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Chuck Wepner's "Rocky" Road to Redemption

Lauren Carmody

The other night, I had the opportunity to watch “The Real Rocky” on ESPN, which tells the story of Chuck Wepner, a boxer from Bayonne who served as the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone in the development of the Rocky movies.

Now, most of the time, my husband is forcing me to watch some sports-related documentary but I have to admit, this time it was an easy sell. The story focused on the image and worth of the Rocky franchise and if Chuck Wepner, the alleged inspiration for the Rocky empire, deserved compensation for a multi-billion dollar set of movies.

Wepner was best known for his fight with Muhammad Ali in 1975. The “Bayonne Bleeder,” a nickname coined because Wepner was known to bleed more than most boxers when hit, was considered somewhat of a has-been at the time and fought Ali for the title. A clear underdog in the fight, Wepner lasted 15 rounds with Ali and even knocked him down in the ninth round (although Ali later contested that the Bleeder stepped on his foot to knock him down).

The Ali fight and many other snippets from Wepner’s life were recreated in Rocky I and Rocky II. Wepner made the point during the documentary that Sylvester Stallone had made billions off his “likeness,” and that Wepner deserved to be compensated for it. Whether you agree or disagree, the lawsuit (eventually, Wepner sued Stallone) was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.

The documentary showcased Wepner’s career, from start to finish, and at the wrap of the film, there is a form of redemption for Chuck Wepner.

It’s clear that Chuck Wepner didn’t always stay on the path of least resistance – he was pinched for selling cocaine, known for partying and being unfaithful to his former wife – but there is still a part of you (or at least me) that pulls for him in the end.

His character, at some points of his life, might have been questionable but it was clear, at least from my perspective, that Wepner did deserve some sort of compensation due to the fact that exact pieces of his life were lifted and used in the Rocky movies.

The other fascinating part of this story is that it lives on more than 40 years later. So, as Wepner was once used to being in the spotlight for his unpredictable but bloody wins, he is once again there…this time with a lot less blood to show.

I’m guessing they will replay “The Real Rocky,” on ESPN and if they do, it’s worth the hour of your life to watch a pretty amazing story of a man, a movie and a boatload of money that was generated from both. CJP

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