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Meet the Real Rocky Balboa

Updated on May 6, 2017
Dan W Miller profile image

The Vanilla Godzilla was raised and lived in Simi Valley/Thousand Oaks CA. Veteran. Divorced 1996, kids, grandkids. In Phoenix since 2000

I wrote Chuck Wepner and surprisingly he sent me this autographed photo of the final moments during his championship bout with Ali.
I wrote Chuck Wepner and surprisingly he sent me this autographed photo of the final moments during his championship bout with Ali. | Source

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!

Ali delivers another blow to Wepner who finally succumbed with just seconds left in the match.
Ali delivers another blow to Wepner who finally succumbed with just seconds left in the match.

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.

The Bayonne Bleeder fought with a lot of pride... and a lot of blood in his fights. He's trying to wave off referee, Tony Perez who has just stopped the bout.
The Bayonne Bleeder fought with a lot of pride... and a lot of blood in his fights. He's trying to wave off referee, Tony Perez who has just stopped the bout.

The Aftermath

“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

Chuck Wepner is the real Rocky Balboa and he'd be happy to tell you all about it.
Chuck Wepner is the real Rocky Balboa and he'd be happy to tell you all about it.

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.

The Final, Bloody Round

Did You Know That Rocky Was Based on a Real Person and His Experiences?

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    • Dan W Miller profile image
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      Dan W Miller 2 years ago from Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      I am Chuck Wepner to you, "Champ!" My #1 fan inspires me. That's you, mate!

      Currently I'm stuck on this Kindle and it makes writing difficult. But with your constant motivating replies, "Jodah," I'll find a way.

      THANK YOU, PAL!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great hub Dan. What a brave fight Chuck put up against Ali. I had never heard of this fight but I can see why Sylvester Stallone was inspired to write 'Rocky' after watching it. Glad Wepner got a payout eventually. I had heard the story was based on a real fighter but never knew who so thanks for informing me. Voted up.

    • Dan W Miller profile image
      Author

      Dan W Miller 3 years ago from Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      Thanks, "Doc."

      Yes, there is no mention of Chuck in the credits or anywhere else even though Stallone has always openly admitted that the man and the fight were the basis for the screenplay.

      Could have saved a lot of money if he just cut Chuck a check right off the top.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 3 years ago from south Florida

      Fantastic story, Dan, and unbelievable that it's all true. The least that Sly could have done with that movie was to give credit to Wepner. But I guess he received something as a result of the lawsuit.

      Great job and great tribute to Chuck. 120 stitches? OMG!

    • Dan W Miller profile image
      Author

      Dan W Miller 3 years ago from Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      See how Apollo's personality is like Ali's? I'll bet half of who watched the movies even know "Rocky" is based on a real person. I'll bet 99% of those don't even know his name and WHO the real hero is - Chuck Wepner! It's an INFORMATIVE read.

      I've provided Chuck's official website, pictures and video from the fight along with a few other additions to my "cut and dried" story/hub while filling it with direct quotes, humor, drama, personal interaction with hub's subject and it's part of American sports (and cinema) history in a semi-biographical presentation.

      Yet Hubpages did not publish it right away and give it a real lousy score. I wish I could get feedback from them so they can specifically tell me what they want along with possibly having it read/reviewed by a SPORTS FAN. I've made corrections and rewrote many parts of the hub.

      ~ D.

    • Marchello profile image

      Marko Vucinic 3 years ago from Cuprija, Sebia

      I didn't know that Rocky was a real person. I watched movies with Sylvester Stallone and I like to watch a part when he is fighting with the Champ.