Last night, ESPN premiered The Real Rocky, a 60-minute documentary about Chuck Wepner, a boxer known as “The Bayonne Bleeder” whose 1975 fight with Muhammad Ali, in which Wepner knocked down the champ, inspired Sylvester Stallone to write his epic tale of Rocky Balboa. Wepner went on to battle drinking, drugs, and eventually Stallone in a legal battle over Wepner’s claim to the story behind the film, which was settled out of court. This morning, I reached Wepner at his home in New Jersey.
So what did you think of The Real Rocky?
I thought it was very well done. We watched it at the Campus Inn in Union, New Jersey. I guess I was the guest of honor, considering that the documentary was about me. We had an overflow crowd … I had three vodka and cranberries, two of which I put down right away. So I’m a little tired today. We got home late. The party went until 1.
You wouldn’t have changed anything about the film?
Well, there were a couple of things I would have changed a little bit. But the film was true to life. I kept telling people, “It’s a documentary, not a complimentary.” It’s not like the movies where you change things and make somebody look like a hero. I cringed at all the fight footage, the sight of the blood.
I hear that the same director is making a feature film about you.
Yeah, it’s going to be great. Called The Bleeder. I am going to be played by Liev Schreiber from Wolverine and Wolverine 2. And Naomi Watts will be playing my first wife. She’s a very pretty girl, so she shouldn’t have a problem.
Was Schreiber the first choice?
No, we went through John C. Reilly and Vince Vaughn. But finally we went with Liev. He’s a perfect fit for the role. Did you see Wolverine? I couldn’t ask for anybody better.
How many times have you been punched?
Oh, wow. Thousands of times. I was very aggressive. I was a brawler, a fighter. I wasn’t a boxer. Because of that I’ve had 328 stitches over my eyes, my nose was broken 10 or 11 times, my cheekbone. But that’s why fans paid to see me fight. I twas a fighter. Not a boxer. These guys today, they don’t want to get hit anymore. They become boxers. They’re slick. It’s all about counter-punches. They don’t want to get hit.
For a guy who is 72 years old and been hit that many times, you seem to have it together pretty well.
I’m in good shape. I go to the gym three days a week, lift weights, and I walk a lot. I fought Ali for the title at 228, and I am 243 now. I put on 15 pounds in the 36 years since I fought Ali.
What are your feelings toward Stallone today?
Listen, I think he’s a great artist, a great movie maker, and a terrific actor. I have no hard feelings. The lawsuit was just business with us. He’s always been very respectful to me. He actually wrote in a bit part for me in Rocky 2. I read for it in front of his co-producers. The character was “Ching Weber,” a sparring partner. But I didn’t do good. I didn’t get the part.
Which is your favorite Rocky?
It would have to be number one. It had a lot of great details about me. Nobody expected that movie. I went to see it in the theater. I was amazed. It was great. But I like all of them.
Seriously? Even the one with that stupid robot?
Robot? I don’t think I saw that one.
Have you spent much time here in Philadelphia?
We were actually just there this past weekend. It’s a great town. We loved it. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Plaza. We had cheesesteaks four times.
Oh, at the hotel. The hotel made them for us. They were just great. But they told me there’s a place down there that makes them even better. Pat and Joan’s, I think.