Just a Regular Guy

by Roy H. Williams on December 28, 2015

Roy H. Williams · Invisible Heros · December 28, 2015

Pendulum in Action, invisible heroes, Chuck WepnerAs a boxer, Chuck Wepner earned the nickname “The Bayonne Bleeder” because of the punishment he took even while winning. Tom Donelson of Inside Boxing writes of him,

“Wepner was what one would call ‘a catcher’, a fighter who often used his head to block the other guy’s punches – not the kind of strategy that leads to long careers… He constantly pressured his opponent until he either won or was knocked out. He never truly cared how many shots he would absorb before landing the telling blow.”

Trainer Al Braverman called Wepner

“the gutsiest fighter I ever met. He was in a league of his own. He didn’t care about pain or cuts. If he got cut or elbowed, he never looked at me or the referee for help. He was a fighter in the purest sense of the word.”

When Wepner knocked out Terry Henke in the 11th round in Salt Lake City, boxing promoter Don King offered Wepner a title shot against then-heavyweight champion George Foreman. But when Ali defeated Foreman, Wepner found himself scheduled to fight The Great One – Muhammad Ali himself. On the morning of the fight Wepner gave his wife a pink negligee and told her that she would “soon be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.

Ali scored a technical knockout of Wepner with just 19 seconds remaining in the fight.

But there was a moment… one glorious moment in the 9th round, when a ham like paw to Ali’s chest knocked the reigning champion off his feet. “When Ali was down, I remember saying to my ringman Al Braverman, ‘Start the car, we’re going to the bank, we’re millionaires.’ And Al said to me, ‘You’d better turn around. Because he’s getting up, and he looks pissed off.”

After the fight, Wepner’s wife pulled the negligee out of her purse and asked, “Do I go to Ali’s room or does he come to mine?

A struggling writer watching the fight remembers it well.

“I went to the fights and I saw this Chuck Wepner character who was called ‘The Bayonne Bleeder,’ who was just this fighter of really very, very little skill, but you know, kind of like a real American, you know, working-class stiff who just takes it on the chin and comes back and just a very symbolic kind of character. And I thought, ‘There it is. There… it… is.’ He was fighting Muhammad Ali who was like, you know, the perfect fighter and he knocked him down. And that validated his entire life. He didn’t expect to win. He knocked him down. You could never take that away. I went, ‘There… My God. Now if I can get that onto the page…’ So I went home and I started writing. And I wrote for three days straight…”
– Sylvester Stallone, telling James Lipton
about the birth of Rocky on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

The movie studio offered the struggling writer an unprecedented $400,000 for his script, but Stallone refused the money, choosing instead just $20,000 and the right to play the part of Rocky for actor’s minimum wage – just $340 a week. The studio then offered Chuck Wepner a similar choice – a $70,000 flat fee or one percent of the movie’s gross profits. Believing that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, Chuck took the guarantee – a decision that cost him $8 million.

Stallone believed in Wepner.

Wepner didn’t believe in Stallone.

[rps]

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