Tony "Duke" Evers was Apollo Creed's trainer in the first four films. In the first and second films, Duke trained Creed to compete against Rocky Balboa. In the third film, he helped Creed train Rocky to defeat James "Clubber" Lang in a rematch after the shocking death of Rocky's trainer Mickey Goldmill. In the fourth film, he trains Rocky Balboa to fight against Ivan Drago to avenge the wrongful death of Creed. Ever since then, Duke remains as Rocky's primary trainer. In the sixth film in the Rocky series, 2006's Rocky Balboa, he would train Rocky to compete against Mason Dixon. The part of Duke is played by veteran character actor Tony Burton, who himself also fought professionally in the Light Heavyweight ranks.
Duke Evers was first introduced in the 1976 Oscar-winning film Rocky as the trainer to the charismatic World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed. A planned Bicentennial fight against number one contender Mac Lee Green was scheduled for 1 January 1976, which Apollo gladly hypes whenever someone places a microphone in front of him. However, Green hurts his left hand in training, and when none of the other top ranked contenders, such as Ernie Roman and Buddy Shaw, step up to face the champion, Creed responds with a novelty promotion that will generate huge publicity. He will offer an anonymous local fighter an opportunity to battle Creed for the title, in a match on New Year's Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Creed eventually selects Rocky Balboa, then an unknown club fighter, a shot at the championship.
While Creed dismissed Rocky as a serious threat, Tony appeared to be the only member of Creed's staff who considered Balboa to be a legitimate threat, as he cautioned Creed of his vulnerability against southpaw opponents. Tony also expressed concern while closely observing Rocky's meat freezer sparring session at his friend Paulie's meat factory, which was broadcast on an edition of the evening news, saying to Creed, "Hey champ, you ought to come here and take a look at this kid you're gonna' fight, he looks like he means business". "Yeah, Yeah, I mean business too" Creed replied in a casual and nonchalant tone as he and his entourage focused on business matters from another room. It is during this film where it is learned that Tony is more than just Apollo's trainer, but that they also have a long history and friendship dating back years. Prior to the final round of Creed's title defense against Balboa, Tony unsuccessfully urges Creed to let him stop the fight, and thus forfeit the championship, because he is worried for Apollo's health after it is revealed that he is bleeding internally as a result of Balboa's heavy body shots. Also Duke was worried Apollo was significantly emotionally scarred from his first bout with Balboa.
In Rocky II, a humiliated Creed, despite winning a split decision, pushes to schedule a rematch with Rocky. However, Tony pleads with Creed to leave Balboa alone as he does not want to see his friend suffer through another bout with Rocky, who had just given Creed the worst beating of his career. As Tony explained to Apollo, "I saw you beat that man like I never seen no man get beat before. And the man kept coming after you. We don't need that kind of man in our lives." This time, a focused Creed trains hard under Tony's tutelage, and arrives at the rematch in the best shape of his career. Creed goes on to dominate the majority of the fight, although Tony remains wary of Rocky's punching power and determination. As a result, Tony advises Creed to fight defensive in the final round so as to win the bout on points and thus avoid a potential knockout defeat. During the 15th and final round, Tony frantically screams from Creed's corner for the champ to "Stay away from him!" as Rocky switches to a southpaw stance. Nevertheless, Creed ignores Tony's advice and is subsequently KO'd by Balboa, thus dropping the championship in the process. Although Tony is saddened by the loss, he realizes Creed dropped the title gracefully, having won back the lost respect of his alienated fans who dismissed the first fight, and also appreciates Rocky's gentlemanly acceptance of the new championship by thanking Creed and Duke for giving their all.
With Apollo Creed subsequently retiring after losing the championship, Tony returns to his hometown of Los Angeles, where he continues working with various up-and-coming local fighters at the "TOUGH GYM". However, Tony returns to the scene in Rocky III when Apollo Creed takes over as Rocky's manager following the death of Rocky's longtime trainer Mickey Goldmill and after Rocky's title defeat to James "Clubber" Lang. Creed brings Rocky to Los Angeles to formally meet Tony, who appears ecstatic over the idea of finally working on the same team of the "Italian Stallion" after the two brutal contests he had with Creed. Over the next few months, Creed and Tony completely revamp Balboa's fighting style after a shaky start. They introduce a more athletic style reminiscent of Creed's skilled boxing repertoire, as opposed to Rocky's traditional slugging technique. Moreover, Creed and Tony (along with Rocky's wife Adrian) also help to rebuild Rocky's self-esteem, which is left shattered after his knockout by Lang and the revelation that Mickey had handpicked some of his prior opponents in an effort to prevent him from serious injury, and to keep him winning. As a result, Apollo and Tony essentially take in Rocky as one of their own family after the loss of Mickey, who had served as Rocky's father figure during the course of his career. By the end of the movie, Rocky is a rejuvenated boxer, and Apollo and Tony celebrate by his side after he regains the championship after a third round KO of Lang.
Duke's role in Rocky IV
Several years later in Rocky IV, a now 42-year old Apollo decides to come out of retirement for an exhibition bout against new Soviet sensation Ivan Drago in Las Vegas. However, in a tragic turn of events, Creed is unfortunately killed at the hands of Drago, consequently setting up a grudge match between Balboa and Drago in Moscow on Christmas Day 1985. Upon Creed's death, Tony confides in Balboa that Creed was like his own son, and that a piece of him has died along with Apollo. Now Rocky's main trainer, Tony subsequently travels with Balboa to the Soviet Union and assists Rocky in his training, providing him with encouragement while also telling him that he now stands as the carrier of Apollo's legacy. Rocky would ultimately knock out Drago in the fifteenth round to claim victory.
Duke Evers in Rocky V
Tony makes a brief appearance at the beginning of Rocky V, which begins immediately following the victory over Drago. While Rocky showers, Tony lauds the champion for his heart and courage, and for vindicating Apollo Creed. However, Rocky begins experience physical complications after the beating he took from Drago, and Tony is sent to inform his wife Adrian. After returning to the U.S., Rocky subsequently announces his retirement from boxing, and Tony presumably returns to Los Angeles as Rocky struggles with the loss of his fortune while moving back to his old Philadelphia neighborhood. Rocky soon becomes the manager to the new World Heavyweight Champion Tommy Gunn but Tony does not reappear in the film as Rocky eventually repels the challenge of a jealous Gunn in a street fight.
Role in Rocky Balboa
Duke returns for sixth time in Rocky Balboa, which takes place fifteen years after the previous film. Rocky has long since retired and running a restaurant in Philadelphia following Adrian's death several years earlier. It is unclear whether Tony has continued to train other fighters, or if he has retired himself. Nevertheless, Tony returns as Rocky's trainer after Balboa agrees to an exhibition bout against the current World Heavyweight Champion Mason Dixon. Citing that the nearly 60-year old Balboa lacks the speed, stamina, or durability to endure typical training, Tony decides to focus on Rocky's lone remaining asset - his incredible punching power - and develops a regimen focused on strength training and building "hurting bombs". Tony subsequently participates in the fight's press conference, in which Dixon dismisses Balboa's challenge, and states that Rocky always maintains a "puncher's chance". Rocky eventually battles the current champion through all ten rounds, and even knocks Dixon down in the second round. Though he loses by split decision (reminiscent of the first bout with Creed), Rocky was unconcerned with the outcome and celebrates his moral victory with Tony, Paulie and his son before leaving the ring.
Legacy in Creed
Duke does not appear in Creed, and he was assumed to be dead. However, his son, Tony Jr. (known as "Little Duke"), continues his legacy as a trainer. Tony Jr. runs the Delphi Boxing Academy in Los Angeles. Adonis Johnson Creed asks Tony Jr. to train him, but Tony Jr., though apparently a close family friend, refuses. Tony Jr. adds that he will make sure no other area trainers take Creed on, as he wants to protect Adonis from getting injured or even killed in the ring as was his father, Apollo Creed, in Rocky IV.
Tony Duke is a speaking character in the video games Rocky for the Nintendo Gamecube, Sony PlayStation 2, and Microsoft Xbox and Rocky Legends for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. In Rocky, Duke serves as Apollo's manager for Creed as the player (as Rocky) is reenacting the storylines for Rocky I & Rocky II. Duke then joins the player's ringside when Apollo Creed becomes the manager during the Rocky III storyline, and Rocky's manager during the Rocky IV timeline. The role of Tony Duke is expanded during the Rocky V storyline, serving as Rocky's trainer in between fights and manager during fights. Rocky Legends gives more insight to Duke's career. If the player chooses the career path of Apollo Creed, his first fight will be against Tony Duke. After defeating Duke, an outro is shown where Duke congratulates Creed for being a worthy opponent, but says he is getting too old and weak for active boxing and unsure about future employment, to which Creed tells of his plans to make it big in boxing and offers Duke a job as manager, thus explaining the start of their partnership. Players also earn cash during fights, which can be spent to unlock Tony Duke as an active boxer and play as Duke in exhibition matches.