Chuck Wepner: Remembering the real-life “Rocky” who knocked Muhammad Ali out

Chuck Wepner, 83, stands 6ft 5in tall, with broad shoulders and heavily knuckled hands; bone calluses remind him of a life spent punching.

His fighting career left scars on other parts of his body as well.

In fact, his face was so vulnerable to injury in the ring that he eventually adopted the insulting nickname others gave him.

The Bayonne Bleeder – named after the New Jersey town where Wepner still resides – was a fighter who lived up to his billing.

So perhaps it was fitting that his most famous fight came drenched in claret.

“Tony Perez was the referee for my fight with Muhammad Ali in 1975,” Wepner recalls.

“After I was knocked out. ‘Chuck, you’re bleeding too much,’ he says to me.

“‘No way, give me this round,’ I said. Let me finish the fight; I’m fine.’ ‘OK, Chuck, how many fingers do I have up?’ Tony says.” ‘How many guesses do I get?’ I ask, looking at his hand.”

Despite Wepner’s protests, and to the chagrin of the febrile 15,000-person crowd inside Ohio’s Richfield Coliseum, the fight was stopped just 19 seconds before the end of round 15.

He needed 23 stitches after the fight and received only a 15th of Ali’s pay, but, as with much of Wepner’s life, focusing on his injuries was to miss the magnitude of his achievement.

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