“The Real Rocky” Premieres Tonight

By Robert Ecksel on October 25, 2011
“The Real Rocky” Premieres Tonight
“George was a tough guy. He was right out of the Olympics, a tough kid, and he beat me."

“Wepner walked into the gymnasium. He was wearing a pimp hat, a full-length fur coat, and lots of bling jewelry…”

“My best three punches are the rabbit punch, the choke hold, and the head butt.”—Chuck Wepner

Former heavyweight contender Chuck Wepner continues his exemplary post-fight life. Best known for his grit and determination, and propensity to bleed, the larger-than-life Wepner also inspired a struggling young actor/screenwriter named Sylvester Stallone.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 8:00 pm, ESPN broadcasts the hour-long “The Real Rocky.” Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig and produced by Triple Threat TV’s Matthew McDonald, the documentary traces Wepner’s exploits in and out of the ring, and is based on a series of interviews Feuerzeig conducted with the Bayonne Bleeder in 2005.

Wepner was born Feb. 26, 1939 in New York City. He was raised and continues to live in Bayonne, New Jersey.

“I was into sports,” Wepner told me. “I boxed a little bit at the PAL when I was younger. I was nine, 10 years old. Then I started playing a lot of basketball. And when I went into the Marine Corps I boxed, because there was extra liberty involved. You got the weekend off when you were on the boxing team. I was the military airbase champion. When I got out a couple of years later they talked me into going into the Golden Gloves in Bayonne. And I went to the New York Golden Gloves and won the heavyweight championship there and I turned pro and the rest is history.”

Wepner turned pro on Aug. 5, 1964 against “Lightning” George Cooper and punched his way through the ranks.

In 1966 he fought Buster Mathis Sr. in Madison Square Garden. “He was a pretty good fighter,” Wepner said. “He stopped me on eye cuts”

Wepner had six fights in 1966, three in ’67, six in ’68, and five in ’69, including a slugfest with a Caribbean contender. “I fought King Roman in Puerto Rico—beat him in Puerto Rico—and I got robbed. I had him down once, chased him out of the joint, and they gave him a split decision. That’s what happens when you go to Puerto Rico and you fight Joe King Roman who’s from Puerto Rico.”

Wepner’s next fight was against Big George Foreman on Aug. 18, 1969. “He stopped me on cuts,” said Wepner. “He didn’t knock me out. They stopped the fight. George was a tough guy. He was right out of the Olympics, a tough kid, and he beat me. He surprised me actually. I didn’t think he’d be that tough and he was that tough and they stopped it in the third round.”

Wins over Pedro Agosto and Manuel Ramos led to Wepner fighting former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on May 29, 1970, in Jersey City.

“With Liston I was in the fight early,” recalled Wepner, “but he closed both my eyes and they stopped it in the 10th round.”

Wepner was fighting the best heavyweights in the world. But the Bayonne Bleeder bled.

“After that fight I seriously considered retiring. I got fucked up in there pretty bad and I thought maybe I should pack it in rather than sustain permanent injury or something that would disable me. I talked it over with my manager, we took some time off, and I decided to give it another shot.”

Wepner returned to action and won 10 of his next 13 fights. What followed was the defining fight of his career: a shot at the world title held by Muhammad Ali, on March 24, 1975, in Cleveland, Ohio.

“They call him The Greatest,” Wepner said, “and I think all-around as a boxer and a puncher and all-around fighter, Muhammad Ali was the best I fought. He was a very hard guy to hit with more than one good punch. I pressed him the whole fight. We thought he’d get tired. He did get tired, but unfortunately he had enough in his tank and by the 13th round I was pretty exhausted myself. And in the 15th round—from a punch that ordinarily wouldn’t have bothered me—he caught me with a glancing blow on the side of the neck and head. I went down and got up and Tony Perez asked me where I was and I told him and he stopped the fight. There was 19 seconds left to go.”

Wepner may have lost to Ali, but it was his Rocky moment.

Jeff Feuerzeig, the director of “The Real Rocky,” had his own Rocky moment in 1975.

“I was 10 years old in 1975,” he told Boxing.com, “when Chuck Wepner was about to fight Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship of the world. I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad said to my brother and me, ‘I’m taking you to Raritan High School to see the Bayonne Bleeder.’ We were impressed because it was such a cool name. We loved Evil Knievel, Andre the Giant, and especially Muhammad Ali. Wepner walked into the gymnasium. He was wearing a pimp hat, a full-length fur coat, and lots of bling jewelry. He showed the bloody Sonny Liston fight, and after that was over there was no doubt in any of our minds how he got that incredible nickname.”

I asked Feuerzeig when his first got the idea of a Chuck Wepner documentary.

“In 2005 I had just finished my feature documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which I won Best Director for at Sundance. I love boxing, but what I love more than anything is a good story. I was reading a book called ‘The Devil and Sonny Liston’ by Nick Tosches, who is a friend of mine. I loved the book and it’s pretty much dedicated to Chuck Wepner, who was of course the last person to fight Sonny Liston before he was murdered. And I said to myself, ‘Wow, this would make a fantastic story.’ I called up Nick Tosches and said, ‘Nick, what do you think about a Chuck Wepner documentary?’ and he said, pardon my French, ‘It would make a great fucking documentary.’”

The footage of Wepner that Feuerzeig shot with his brother in 2005 sat in cold storage until eight months ago. That’s when Matt McDonald and Triple Threat got involved in the project.

“Our job was to help pull it all together with the archival footage and basically help Jeff finish telling the story he started in 2005,” McDonald said. “I was completely unfamiliar with the story when we started working on it. I wasn’t around when the Ali-Wepner fight happened, but I was blown away, it was really jaw-dropping.”

Seeing Wepner on film is one thing, meeting him in person another. I asked McDonald if he has met the Bayonne Bleeder.

“I’ve met Chuck a few times and he’s a charming guy. He’s really comfortable with who he is. He’s really comfortable in his own skin. I think that he knows he is lucky and fortunate and blessed. There’s something inspiring being around Chuck. He’s always got a joke, and he knows how to make you feel good about yourself just by talking to him. And he is still in great shape. I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley, because I know who’d be coming out, and it wouldn’t be me.”

I wanted to give Feuerzeig, the director of “The Real Rocky,” the last word on Chuck Wepner: “He’s like the Mayor of Bayonne. He’s an inspiring character and real warm cat. He really is the champ.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion


Sonny Liston vs Chuck Wepner Part 1

Sonny Liston vs Chuck Wepner Part 2

Joe Bugner | Chuck Wepner 1/2

Joe Bugner | Chuck Wepner 2/2

Muhammad Ali vs Chuck Wepner (All Rounds), part 1/4

Muhammad Ali vs Chuck Wepner (All Rounds), part 2/4

Muhammad Ali vs Chuck Wepner (All Rounds), part 3/4

Muhammad Ali vs Chuck Wepner (All Rounds), part 4/4

interview muhammad ali and chuck wepner part 1

interview muhammad ali and chuck wepner part 2

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  1. Bill Brown 11:46am, 10/31/2011

    I was in the Marine Corps with Chuck, last time I saw him was at Camp Geiger in 1960. Would like to make contact with Chuck

  2. The Thresher 06:10am, 10/27/2011

    Sneak, I never did much like Sly. Something about him that exudes mistrust.

  3. Pete The Sneak 04:41am, 10/26/2011

    Thresher, I agree. The Doc sure didn’t show Sly in a good light at all, pretty much made him look like a rip off artist. I was totally unaware of the wrestling comparison with Wepner and Andre The Giant and Sly and Hulk Hogan (Thunder Lips) in ROCKY III. Man, looking at that video of Wepner with Andre and then seeing the ROCKY III scene, it almost looked like it was totally choreographed move by move from Chuck’s battle with Andre, including Wepner being thrown out of the Ring. That couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, could it? No wonder Sly got ticked off when he was asked about it. Can’t say I blame Chuck at all for seeking some compensation.

  4. The Thresher 05:10pm, 10/25/2011

    The documentary was good, however, and not very favorable towards Stallone.

  5. The Thresher 05:09pm, 10/25/2011

    Some swear by Tony P. Me, I tend not to like to criticize referees all that much because I know so many on a personal level.

  6. Joe 12:19pm, 10/25/2011

    Yeah Tony P saved Smoke in the second Ali/Frazier fight too.  Norton taking those shots at MSG brings back memories.  That look in Kenny’s eyes.  Wow.

  7. mikecasey 08:57am, 10/25/2011

    Chuck was no timid librarian, that’s for sure!

  8. mike schmidt 08:19am, 10/25/2011

    Sir Robert…“exemplary post fight life…” Seems like a very engaging chap, but a little homework I suspect does not really hand out the “exemplary post fight life…” comment award here. Hopefully, and it sounds like it, he is now having an exemplary life (post fight life is a long period and a little homework suggests a few old flies in the life ointment…) Adios

  9. The Thresher 05:11am, 10/25/2011

    Truly great videos here.

  10. Pete The Sneak 04:50am, 10/25/2011

    Great Stuff Robert. Thanks for the heads up on the Documentary tonight. Always good to see Chuck Wepner, who is about as Cult as a Cult Hero can get continue to receive his props. Old School fighter with a ton of heart. He knew his Boxing limitations, however that did not stop him from trying to knock your block off any which way he could. Truly miss these type of fighters, particularly in the Heavyweight division. The Bayonne Bleeder did more with his limited talent than say a more athletic boxer like David Haye would ever dream of attempting. You go Chuck! Peace.

  11. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:34am, 10/25/2011

    Joe—Tony Perez was a danger to the health and safety of the very fighters he was entrusted to keep safe.  IMO he is the WORST ref to ever live.  How many open shots to Norton’s unconscious and limp head did he allow Cooney to take while Norton’s hands were dangling at his sides with his back propped up by the ring-post?  I literally shutter in revulsion every time I replay it in my head.  It is one of those images of referee incompetence that literally threatened a man’s life.

  12. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:29am, 10/25/2011

    I met Chuck briefly at an event in New Jersey a few years back.  He looked ageless and timeless to me.

  13. mikecasey 03:15am, 10/25/2011

    Yes, Joe, Chuck definitely wasn’t into finesse!

  14. Joe 03:11am, 10/25/2011

    Looks like the hitting behind the head was a bad habit after watching some of this footage.

  15. Joe 03:08am, 10/25/2011

    He was comfortable in his skin is an understatement.  Just watch the Mike Douglas show from back in the day and you’ll see; he really thought he could beat Ali.  (I’ve often wondered why Tony Perez didn’t penalize him for hitting behind the head like 500 times????)  And the story about his wife asking should she go to Ali’s room after the fight is hilarious.  (I think he told her she’d be sleeping with the Heavyweight Champ after the fight…....and she took it literally - talk about obey!!!!)  Where is this lady today????

  16. Joe 03:03am, 10/25/2011

    This man could take it that’s for sure.  A real tough guy.

  17. mikecasey 02:47am, 10/25/2011

    I followed Chuck’s career all the way through as a youngster. Much like George Chuvalo, there didn’t seem to be anyone of note that Wepner didn’t fight! Glad things have worked out for the likeable old bruiser!

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