Meet the Real Rocky Balboa
The Inspiration for Rocky
Rocky Balboa and Chuck Wepner. One is a movie character, the other is a real person. Both inspired people to reach beyond their capabilities and even then just a bit further.
Chuck was born in New York City and was the New Jersey State heavyweight boxing champion. While in between bouts he'd make ends meet as a bouncer, security guard, and occasionally had to break a kneecap collecting money from clients of loan sharks.
He fought palookas (marginally talented boxers) in small arenas for even smaller paychecks and at that point in his life in 1974, you'd have to ask yourself how could this guy be the inspiration for Rocky Balboa?
Actually Chuck had a fairly successful professional boxing career in spite of his nickname, "The Bayonne Bleeder" with a final record of 51 wins, 35 losses and 2 draws. But at this point in his career, he was getting the reputation as kind of a "tomato can." You know, the kind you kicked around walking home from school. He needed over 120 stitches in his face after one fight. Then the biggest break that every boxer ever dreams of just fell right into his lap!
You think this was just a promotion? Chuck had all intentions to win becoming the underdog champion. Watch the clip below from The Mike Douglas Show before the fight as Chuck and Ali square off!
Mike Douglas has to separate the men as a fight nearly breaks out days before the bout on his show!
Average Joe vs The Champ
Flamboyant promoter Don King thought it would be a great idea to give an "average Joe" a shot at the seemingly superhuman Muhammad Ali in 1975. They randomly chose Chuck. Ali would receive $1.5 million. Chuck would receive $100,000 but it was more than he'd ever received for a payday. Besides, his boxing career was seemingly winding down fast and this was a once in a lifetime shot (and he was a one in a million shot) for the champ's title.
Do you notice the similarities in Ali's demeanor and the character in the movie, Apollo Creed? Boisterous, loud, over-confident, and always a showman. Rocky is humble, realistic, and devoted to his calling. He's just a name usually found on the under card of a boxing event much like Chuck's unheralded boxing career up to that point
They fought in Richfield, Ohio a suburb of Cleveland and it was a pretty bloody bout to say the least, according to eyewitnesses at ringside. Only it was the challenger, Wepner who was the bloody one. The champ bragged that he'd finish off the bum in three rounds. Before the fight, Chuck told his wife Linda, "Tonight you're going to be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world."
Chuck would just not give in to the champion's punishing assault through the entire fight. In round nine, Ali went down, one of the few times in his career. Only one of four times in his entire career.
The challenger had used an old boxer's cheating tactics called "rabbit punches" by sneaking in blows to the back of your opponent's head. He also used a ploy of stepping on the foot of your opponent then lift up just as he pulls back forcing his momentum backwards and off balance. Then you pop him one in the face.
"You see that? I knocked him down," Chuck said sitting on his stool after the round.
"Yeah, but I think that really pissed him off now," his worried trainer, Al Braverman responded.
The fight miraculously continued on into the 15th round as Ali made hamburger meat out of Chuck's face. Finally, after sustaining two knockdowns and seemingly near exhaustion, the champion had barely retained his title by a technical knockout decision.
“He's better than you all gave him credit for,” Ali told a crowded post-fight interview room. “I'm unmarked and I won,” Ali said.
“That's what you think,” shouted a woman in back of the room.
“That's O.K.,” said Ali. “That's his wife. I know how she feels.”
When Chuck returned home that night, his wife Linda tried to cheer him up by asking him, "So where's Muhammad Ali? You said I was going to be sleeping with the champ tonight!" His face hurt so bad but he managed to crack a smile and they both laughed until they cried.
But our hero had garnered the respect of Ali and the entire nation. He also caught the attention of a struggling actor and script writer who was watching the fight on his small black and white TV in a poor section of Philadelphia.
Everyone knows who that actor is by now. He went on to star and write the Academy Award-winning Best Picture movie based on the events that surrounded this fight and his name is Sylvester Stallone.
Wepner filed a lawsuit which was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount out of court. He retired the next year in 1976. These days Chuck and his wife are still living in New Jersey and working in liquor sales to local stores.
Dan W. Miller
More Personal Information
This author wrote to Mr. Wepner and asked for an autographed picture but received more than just that. A personal correspondence began back and forth via the internet.
The autographed picture shows Chuck flopping onto the ropes with his gloves up and still ready to fight from the 15th round of the now famous fight. His face is a bloody, swollen, unrecognizable mess. Ali has just finished belting him with a right hook and seems exhausted and irritated that he's still standing after taking such a beating.
Yeah, Rocky is a real person. His name is Chuck.