He’s a local hero in his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey, but unless you’re also from there or happen to be a boxing fanatic, chances are you’ve never heard of Chuck Wepner. The former Marine, one-time bouncer and liquor salesman got his shot at glory in 1975 when he was given the opportunity to get in the ring with Muhammad Ali and vie for the world Heavyweight title.
Ranked eighth in the world, Wepner was an underdog who’d had some amazing wins and just as notable losses in his decade-long career up until that point, including a bloody fight with Sonny Liston, after which he needed dozens of stitches in his face. Thrust into the spotlight as a result of the headline-grabbing bout against Ali, it was the highlight of Wepner’s career.
Sylvester Stallone has made no secret of the fact that the Ali-Wepner fight was the inspiration for the original Rocky, for which he wrote the screenplay, and its climactic stoush between Rocky Balboa (played by Stallone) and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). In 2003, Wepner started legal proceedings seeking compensation for having inspired the Academy Award-winning film and the multi-million dollar franchise that ensued.
Documentary The Real Rocky charts the highlights of Wepner’s boxing career, and details the lawsuit he filed against Stallone and his motivation for doing so. It also looks at some of the more unusual parts of his career, including a fight against a bear, and the troubles he faced with the breakdown of his marriage and a stint behind bars.
Featuring extensive input from Wepner, as well as archive footage of him in the ring and Stallone being interviewed about the movie, it’s an intriguing look at a side of the famous film many of us would’ve been unaware of.
Watch The Real Rocky on Sunday 17 June at 8.25pm on SBS. Straight after, enjoy Rocky IV at 9:30pm.