‘Rocky’ Has a Statue in Philadelphia. Now the ‘Real Rocky’ Will Get One in Jersey. – Smart Media Magazine

‘Rocky’ Has a Statue in Philadelphia. Now the ‘Real Rocky’ Will Get One in Jersey.

“That scene is based on me running up the steps in Hudson County Park as part of my workouts,” said Mr. Wepner. “But it was Rocky, a fictional boxer, who got the statue.”

Mr. Wepner turned pro in 1964 and worked his way up from smoky joints in the Bayonne area to taking on such prominent fighters as George Foreman and Sonny Liston. The Liston fight left him with a broken nose, a broken cheekbone, 71 stitches in his face — and his Bayonne Bleeder nickname.

Of 52 pro fights and nearly 100 amateur bouts, Mr. Wepner said he won most of them. “And in bar fights,” he said, “I’m undefeated.”

Then there were the moneymaking gimmick matchups late in his career. In 1976, he fought a 1,250-pound grizzly bear and took on the professional wrestler André the Giant, who stood 7 feet 4 inches and tossed Mr. Wepner out of the ring long before Hulk Hogan did the same to Mr. Stallone in “Rocky 3.”

Other aspects of Mr. Wepner’s life reflected in the “Rocky” films include him as an enforcer for local moneylenders. Then there was his trainer, Dominick Bufano — “The real Mickey,” Mr. Wepner said, referring to the character in “Rocky’’ — who jumped in front of Ali and gave him an “evil-eye” curse before the fight. Mr. Wepner was a 40-to-1 underdog and earned $100,000 for the fight, by far the biggest purse of his career.

Mr. Wepner’s business card touts his Ali and “Rocky” claims to fame, and on the back, bears a photo of the Ali knockdown.

As the “Rocky” franchise grew with sequels, Mr. Wepner said he had never received payment, even though Mr. Stallone had added to the value of the movies by repeatedly naming him as Rocky’s real-life counterpart.

The actor did invite Mr. Wepner to audition for a minor role in “Rocky 2,’’ Mr. Wepner recalled, “but I blew the audition because I had been on a bender for two days.”

So in 2003, Mr. Wepner sued Mr. Stallone, arguing that the actor had inappropriately used his name to promote the movies without compensating him.

The case resulted in a private settlement, whose sum Mr. Wepner would not disclose, other than saying that, “I still have to work for a living.”

“I always loved the guy — he made me Rocky — but I needed him to acknowledge that I was the real Rocky,” said Mr. Wepner, who still works in liquor sales, as does his wife, Linda.

In the late 1980s he served 22 months in prison after being arrested with four ounces of cocaine. Mr. Wepner said he has been sober for years, but still has trouble sticking to the strict diet required after his cancer surgeries.

In front of the tire store on a recent weekday, he grabbed his second chili dog from a hot dog cart and motioned to a group of locals who had stopped to chat.

“Everything I’ve achieved, it all comes from my city,” he said. “So I’ll always be true-blue Bayonne.”

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