit of damage.

Even a trained fighter can be caught off guard by a wild attack, so I think that Rocky was just moving around and making sure Pauly didn't get in a lucky shot. If he gets dazed by some wild looping punch, then he's defenseless against an angry, out of control aggressor.

Also, while you could make the argument that it is foreshadowing the self confidence crisis to come, the scene that you are describing is just after the sports announcer talks about Rocky successfully defending his title for the 10th time, so at that time in the movie there really is no reason for him to be fearful at all.

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I'd certainly say that Rocky loves Paulie, on one hand he doesn't want to hurt him, he was an old sick man and a Rocky punch, even a weak one, could have killed him, and yes; he's not an idiot, he is a trained fighter, he's not going to take hits if he can do something about it, despite his propensity to "lead with his face" in the ring. –  Raytrek Mar 30 at 11:20
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I am absolutely sure Rocky was not trying to win, otherwise he would have knocked Paulie unconscious. However, it would also have been very out of character for Rocky. It seemed to me that he was just stopping Paulie from actually hitting him (a fluke punch can turn into a fluke finger nail in the eye etc!) until he ran out of rage and energy again. –  Stefan Mar 31 at 13:13

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