Bunce on Boxing: Finally, 'the real Rocky' will get a film of his own life


It all started 35 years ago and since then Sly Stallone has been at the heart of the six Rocky movies and there is a chance of another.

There are hundreds of tales attached to the films, with dozens of boxers claiming that they were the inspiration for various characters or scenes made famous by Stallone's creation Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion.

Joe Frazier insists he hit lumps of meat in a giant freezer before he was world champion; Stallone has given Don King and Muhammad Ali credit for their influence on other characters. However, Chuck Wepner is the man at the very bloody core of the films because he was the cut, bleeding and heroic no-hoper that sent Stallone down the Rocky road.

Wepner, a brave fringe contender with hundreds of stitches across his brows, lost a world heavyweight title fight to Muhammad Ali in 1975, dropped Ali in the ninth and was rescued by the referee with just 19 seconds left in the 15th and final round. That is true, even if it reads like fiction.

Stallone was watching at a cinema and went home and wrote the Rocky story in three days. "When the man who was considered an absolute pushover knocked the unbeatable champion down – I saw how the crowd reacted and I said to myself: 'This is what it is all about'," said Stallone.

Ali had just beaten George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, a fight he was expected to lose, and the Wepner and Ali fight, which was the first that Don King promoted on his own, was meant to be Wepner against Foreman.

Wepner was known as the Bayonne Bleeder and he had no control over the cuts across his eyebrows, nose and forehead. His trainer and cutsman Al Braverman lied to him about the severity of the wounds and on most occasions the referee ignored the cuts. However, in one fight, against the lethal-fisted Sonny Liston, Wepner was cut above both eyes, an eye was shut, his left cheekbone was shattered and the ref came over between rounds seven and eight. "Chuck, how many fingers am I holding up?" Wepner had no idea but Braverman tapped three times on his shoulder and Wepner replied: "Three, now get outta here and let me do my job." It lasted another round before it was called off. Wepner claims he had 72 stitches, the ringside report suggests it was closer to 120. Liston was asked after the fight if Wepner was the bravest man he ever met. "No," Liston said. "But his manager is."

In 2003, Wepner, by now a reformed cocaine addict, was out of prison and looking for a bit of financial respect. He was sick of people shaking the hand of "the real Rocky". He had a loose friendship with Stallone but still decided to sue for $1m for his part in the Rocky franchise, which has generated $1bn. In 2006 they settled out of court; Wepner was happy and now there will be a film of his life.

Here's Chuck on the night he planned after beating Ali: "I gave my wife a very sexy blue negligee. And I told her, 'I want you to wear this, because after the fight you'll be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.' And when the fight was over, after I had gotten stitched up, 23 stitches, I went back to the hotel. And my wife was in the room, waiting for me, wearing the negligee. And she said to me, 'OK, big shot. Do I go to the champ's room, or does he come to see me'?" Now that is a Rocky moment.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits