The Real-Life Boxing Inspiration For 'Rocky' Actually Took Down Ali

Muhammad Ali may have been known as The Greatest, but it wasn’t unheard of for him to get knocked down every now and then. And that’s exactly what happened in 1975 when he stepped into the ring with Chuck Wepner. This underdog opponent was a remarkable fighter, and his story is so fascinating that it even inspired Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. So who exactly is Wepner, and how did he end up locking gloves with a titan like Ali? 

Ali and Wepner came from different worlds

All signs pointed to an easy victory for Ali. Sure, Wepner did okay as a fighter. He’d managed to attract the attention of legendary promoter Don King after all. Still, boxing wasn’t his only line of work: this was someone who needed a regular income to prop up his achievements in the ring. Quite the contrast to a full-blown knockout artist like Ali. 

The Bayonne Bleeder

Wepner earned the nickname of the “Bayonne Bleeder”, due to his veins opening during the rough and tumble. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be having a transfusion following this high-profile confrontation. It was a big deal for Wepner, but a drop in the ocean for Ali. The latter was a veteran of the scene, yet still delivered in the decking department.   

Money matters

The money alone highlighted the differences between these two determined athletes. Ali was making a cool $1.5 million; Wepner stood to make $175,000. Not exactly small beer when you had a family to support, but it was still a David v Goliath situation in financial terms. The chances of David getting his slingshot in position were seen as slim to none. 

The fight of his life

When Wepner arrived at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 24, 1975, he must have felt at least some pressure. Thousands at the venue had their eyes on him, not to mention the many watching at home. It would be either the making or breaking of him, or somewhere inbetween. There was no way he could gain an advantage, was there?