I have a new project right now with two of my closest friends, the brilliant producer and TV Executive David Salzman and Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe. The project is a motion picture about a legendary athlete. Although we have the rights, at this point dear reader, I cannot reveal the subject matter. I plan to keep you posted.
There have been a great number of sensationally good sports biopics. Among them, “Pride of the Yankees” – The Lou Gehrig Story”, “Somebody Up There Likes Me”… the story about the great Middleweight Rocky Graziano. Another was “Raging Bull “; the story of Jake La Motta was another. In fact, I even did a forgettable epic entitled “Ring of Passion” which was about the two Louis v Schmeling Classics.
Boxing has always lent itself to be well portrayed in the Movies. Probably the best example of that is the Rocky series done by Sylvester Stallone. In researching, I found the background to be most interesting. Let me share it with you.
Sylvester Stallone in 1975 was a struggling young actor in New York. A huge Boxing fan, He was among millions of viewers watching the pay-per-view telecast of Muhammad Ali defending his championship against a Journeyman fighter named Chuck Wepner.
Wepner, up until then, had had a less than notable career. Chuck had learned to Box in the Martine Corps. After serving his time, he fought during weekends on the Amateur Boxing Circuit. In 1964, after a brief, but successful career including the Golden Gloves, he joined the ranks of Professional Pugilism.
He couldn’t make a living so he worked on various occasions as a liquor salesman, a bouncer and a security guard. He fought up and among contenders like George Foreman and stars like Sonny Liston. He became known as a contender (one who is probably not good enough to win, but would always give a good account of himself … making every bout exciting to the fan.
Never backing down, he achieved a lackluster record, (eventually when he retired, it was 35-14-2.) So it was surprising to the entire sports world that the irrepressible Don King matched him to fight Ali in Cleveland. Ali was such a prohibative favorite that one was hard pressed to even find a gambling line out of Las Vegas.
At this point, I came into the picture. I was in charge of the worldwide marketing. As such, knowing that Chuck would never back down with his main goal to finish any fight he started, he had built a reputation as a bleeder. Thus he was labeled the Bayonne Bleeder.
Leading up to fight, we spent a great deal of time together and he was one of the hardest training fighters I have ever been with. We even shot baskets together, so that he could loosen up.
Capitalizing on his Sobriquet, I provided all the ringside reporters with Red Rain Jackets, so if they got bled on, it wouldn’t show.
Then Chuck did the impossible. Bleeding from cuts over both eyes and broken nose he went the 15 rounds. In fact, he did the impossible in the ninth round. He knocked a stunned Ali down. Of course, Ali won, but the fight crowd had new respect for the man called “The Bayonne Bleeder.
Stallone, a dropout of the University of Miami’s drama program was acting in Off-Broadway Plays and an occasional small film. However, Boxing was his passion and the fight inspired him to write a script that he ended up calling “Rocky.”
In 1976, with Stallone playing the lead role, the movie was a runaway hit: Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture and Stallone was nominated for Best Actor. Rocky became a franchise spawning five hit sequels.
When Stallone sold the original script, he contacted Wepner to tell him all about it. They kept in touch for years, and Stallone gave him a bit part in Rocky II. Unfortunately, it wound up on the cutting room floor.
In 2003, Wepner claimed that Stallone had promised to compensate him for using his story, but he never saw a cent of the millions of dollars the movies generated. It went to trial three times and after the third trial there was an undisclosed settlement.
Chuck retired in 1978. Today, he still lives in Bayonne. He makes his living as a liquor salesman and as a motivational speaker. He mantra remains, “Without my story, Rocky would have nothing but a yarn. Nobody would believe it!”
I was there and I believe it!