In a way, a “Creed” movie without Rocky (or the active involvement of Stallone) is certainly weird. On the one hand, he’s had a presence in every aspect of the franchise so far, and the name Creed can’t help but call to mind Apollo and his legacy. On the other, the Rocky character never really needed the “Creed” stories to fulfill his character arc. In “Rocky Balboa,” a retired Rocky comes back to fight unpopular champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) in an exhibition match that becomes the real thing. The sexagenarian loses in a close match, a lovely echo of the end of “Rocky” and a satisfying closure to Rocky’s story. 

The “Creed” films found a wonderful route forward and discovered new roles for Rocky to play beyond a slugger, but Rocky’s story was yet again nicely wrapped up in “Creed II,” especially after his hopeful reunification with his son. Rocky was a natural addition in “Creed” to support the son of his fallen friend, and the Drago connection in “Creed II” raised the stakes for both alike. Despite already having strong closure as a character, the filmmakers found ways to incorporate Rocky Balboa into the first two “Creed” films that felt organic to the overall story. But after “Creed II,”  Adonis no longer needed a mentor. It was time for the character to stand on his own two feet.