At their best, the Rocky films – like their champion - were winners because they were full of heart. Creed may be the most emotionally charged of them all.

Like Balboa the boxer, Creed scores a knockout with giant hayemaker after hayemaker to the gut.

And to dispel the doubt: no, 69-year-old Stallone does not fight anybody and, no, this is not a shameless Rocky VII cash in.

Director Ryan Coogler dreamed of his expansion to the Rocky tale before he made his first movie and had to persuade Stallone et al to go with it - they will be glad they did because the result is the most accomplished entry in the saga.

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Coogler’s Fruitvale Station star Michael B Jordan mixes the muscular and vulnerable as Adonis Johnson – the illegitimate son of Rocky’s adversary turned late-best-pal Apollo Creed - who has boxing in his blood though nobody will believe in him.

He tracks down a reluctant Rocky Balboa to train him.

It may not be the most innovative plot but writers Coogler and Aaron Covington craft it so beautifully with a clear love for the movies that preceded it at the same time as making a picture that stands up on its own terms.

In one of many parallels and call-backs, Adonis’ romance with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) recalls Rocky’s romance with Adrian while feeling similarly organic and contemporary.

Stallone was nominated for a Golden Globe for his return to Rocky and it is easy to see why.

In the first time Sly has not written the character’s words, the Italian Stallion overflows with pathos and faces a totally different personal fight.

I would have to watch it again, but I think this could be his strongest outing as Rocky.

There were several times where I felt like I had been hit and felt myself choking up.

While nailing the drama, Creed also hits the right spots when it comes to the action. It feels much closer to the groundedness of the originals than the gloss of the later films.

Adonis’ training is gruelling – Balboa takes things back to chicken-chasing, grotty gyms basics – and we are not overwhelmed by needless pugilism.

The fights we do see stylishly serve the narrative.

By now fighting as Adonis Creed, the climactic underdog bout with champ Pretty Ricky Conlan (Liverpool’s real-life champion boxer Tony Bellew) at Goodison Park is simultaneously polished, realistic and unbearably tense.

It is credit to the writing, direction and, indeed, the history of the Rocky movies that there is genuine doubt as to which way both Creed and Rocky’s fights will end.

Creed (12A) is out Friday, January 15.

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