Tommy Gunn breaks down after being called a Paper Champion in Rocky V (1990)

A Paper Champion is a boxing champion who is considered to be a false champion, or champion only on paper. Reasons for being called a Paper Champion are not fighting challenging opponents, fighting very little, or not gaining the belt by knocking out a champion. In some cases a paper champion can be seen as one whose victory was determined by points decision, as championships are usually expected to be won by knockout or submission.

Union Cane was considered to be a paper champion in Rocky V, since he never gained the belt by defeating the former heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa, instead being the contender who had the belt given to him as Rocky's injuries at the hands of Ivan Drago had forced him to retire from active boxing. When Tommy Gunn won the belt, he too was considered a paper champion as he knocked out Cane, in which case defeating a paper champion made him a paper champion as well. This went over poorly with Gunn, whose victory party was poorly attended and he earned little respect from the press, and his lack of education or finesse caused him to lash out at the press.

Mason Dixon in the 2006 film, Rocky Balboa, was also considered to be a paper champion for fighting unchallenging opponents. Although not believed by the public, it seemed Rocky himself had also been a paper champion in Rocky III, when Clubber Lang accused Rocky of ducking a genuine contender like him in favour of ten title defences by second-rate fighters. However, this was also due to Mickey Goldmill arranging such fights, fearful for Rocky's health after winning the championship in a genuine manner by knocking out Apollo Creed.


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