Chuck Wepner, the ham and egg professional boxer who nearly beat heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and thus inspired the Sylvester Stallone series of Rocky films, was honored today with his own status in his hometown of Bayonne, NJ.
Wepner was a game but limited fighter in his career. Known as “Bayonne Bleeder” for his penchant for absorbing many blows, Wepner was meant to be a handy springboard when he met Muhammad Ali on March 24, 1975.
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The match was Ali’s first boxing match since reclaiming the heavyweight championship from George Foreman in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ match in Kinshasa, Zaire in Africa.
Held at Richfield Coliseum in Ohio, the fight with Wepner was billed as “Give The White Guy a Break”. No one gave Wepner much of a chance.
But Wepner more than held on, knocking Ali down in the ring and hammering the champ. The match went into the 15th and final round with the outcome still up in the air, but Ali managed to knock Wepner out and retain the title.
Stallone was among those who watched in amazement 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 only fitting that the character’s inspiration from the movie has its own.
Wepner is now 83 and has been joined by boxing greats Larry Homes, Gerry Cooney and Iran Barkley, as well as actor Liev Schreiber, who played Wepner in the film. Mandrel.
Wepner explained how much the statue meant to him.
“The reason I’m here is because of all of you. I will never reimburse Bayonne,” Wepner said. “I will ask the mayor; when I go there I’m cremated – stick me next to my statue.
Fittingly, the unveiling of the seven-foot-tall statue was accompanied by the theme of Rocky.
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