Chuck Wepner is ‘The Real Rocky’

We talk to boxer, Chuck Wepner about his role in inspiring the film, Rocky.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

The Real Rocky - ESPN

I may not know much about sports, but I thought I knew movies. ESPN Films presented The Real Rocky to the Television Critics Association, their upcoming documentary on Chuck Wepner. Wepner was the inspiration for Stallone’s Oscar winning screenplay, because Wepner got an opportunity to fight Muhammad Ali. Wepner schooled me on all my Rocky assumptions, but I went the distance!


CraveOnline: I grew up with all the Rocky movies. How did I not hear about you before?

Chuck Wepner: When the suit came down with Stallone a couple of years ago which was almost like a reciprocal deal, there wasn’t any real problem there. Sly and I are still friends. Everybody in the world knew about it. I was getting calls from all over the world, all the papers from all over the world. I just took it for granted that everybody knew that I was the inspiration since he mentioned it, I think the federal judge said, 41 times on national television in different interviews. I appreciate you asking the question and it’s always nice. It’s just I’ve been doing this thing for so long, I just figured everybody in the world, because the television and newspapers all knew that I was the real Rocky. The only thing we went into suit really was to have Stallone come out in person, and he did. He had to in court, he lost the suit and we settled it amicably.


CraveOnline: In the Rocky movies, training was as important as the fighting. How did you train?

Chuck Wepner: I very similarly. I trained in small gyms. I used to have to travel a lot to get sparred because I was never subsidized like most fighters are today. They do nothing but train and eat, sleep the best. In 21 years, 147 amateur or pro fights, I always had to work during the day, train at night. The only fight that I really trained for full time was the Muhammed Ali fight. Don King set me up and gave me the best of everything. I was able to eat good, sleep good, have good sparring partners. Even though I was a 40 to 1 shot against Ali, I was ready for the fight. I was always very sure of myself. Everybody always asked me, “So did you really think you could win?” I always thought I could win. Before the title fight, I took my wife out and I bought her a powder blue negligee and gave it to her. I said, “I want you to wear this tonight because tonight you’re going to be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.” Anyway, I come back to the room after the fight, I walked in, she’s sitting on the edge of the bed in her negligee. She says, “Am I going to Ali’s room?” That’s the kind of confidence I had.


CraveOnline: Did you hit the slabs of meat and drink the raw eggs?

Chuck Wepner: I drank some raw eggs but I didn’t hit the meat. If you train in a place like that where it’s so cold, you’ll wind up with pneumonia. He added a couple of things but most of the stuff, fighting the wrestler, that was me. Running up the steps, I did that before the movie ever came out. The thing with Don King with the fur coat in [Rocky V], that was supposed to be Don King.


CraveOnline: The idea of just making it and going the distance, even if you don’t win, has become so important since Rocky came out. What has it meant to you to see that take on such significance?

Chuck Wepner: It means a lot to me. It means that I gave 100%. I wasn’t in there just to go the distance like last week we’re talking about the championship fight with the lightweight, got hit in the stomach with a little punch, got beaten. Some guys go into a fight just to grab a payday. Other guys go in to win. I was in to win every fight. Unfortunately I used to get cut. 338 stitches. In fact, the guy who got the most stitches in history, Vito Antuofermo had 340. I said to my manager, “Al, I want one more fight. I want to beat him.” Al said no.


CraveOnline: Did you also fight the Russians like in Rocky IV?


Chuck Wepner: I fought a couple Russians during my career as a fighter.


CraveOnline: Do you ever see MMA taking over the mantle boxing used to have?

Chuck Wepner: It’s possible. I’ll tell you, I didn’t think MMA was going to be like it is but it’s very exciting. It very possibly could. As a matter of fact, I think it’s cut very deeply into the fabric of boxing. Boxing isn’t watched as much. I think MMA is even more popular than regular boxing.


CraveOnline: Do you follow any MMA fighters?

Chuck Wepner: Shamrock I follow. I met him, a tough guy but you look at him now, my God. These guys, everyone has a cauliflower ear. Look at this. I fought for 21 years, no cauliflower ear just using gloves. These guys use strike gloves and pound the hell out of each other.


The Real Rocky airs Tuesday, Oct. 25, 8 p.m, on ESPN.


Photo credit – AP/Kathy Willens