Heavyweight fighter Chuck Wepner talks about his new movie, Sylvester Stallone, and Muhammad Ali. Heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, from Bayonne, N.J., talks about his new movie, “Chuck,” about being known as The Real Rocky, his history with Sylvester Stallone and with Muhammad Ali, and his inspiring life story.
Charles “Chuck” Wepner (born February 26, 1939) is an American former professional boxer who fought at heavyweight. As a world ranked contender he fell just seconds short of full fifteen rounds with world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in a 1975 title fight. Wepner also scored notable wins over Randy Neumann and Ernie Terrell.
Wepner turned professional in 1964 and became a popular fighter on the Northeast’s Club Boxing circuit, fighting throughout the county, including arenas close to his boyhood homes such as North Bergen and Secaucus. Nicknamed “The Bayonne Bleeder,” he began posting many wins and some losses. He had formerly boxed while a member of the United States Marine Corps and had worked as a bouncer before turning pro. He was the New Jersey State Heavyweight Boxing Champion, but after losing fights to George Foreman (by knockout in three) and Sonny Liston (by knockout in ten) many boxing fans thought that his days as a contender were numbered. After the fight with Liston, Wepner needed 72 stitches in his face.
However, after losing to Joe Bugner by a knockout in three in England, Wepner won nine of his next eleven fights, including victories over Charlie Polite and former WBA Heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell.
In 1975, it was announced Wepner would challenge Muhammad Ali for the world’s Heavyweight title. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer (February 9, 1975, Page 4-C), Carl Lombardo put up $1.3 million for the Wepner-Ali heavyweight title bout. According to a Time magazine article, “In Stitches”, Ali was guaranteed $1.5 million and Wepner signed for $100,000. This was considerably more than Wepner had ever earned and he, therefore, did not need any coaxing. Wepner spent eight weeks near the Catskill Mountains under the guidance of Al Braverman (trainer and noted cutman) and Bill Prezant (manager). Prezant prophesied that the fight would be a big surprise. This bout was the first time Wepner had been able to train full-time. The fight was held on March 24 at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio south of Cleveland. Before the fight, a reporter asked Wepner if he thought he could survive in the ring with the champion, to which Wepner allegedly answered, “I’ve been a survivor my whole life…if I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali. “In the ninth round, Wepner scored a knockdown, which Ali claimed had occurred because Wepner was stepping on his foot. Wepner went to his corner and said to his manager, “Al, start the car. We’re going to the bank. We are millionaires.” To which Wepner’s manager replied, “You better turn around. He’s getting up and he looks pissed off.” In the remaining rounds, Ali decisively outboxed Wepner and opened up cuts above both Wepner’s eyes and broke his nose. Wepner was far behind on the scorecards when Ali knocked him down with 19 seconds left in the 15th round. The referee counted to seven before calling a technical knockout. In 1976, Wepner fought professional wrestler André the Giant and lost by count-out after Andre threw him out of the ring. Wepner’s last fight was on May 2, 1978 for the New Jersey State Heavyweight Championship against a new rising prospect, Scott Frank, noted for a useful heavy left hook. Wepner lost the fight in a 12-round decision, but again proved durable, Ring magazine noted. He announced his retirement after the fight. In 1988 Wepner was convicted of dealing cocaine and sentenced to 10 years in prison.