Chuck Wepner: The Real Rocky Balboa
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Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay of Rocky shortly after watching Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali. Fast forward and a legal case, settled out of court, indicates that the character of Rocky is in-fact based on Chuck ‘The Bayonne Bleeder’ Wepner.
Rocky’s catch-phrase-come-strapline “It’s not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” definitely rings true in regard to Wepner’s career. The New Yorker put up a gritty battling performance against Muhammad Ali, and despite the technical gulf between the two, Wepner looked immensely slow alongside the iconic world champion. However Ali struggled to knock Wepner out and only managed it in the fifteenth round. A fatigued Wepner slumped to the ropes having taken a hell of a beating.
The Ali vs. Wepner bout is, despite the gulf in class, a fight for the ages. Wepner’s raw determination and bullish strength leaves even Ali unable to knock him out for 14 rounds despite the fact that Ali’s speed allowed him to hit Wepner at will throughout the bout. Wepner even put Ali on the canvass at one stage, although Ali later argued that Wepner had used a dirty trick and stepped on his toe in order to put the champion down.
Bookmakers, pundits and fans all expected Ali to knock Wepner out in the early rounds but it wasn’t to be. The grit and determination Wepner showed in the face of the self-proclaimed greatest boxer of all time was unbelievable and, as clichéd as it perhaps is, was well worth its cinematic iteration. Some will argue and have argued that Wepner should have received more credit for the Rocky franchise though. Especially given its immense profitability.
Wepner’s un-equalled bravery was also demonstrated in his fight against former world champion Sonny Liston. The heavyweight scrapper came away with a broken nose, a cracked left cheekbone and 72 stitches. Despite his towering frame, Wepner’s style was that of a brawling inside fighter and that led to his taking some terrible beatings, even in fights which he won.
Despite a crude style, Wepner’s boxing career was a success, on balance; he won 35 of his 51 career fights. Those wins were accompanied by some tough times though, and 14 total losses as well as two drawn bouts.
The comparison between Chuck Wepner and Rocky Balboa is a clear one, so much so a that as well as the out of court settlement, a television documentary on The Real Rocky was also made to tell Wepner’s story. No animosity remains between the two; Wepner told Forbes.com that he thinks Stallone did a 'great' job in regards to the films and did a lot for the boxer's career.
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