Have you ever heard of Chuck Wepner? “The Bayonne Bleeder”? He’s a former heavyweight boxer from Bayonne, New Jersey. He won 35 out of 51 fights during his career, 17 of which were knockouts. He faced George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali during his years in the ring and he’s also been named as Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration for fictional boxer Rocky Balboa. Well Schreiber’s plan is to bring Wepner’s story to the big screen.
“There’s a guy named Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder. He’s the guy that ’Rocky’ was based on,” Schreiber said. “He went 15 rounds with [Muhammad] Ali in 1974 and it’s this wonderful story of what happened to that guy as a result of his rise to fame.”
Schreiber didn’t talk timetables or casting or anything like that, but he did name “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” director Jeff Feuerzeig as the man who will helm it. “That’s the next thing I’d like to do,” the actor said. “It’s just a remarkable, hilarious film and I hope we get to make it.”
Wepner challenged Ali for the Heavyweight title in 1975. He spent eight weeks training in the Catskills — montage! — to prepare for the March 24 fight, which took place in Cleveland. He ultimately lost to the champ of course, but he managed to send Ali to the mat in the ninth round before receiving a broken nose and more than a few facial lacerations. When asked beforehand if he thought he could make it through the fight alive, Wepner reportedly said, “I’ve been a survivor my whole life… if I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali.” [cue Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”]
As the story goes, Stallone watched the fight at home and was so inspired by Wepner’s courageous challenge that he wrote “Rocky.” In a possible further connection to the Italian Stallion’s long-running franchise, Wepner went on to fight professional wrestler Andre the Giant in 1976. This mirrors a plot point in “Rocky III,” in which Balboa agrees to a charity match with a professional wrestler, played by Hulk Hogan.
Wepner certainly presents a compelling real-life story, and if Schreiber’s really passionate about telling it then I can’t wait to see how the talented actor delivers.
Boxing fans, are you familiar with Wepner? Is this a good subject for a biopic?