Friday 7 August 2015

Struggling Philadelphia Actor Watches Fight on Black & White TV

I`ve been a survivor all my life.  If I survived the marines, I can survive Ali. (Chuck Wepner)

Mohammed Ali versus Chuck Wepner circa 1975 courtesy

In 1975, a struggling Philadelphia actor watched a fight on his black and white TV.  The world heavyweight champion, Mohammed Ali, was paired with an unknown named Chuck Wepner.  While Ali won the match hands down, Wepner went the full fifteen rounds.  The actor, admiring his spunk, wrote a screenplay about him.  The following year, Rocky debuted in theatres, and the image of the boxer standing at the top of the steps in Philadelphia, his arms held high in victory, was forever etched on the memory of Americans.

Chuck Wepner fought his first fight in 1964.  At one point, he held the title of New Jersey Heavyweight Champion.  However, he later lost to big names like George Foreman and Sonny Liston, the latter fight costing him 72 stitches.  Wepner earned the nickname `The Bayonne Bleeder`.
But Wepner wasn`t about to go down without a fight.  After a loss to Joe Bugner, Wepner rallied and won nine out of the next eleven fights.

In 1975, crazy haired promoter Don King was looking for a new opponent for Mohammed Ali.  He chose the unknown Chuck Wepner.  Ali would receive 1.5 million for the fight while Wepner would receive $100,000.  The latter retreated to the Catskill Mountains for eight weeks of heavy training.

Ali and Wepner met at Richfield Coliseum, a city south of Cleveland, for the match.  When asked how he thought he would fare in the ring, Wepner explained:  Ì`ve been a survivor all my life.  If I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali.` Wepner did survive the fight, although he was badly beaten up in the process.

At home in Philadelphia, a young Sylvester Stallone watched the fight on his television.  He created Rocky Balboa, an underdog with a heart, to mirror Chuck Wepner.  Apollo Creed, his loud boisterous opponent who holds the world heavyweight championship, mirrored Mohammed Ali.  The script had all the ingredients of a blockbuster movie.

While Rocky required next to nothing to make, it earned 225 million at the box office and spawned a series.  Creed, the most recent in the series, is due out in November of 2015.

Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed in the 1976 movie courtesy

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