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The most memorable fight of Sylvester Stallone's life was a street-corner prelim in which nobody threw a punch. Stallone was the new boy on the block. He had just run away from his father's house in a suburb of Washington to live with his mother in a tough section of Northeast Philadelphia. He was 15, a spindly kid wearing a military-academy sweatshirt and a lost-dog expression. He was walking around Holmes Circle when he ran into a guy named Pat Glorioso, who lived in the neighborhood. Glorioso made fun of Stallone's boys-school look and his skewed features—his droopy eyelids, his twisted mouth. Glorioso aped the speech impediment that made Stallone sound as if he were talking through an apple.
"Let's go five to the head," he said.
"What's that?" asked Stallone. The only game he had played in the suburbs was sandlot polo.
"The first guy lands five shots to the head wins."
Stallone said O.K. He dropped into a boxing stance.
Glorioso booted him in the groin. Stallone fell down and stayed down.
"I forgot to mention," Glorioso said, walking away, "kicking's legal, too."
Stallone finally pulled himself up and went home to plot vengeance. He taught himself to box. For months he practiced his moves—jabs, hooks, feints. I le did some serious weightlifting. This lasted a year, until he thought he was ready. Then he sandbagged Glorioso. "Come on over my house," Stallone said one day in school. "We'll have steak sandwiches, watch a little TV."
"Sure," said Glorioso. He walked home with Stallone.
"Come out back, and I'll show you the bomb shelter my mom's building," said Stallone. There was a hitch in his voice.