Chuck Wepner vs. ‘Rocky’

Chuck Wepner, a tough guy heavyweight boxer from New Jersey, had a distinguished career in the ring and managed to knock Muhammad Ali down at one point. But mostly he’s cited as the inspiration for the “Rocky” movies.

While he relished in the comparison, Wepner later took Sylvester Stallone to court for not being adequately compensated for his life story, which included fighting an Apollo Creed-type and having the odds stacked against him, and later fighting a WWE wrestler and a Russian.

Wepner even trained like Rocky.

“I knew I was never a great fighter, you know, and I had to be in tip top shape in order to win my fights,” Wepner told reporters at the TV critics summer press tour.

Wepner runs of the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum one more time for a film about him premiering tonight on ESPN, “The Real Rocky.”

But he also talks about his long career, from being in the ring with Sonny Liston, Andre the Giant and a 900-pound bear.

But he was also a bleeder; more than one match had to be stopped for that reason.

“I did have 338 stitches over my eye. So the nickname the ‘Bayonne Bleeder’ never really bothered me. Unfortunately, it was the truth. You know, I lost a lot of fights on cuts, and I used to get some bad cuts.”

But, filmmaker Mike Tollin says, “Chuck did have a genius corner man, though … He would notoriously go in and clean Chuck’s face up in between rounds, and then, when the ref would come over to check out the damage to the eye, he would show him the other eye, which looked just fine. So many fights that might have been stopped otherwise were allowed to continue.”

Tollin says he has enjoyed doing the movie because it was so different. “When you see the tragic fall of so many boxers,” Tollin says. “In contrast, when Chuck wages the lawsuit and obviously now, even to this day, as he passes this 70th birthday, this is a guy who is kind of getting the last laugh. “

Tollin says he was always interested in the “Rocky” mythos.

“I grew up in Philly, so ‘Rocky’ was kind of a big deal for me. It was a source of inspiration and identification to some extent. I ran up those steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum many times. More recently walking them, I guess. But there’s a statue of Rocky, and this is a fictional character that’s now been inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. What other sport … where else have you heard a story like that?”

Wepner, by contrast, fell into semi-obscurity.

“When you think about movies that transcended, that come out of the sports world and really became a part of pop culture, nothing really rivals ‘Rocky,’” Tollin says. “But then you start talking about Chuck Wepner, and generally, you’ll hear, ‘Oh, yeah. Wasn’t he the guy from New Jersey who bled a lot?’ ”

He kept his job as a celebrity-status liquor salesman in New Jersey, though he was called to the occasional stunt fight. “Yes, I did fight Andre the Giant, and he
threw me out of the ring,” Wepner says. And he had a bout, too, with 0ne Victor the Bear.

But his biggest moment undoubtedly was that bout with Ali.

“As a matter of fact,” he says, “the night before the title fight, I took my wife out, and I bought her a powder blue negligee. And I said, ‘I want you to be wearing this because tonight you are going to be sleeping with the heavyweight championship of the world.’

“Anyway, I came back to the room after the fight. I walked in. She was sitting on the end of the bed in a negligee. She said, ‘Am I going to Ali’s room, or is he coming to mine?’ “

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