Chuck Wepner, the ham and egger professional boxer who nearly beat heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and thus inspired the Sylvester Stallone series of Rocky movies, was honored today with his own statute in his Bayonne, NJ hometown.
Wepner was a game but limited fighter in his career. Known as the “Bayonne Bleeder” for his penchant of absorbing numerous blows, Wepner was supposed to be a convenient stepping stone when he met Muhammad Ali on March 24, 1975.
The match was Ali’s first boxing match since he reclaimed the heavyweight championship from George Foreman in the famed “Rumble in the Jungle” match in Kinshasa, Zaire in Africa.
Held at the Richfield Coliseum in Ohio, the fight with Wepner was billed “Give The White Guy a Break.” No one gave Wepner much of a chance.
But Wepner more than held his own, knocking Ali down in the ring and hammering away at the champ. The match entered the 15th and final round with the outcome still in doubt, but Ali managed to knock out Wepner and retain the title.
Stallone was among those who watched in astonishment, and used it to fuel his “Rocky” series. To this day, a statue of Rocky is a big tourist attraction in Philadelphia, so it’s fitting that the inspiration for the film character have his own.
Wepner is now 83, and was joined by boxing greats Larry Homes, Gerry Cooney, and Iran Barkley, along with actor Liev Schreiber, who played Wepner in the movie Chuck.
Wepner spoke about how much the statue means to him.
“The reason I’m here is because of all of you guys. I’ll never repay Bayonne,” Wepner said. “I’m going to ask the mayor; when I go, I’m being cremated – stick me down next to my statue.”
Fittingly, the unveiling of the seven-foot-tall statue was accompanied by the theme from Rocky.