By Jim Amato

During his formidable professional career heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner was known as the “Bayonne Bleeder”. Hundreds of stitches had adorned his rugged face throughout his career. After his fighting days were over Chuck has become known to his legion of fans as the “Real Life Rocky”. The inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s film character Rocky Balboa.

Wepner was born on February 26,1939 in New York. He was the son of a heavyweight boxer and as an amateur he won the 1964 New York Golden Gloves Novice heavyweight title. He then turned professional. In his first two years in the paid ranks he went 4-1-2 losing only to tough Bob Stallings. On January 7,1966 Chuck met highly regarded prospect Buster Mathis at Madison Square Garden. Wepner was halted in the third round. In 1967 Wepner would win the New Jersey State heavyweight title stopping Don McAteer in the seventh.

Chuck went undefeated in 1968 winning six fights. He beat Eddie Vick and upset highly regarded Forest Ward. In 1969 Wepner defeated Roberto Davila but then lost to future heavyweight title challenger Joe “King” Roman. On August 18th he met 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist George Foreman at the Garden. Chuck was stopped in the third round. Wepner finished the year by outscoring veteran Pedro Agosto. Chuck opened 1970 by defeating former world title challenger Manuel Ramos. On June 29th Chuck would meet former world champion Sonny Liston. Sonny cut the game Wepner to ribbons and the bout was ended after the ninth round. Chuck then traveled to London to meet another future world title challenger named Joe Bugner. A cut forced Wepner to exit in round three.

As 1971 rolled in Wepner was again badly cut forcing a stoppage against Jerry Judge. Chuck would then lose his New Jersey title to smooth boxing Randy Neumann. The two would meet again in 1972 and Wepner pulled out the decision to regain the New Jersey crown. This would be the beginning of an eight bout win streak that would lead Chuck to a crack at the world title. On June 23,1973 Wepner pulled off a major upset in Atlantic City winning a controversial twelve round decision over former World Boxing Association heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell. Chuck was now rated among the top ten heavyweights in the world. He solidified his ranking in 1974 by defeating Randy Neumann in their rubber match and stopping Terry Hinke.

The stage was now set. On March 24,1975 Wepner would meet world champion Muhammad Ali at the Richfield Coliseum outside on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. Ali had shocked the world in October of 1974 by regaining the heavyweight title defeating George Foreman. He was looking for an easy defense of that title. Although Wepner was ranked few if any gave him a real chance at defeating Ali. What transpired that day made Chuck Wepner a cult hero. Ali won and retained his crown but it was hardly the walk in the park he expected. Wepner hadn’t read the Ali script. In fact Chuck became the script for Rocky. Despite scoring a debatable knockdown over Ali in the ninth round, Chuck was battered throughout the contest. Ali punished Wepner but try as he might he couldn’t put Chuck away. Finally the dead game Wepner fell in the fifteenth and final round. It was more from exhaustion then Ali’s punches. A true testimony to Chuck’s grit and courage.

After the Ali fight the career of Wepner slowly wound down. He was cut and stopped by undefeated prospect Duane Bobick in 1976. In 1977 he dropped a decision to Mike Schutte. He was then halted in the tenth round by Horst Geisler. Chuck won two fights in 1978 but the lost a decision to yet another future title challenger, Scott Frank. That would be Wepner’s last fight.

Chuck retired with a record of 35-14-2. During his career he met four world champions and five others that challenged for the crown.

Jim Amato

Filed under: Boxing

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