By Ryan Berenz
ESPN’s fall documentary series continues on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 8pm ET, with “The Real Rocky,” looking at “The Bayonne Bleeder” Chuck Wepner, a former New Jersey state heavyweight boxing champion, who fought the likes of George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. But Wepner’s claim to fame, so he says, is that he was the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character. But Wepner’s career took a bizarre turn as he went on to fight wrestling legend Andre the Giant and even boxed a bear.
Wepner got the nickname “Bayonne Bleeder” from frequently getting cut during fights. “I did have 338 stitches over my eye. So the nickname the ‘Bayonne Bleeder’ never really bothered me,” Wepner says. “Unfortunately, it was the truth. You know, I lost a lot of fights on cuts, and I used to get some bad cuts. And when they approached me and they said they were going to use it in the documentary and other things, it really didn’t bother me. You know, it’s a part of life, and I was never knocked out. I was only down the one time with Ali in the 15th round in over 20 years in the ring. It’s just the fact that I used to get cut, and it’s a reality.”
Wepner’s career highlight was knocking down Ali in 1975, and Wepner was supremely confident going into that fight, even though he was a 40:1 underdog. “I was always very sure of myself,” Wepner says. “Everybody always asked me, ‘Do you really think you can win?’ I always thought I could win. As a matter of fact, the night before the title fight, I took my wife out, and I bought her a powder blue negligee. And I said, ‘I want you to be wearing this because tonight you are going to be sleeping with the heavyweight championship of the world.'”
Press release from ESPN below.
ESPN Films’ The Real Rocky to Premiere on October 25 on ESPN
Documentary Chronicles the Story of Chuck Wepner, the Man Behind the Legend
Chuck Wepner is a liquor salesman from Bayonne, N.J., who drives a Cadillac with “Champ” vanity plates. A former New Jersey State Heavyweight Boxing Champion, he took abuse from Sonny Liston, got his nose broken by Muhammad Ali, and inspired Sylvester Stallone to write “Rocky” which won three Academy Awards. Wepner was left out of the “Rocky” glory, and his career took turn after strange turn as he worked to stay in the spotlight: he went on to fight Andre the Giant as “The Assassin” and boxed a 900 pound bear. Twice.
Through interviews, photos and footage, director Jeff Feurerzeig tells Wepner’s story of being the “real Rocky”, the man who went almost the full 15 rounds with Ali in 1975 to inspire the Oscar-winning movie. In many ways, Wepner’s real-life story is actually more captivating than the one that has raked in more than $1 billion.
ESPN Films, creators of the Emmy-nominated and Peabody award-winning 30 for 30 film series, is airing a new film each Tuesday night through November 8. The remaining films of the series will air as follows:
T uesday, Oct. 25, 8 p.m.– The Real Rocky (Jeff Feuerzeig/Mike Tollin)
Tuesday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m. – Unguarded (Jonathan Hock/Philip Aromando)
Tuesday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m. – Roll Tide/War Eagle (Martin Khodabakhshian/Joe Tessitore)