Muhammad Ali Clay: Who is “Rocky” who knocked down the boxing legend?

Rewrite this contentBen WhiteBBC Sport correspondent in New JerseyJanuary 27, 2023image copyright Getty Imagesphoto comment, A photo of Chuck Wepner in his hometown of Bayonne in 2006Chuck Wepner, 83, stands at 6 feet 5 inches tall, with broad shoulders and strong hands. His fist bones are a reminder of a life he spent punching.His profession as a boxer has left scars on other parts of his body that also remind him of the life he spent boxing.”I was bleeding so bad, I’ve had 328 stitches in my career, I’ve had my nose broken 9 times in 16 years, and it never bothered me, you know?” Wepner told BBC Sport, shrugging his shoulders.In fact, he was so likely to suffer injury to his face in the ring that he eventually adopted the derisive nickname Bayonne Blader (Bleeding Bayonne). Bayonne is a town in New Jersey that Wepner still calls home. He had a very exciting fight.So perhaps the most famous match of his career could be called the blood-drenched one.”Tony Perez was the referee in my fight with Muhammad Ali,” Wepner recalls their meeting in 1975.And he went on to say: “After I fell to the ground, Tony said to me: Chuck, you’re bleeding profusely, I said .. No way, give me this round, let me finish the fight, I’m fine. Tony said .. Well Chuck, how many fingers do you see?. I looked to his hand and I said, “How many chances do I have to guess how many fingers are raised?”Despite Wepner’s protests and the dismay of the raging crowd of 15,000 inside Richfield Coliseum, Ohio, the referee stopped the bout with just 19 seconds left in round 15.Chuck needed 23 stitches after the game. It took Muhammad Ali 15 rounds, but, as with so much in Wepner’s life, the focus was on his injuries and the greatness of his accomplishments.The odds of him defeating Muhammad Ali did not exceed ten percent, as a 36-year-old non-professional boxer who suddenly came from New Jersey, and he had not trained before under the supervision of a specialized coach, but he confused expectations with his performance.image copyright Getty Imagesphoto comment, Wepner became the fourth man to knock down Muhammad Ali during his professional careerNot only did Wepner approach the level of world champion and one of the greatest people to ever wear gloves, he also became the fourth person in history to knock Clay to the ground, who crushed George Foreman only 10 months earlier.A spectator – via videoconference in a Los Angeles movie theater – was so enthralled by Wepner’s determination and his ninth-round knockout of Clay, he rushed home to draw a character in a new script he had in mind.With all his other scripts discarded, and with one last chance to pitch a new idea, the writer went back to his draft, creating an epic story about a boxer that took 3 1/2 days of frantic creativity.The film based on that script became the highest-grossing screenplay of 1976, won three Academy Awards in 1977, a career launch pad for creator Sylvester Stallone and one of the most popular stories of the modern era.And for Wepner, the man whose blood and courage inspired Rocky Balboa, this was just the beginning of the next chapter.At Dennis P. Collins Park, a grassy playground on the shores of Newark Bay across from New York, the local sheriff addressed a large crowd: “There are famous Jerseyans we know by one word of their name: There’s Frank, there’s Bruce, and there’s Chuck.”When the latter name was mentioned alongside Sinatra and Springsteen, the 400 or so in the audience cheered and clapped for the local hero in their midst.Wepner, dressed in a tracksuit and yellow cap, shakes his head and smiles at his place among boxing greats like Larry Holmes and Jerry Cooney, who also came to honor their friend on his big day.As a swift wind blew across the water, the black cloth covering the soon-to-be-unveiled statue of young Wepner standing on 2,500 pounds of bronze beneath him fluttered.”Well, I was actually born in New York, and I moved to Jersey when I was a year and a half after my mom and dad split up, and my mom raised us here,” Wepner admits.And it was on the streets of Bayonne, a stone’s throw from Collins Park, where dockers, gangsters and oil refiners mingled, that Wepner began to learn his trade.”Where I grew up, there were always two or three gangs, and one way or another you had to step up and beat the strongest guy to survive, which I did. I got into fights almost every week,” he says.And Wepner wasn’t just muscle. He was also a promising athlete as he played on the high school basketball team in the local tournaments, however, when he discovered that “more money could be made by beating people up”, he committed himself to boxing.His 3-year stint in the Marine Corps hindered his progress for a while. Wepner enrolled illegally at age 15 after watching the movie Battle Cry, and persuading his mother to add her signature to his “fake papers,” but when he entered the New York Amateur Golden Gloves competition as an 18-year-old weighing 220 pounds, he found it to his liking.”I made my way through these guys very easily,” he says. “They’ve never seen anything like my style before.”At Madison Square Garden, Wepner broke the nose of local talent “Bob the Pistol” and beat Staten Island police department champ James Sullivan on his way to the 1964 title.He became a professional immediately after that, as he began a career of 52 matches, during which he won 36 matches and punched stars such as Buster Mathis, George Foreman, Joe Bugner, Ernie Terrell and Muhammad Ali Clay.But his mid-career fight against Sonny Liston, in 1970, Wepner felt would be his ticket to the big match.”I thought I was taking a shortcut, well it wasn’t,” says Wepner, “Sonny was so big and so strong, he broke my nose, gave me 71 stitches, and broke my jaw on the left side. I was still fighting him in the 10th round when the doctor stopped the bout.” Because I was bleeding so hard.”Aside from the broken bones, every stitch he received in his career was an ice-cold process.He adds, “It was painful, but I motivated myself to endure. Almost every match, I knew I was going to get injured and eight or 10 stitches? They were just scrapes.”Being prepared to die in the ring, Wepner admits, was another staple in his armory.”Absolutely,” he says. “I’d go there ready to die. In fact, after the Battle of Liston I went into semi-coma and shock, and my doctor told my mother I was very disoriented. I really thought about whether I wanted to continue, but then I thought, ‘I have to try’.” I have to try again, I have to try again.”image copyright Rex Featuresphoto comment, Wepner (left) pursued a professional boxing career after serving 3 years in the US Marine CorpsHe came back, and after two wins and three losses, Wepner won 8 straight matches between 1972 and 1974 and caught the attention of Don King.King described the match between Wepner and Clay, at Richfield Coliseum, as a “give the white man a chance” fight.In a golden age of heavyweight boxing dominated by black men, King felt he could attract a bigger crowd if Clay faced a white American opponent to defend his title.But King’s hopes for a match fueled by grudges, a battle between the races, are dashed by Wepner’s admiration for his opponent.”You know, I was so happy and proud to be in the ring with Muhammad Ali,” says Wepner. “The most famous man of all time, I was so proud.”He went on to say, “The night before the game, the owner of the Coliseum invited Clay and me to his private suite for dinner. I sat right next to Ali at a big table. We sat together for two hours talking, and he did some magic tricks. I loved him.. I loved Clay, and we became great friends.”The next day, after James Brown misspelled the national anthem, forgot several words and changed the anthem’s ending into a call-and-response with the crowd, Wepner put aside his youthful friendship with Clay and set about implementing a plan to win.”My strategy was to put pressure on him, wear him down, at…
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