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Chuck Wepner on Rocky, the character he inspired Stallone

In part one of this multi-part interview series with heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, we focused primarily on his big fight and long-standing personal relationship with the late Muhammad Ali. Here in part two, we discuss the famous Rocky Balboa character that actor/producer Sylvester Stallone developed around the lives of Wepner, the great Mike Tyson, and much more. Here are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation.

Jim Clash: It’s common knowledge now that Sylvester Stallone based his character “Rocky” on you, right?

Chuck Wepner: Yes. He portrayed me as I was at the beginning. I did “favors” for people. I’m not ashamed of it. But he made a great film. When I first went to see it, I realized it was a work of genius. Playing the role he played so completely different from who or what he was is what makes acting so great. Stallone should have won Best Actor that year.

Clash: But for many years, Stallone didn’t publicly acknowledge that you were the inspiration for the character. There was a trial, wasn’t there?

Wepner: Unfortunately, I took some people’s advice after the film came out. I sued Stallone. We settled in quickly (2006), because I was right. But the lawyers reacted as they saw fit. If I had my choices, I wouldn’t have handled it this way. But what is done is done.

Clash: I assume you recreated the famous scene from “Rocky” where your character walks up the steps of Philadelphia, arms raised with that catchy music playing in the background?

Wepner: Oh, sure, several times, right up to the statue – and even posed with it. Stallone in “Rocky” inspires you, makes you want to jump up and down like that and throw punches. And I did it (laughs)!

Clash: Back to real boxing. Of the three heavyweight legends you fought, which one hit you the hardest: George Foreman, Sonny Liston or Muhammad Ali?

Wepner: Liston, definitely. He hit you like a brick wall. Even his blows hurt. I was his last stand. He died tragically shortly after in Las Vegas. Foreman was also a big puncher, but I only went three rounds with him because of a cut over his eye. They stopped the fight. Ali could hit well, but again, not like Liston.

Clash: Speaking of hard punchers, what do you think of “Iron” Mike Tyson?

Wepner: Mike is a dear friend. I think he could have been maybe the greatest heavyweight of all time if he had stuck to his guns, stayed in training and not associated with the wrong people. But hey, was it exciting, 18 KOs in the first round!

I talk to him often. He owns a pigeon cutter in Jersey City. He likes pigeons (laughs). I think he’s doing macho things. He does it with me, I know it. We joke, but he was a bully in the ring, that’s for sure. His nice side is much more himself than his brutal side: a nice guy who can’t do enough for you.

Clash: Could you have beaten Tyson when you were both in your prime?

Wepner: I don’t think so. My fighting style was to go in, and that’s not the right way to fight Tyson. I was a pretty tough guy, but Mike Tyson is something else, a runaway train, and you don’t want to get in front of him (laughs).

Clash: If you had the help you needed as a young, developing fighter, like many of your peers, could you have been world champion?

Wepner: I definitely would have done a lot better if I had the luxury that some of the other fighters had. I would have loved to train full time, but I had to work during the day and then train at night. I also didn’t have the best training partners or the best gyms. I trained at a small place in Jersey City. My coach was 80 years old then, but he really helped me a lot.

ForbesChuck Wepner, ‘Rocky,’ in real life, on his toppling of Ali, Joe Frazier, more