Interview with Chuck Wepner: Blood, Sweat & Tears! Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (March 10, 2011) Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
Chuck “Bayonne Bleeder” was from Bayonne, NJ, and was nobody’s opponent. He spilled quite a bit of his own “blood” including receiving 72 stitches, a broken nose and cheekbone in his battle with Sonny Liston. Only Vito Antuofermo had more stitches. He “sweat” many hours in the gym from 226 in 1965 to 223 in 1978. His “tears” were not only from the many cuts he absorbed but learning Sylvester Stallone took his bout with Muhammad Ali to the screen and never compensated him until he went to court. Stallone said “Wepner had already made enough money from making appearances as the real Rocky. It was settled later for undisclosed terms.
Wepner had an outstanding amateur career with a 16-0 record being the only boxer from New Jersey to ever win the NYGG. That was in 1964. He was trained by Joe Barizzi and Ralph Palmaseno. He also served in the United States Marine Corps where he was 3-0. It’s been reported he was 81-0. “That record included bar and street fights. I knocked out 2 guys in those old phone booths you could sit down in at the Bayonne Broadway Tavern and another in the men’s room,” said Wepner.
When he turned professional he was 25 in August of 1964 at City Stadium, Bayonne, NJ, knocking out George Cooper in 3 rounds. Just 9 days later Wepner found himself fighting in Madison Square Garden defeating Rudy Pavesi over 4 rounds. Pavesi would only have one more fight after this defeating Bob Stallings who would deal Wepner his first loss a year later.
Wepner was managed by Al Braverman who was also the cut-man while being trained by numerous people but mostly by Dom Bufano with Bill Prezant who served as second. Only 9 of Wepner’s 51 opponents had losing records and even they could fight. Case in point was Everett Copeland, 1-6-1, had a pair of draws in Wepner’s third and seventh fights. A year later Copeland knocked out the 1960 Rome Olympic Gold Medalists Franco DePiccoli, 37-2, in Italy.
Back in Madison Square Garden Wepner would have the first of 4 meetings with tough Jerry Tomasetti, 3-1, winning a 4 rounder. In 1966 he would repeat the win over 6 rounds, get stopped in 1967 and win by stoppage in 1968 in their fourth encounter. “That was one tough guy,” said Wepner. These 4 fights were per the www.boxrec.com but Wepner felt there were only 3.
Wepner “upset” the former world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson’s brother, Ray, 10-1, who was on a 7 fight winning streak. He dropped Patterson in the second round and took a split decision. In Patterson’s next fight he defeated the German Juergen Blin, 6-0, who was a future European champion who would fight Muhammad Ali in 1967.
After Wepner’s loss to Stallings he was stopped by Buster Mathis, 5-0, having the fight halted in the third. He gave away 50 pounds to Mathis. Mathis won the 1964 Olympic Trials defeating “Smokin” Joe Frazier but broke his thumb and couldn’t go only to be replaced by Frazier who won the Gold Medal.
Wepner would go onto win 4 straight including the USA NJ State title stopping Don McAteer, 19-8-2, in April of 1967. This was followed by his only loss to Tomasetti and then a 9 fight winning streak followed. Included in that streak was Forest Ward, 4-0-2, who won the 1967 Pan Am Games and the Golden Gloves. In the finals of the gloves he defeated Ken Norton.
Wepner had Ward down 3 times in the seventh round bringing about an automatic stoppage.
Wepner’s 9 fight winning streak was stopped by Joe Roman, 20-5-1, in Puerto Rico in June of 1969. Wepner replied “No way I could win a decision down there but 5k and a trip to Puerto Rico?” Roman would challenge George Foreman for the WBC/WBA titles in 1973 getting hit after being knocked down which could have lead to a disqualification but didn’t.
Speaking of Foreman, he was Wepner’s next opponent stopping Wepner in the third round. “A friend and I once visited George later after one of his fights and he was the friendliest guy and made me feel good in front of my friend. On the way out there was Joe DiMaggio (Yankee Clipper). I have been a Yankee fan since I was 9. Later on I see Joe leaving with 2 state troopers and he went out of his way and came to say good-bye to me,” said Wepner.
Wepner came back with 2 big wins over Pedro Agosto, 19-1, and Manuel Ramos, 23-9-2. Ramos had challenged Joe Frazier 2 years earlier for the NYSAC title. Wepner was then put in with the former champion Sonny Liston, 49-4, in June of 1970. He would last until the end of the ninth round being cut so bad he needed 72 stitches, broken nose and a broken cheek bone. “He hit harder than Foreman,” said Wepner.
Just 3 months later Wepner traveled to London to lose to Joe Bugner, 26-2. He was stopped in 3 rounds due to a cut eye. “I had a little nic by my eye and my manager Al Braverman went nuts. Bugner did surprise me how big and strong he was. Bugner would go onto win the British, Empire and European titles and challenge Ali twice.
Jerry Judge would stop Wepner 4 months later on cuts. “I hate to use an excuse but I was sick before the fight with a cold. I don’t want to take anything away from Judge because he was a good fighter,” said Wepner.
After scoring a couple of stoppages over Jesse Crown, 20-10-1, and Mike Boswell, 13-4, Wepner would his State title to Randy Neuman, 17-1, in the first of their 3 fights with the rematch in Wepner’s next fight winning back the title. Both fights went the 12 rounds. “Today Randy is a good friend of mine. He’s a very bright guy,” said Wepner. Neuman is a NJ referee.
After defeating John Clohessy, 14-3, and Bill Marquart, 10-4-2, the latter in a State title defense, Wepner was ready for one of his biggest fights. It was June of 1973 when he would meet former WBA champion Ernie Terrell, 46-7, at Convention Hall in Atlantic City for the vacant National Americas title. Both fighters were 6:06. The only official was referee Harold Valan who gave the decision to Wepner 7-5 in rounds. “I thought I pulled the fight out in the eleventh and twelfth rounds. If we fought in Chicago he wins,” said Wepner.
The following year in a “rubber match” Wepner stopped Neuman in a State title defense in 6 rounds. A clash of heads caused a severe gash to Neumann’s head. Wepner’s win streak would reach 8 as he stopped Terry Hinke, 37-3-2, in 11 rounds in Salt Lake City, UT. Hinke was down 3 times in the final round. “Don King told me if I beat Hinke who is a good puncher he would get me a title bout with Foreman. Just 3 weeks later Foreman loses to Ali. He then tells me he will get me Ali,” said Wepner.
Wepner was to get his first world title bout in March of 1975 against Muhammad Ali, 45-2, in the Richfield Coliseum, in Richfield, OH. “If I survived the Marines I’ll survive Ali,” said Wepner. Naturally it was a Don King Promotion and Wepner was brought in as a “sacrificial lamb” by King. What King and Ali didn’t realize was the determination and fearlessness of Wepner. “Say what you want about King but he took good care of me,” said Wepner.
“It was the only time I went to training camp and for 7 weeks. One of my sparring partners, Charley Polite, had to leave early in camp due to his wife’s illness. When King arrived I went to his office and said I need $6500 for Polite. He asked where he was going to get $6500. I told him don’t bull shit a bull shitter. He gave me the check for Polite,” said Wepner.
Don King asked Ali why he didn’t give Wepner a nickname like he did so many of his opponents. “He showed me respect I respect him,” said Ali. “I even wrote a pair of poems for Ali. One was called Good-bye Ali, Hello Chuck,” said Wepner.
It was a long night for the WBC/WBA champion including being knocked to the canvas from a right hand below the heart in the ninth round. It was a grueling match and Wepner landed his share of jabs.
In the fifteenth and final round with both fighters near exhaustion Wepner landed a right cross to the jaw of Ali. In the final minute he landed another right hand but was countered by a left and right by Ali putting Wepner in trouble. He started losing control of his legs but was able to get to the ropes for support. “My legs where shaky by the eleventh from exhaustion,” said Wepner.
In the meantime Ali had gone in a different direction after landing the combination. When he realized Wepner was in trouble he rushed in and landed a right hand that had Wepner falling across the corner of the ring to the other set of ropes with his hands down while Ali landed the final right hand to the head causing Wepner to fall to the canvas. While Wepner was pulling himself up by the ropes referee Tony Perez stopped counting and waved the fight over with just 19 seconds to go.
“It was the only time I was ever knocked down,” said Wepner. He did get to his feet but it was too late. Wepner won a lot of fans over after that effort. “The referee told me later if he knew there was only 20 seconds left he would not have stopped it,” said Wepner.
“Fighting Ali was the highlight of my career and the thing I was most known for. Later we even did a commercial for kids to brush their teeth. I was in a big tooth costume as Mr. Tooth Decay. I would knock Ali down and he would knock me down. Then they gave him a toothbrush and Ali said “I knocked out tooth decay kids. Make sure you brush your teeth. I am also working on a movie about my life and will keep you in touch.”
Wepner stopped his next 3 opponents and was matched in a “mixed” match against Andre the Giant who was 7’6” and tipped the scales at 550. This was in the summer of 1976. “We took it because the money was right. The only person Chuck ever feared was his wife Linda,” said Al Braverman.
Andre was a foot taller than Wepner and outweighed by well over 300 pounds. In the first round Wepner landed some good jabs and in close quarters with Andre bending over Wepner landed some hard chopping right hands. It looked like Andre got mad and picked Wepner up over his head and spun him around while walking to the ropes and dropping him outside of the ring. “It was all planned but my foot got caught on the rope as I was falling. His manager Gorilla Monsoon was standing over me on the floor with his foot on my chest so I wouldn’t get back into the ring,” said Wepner. Gradually Wepner climbed back into the ring and bedlam broke out ending the match with fans pouring into the ring. “Andre was a gentle giant,” said Wepner.
In October of the same year Wepner would only have his second fight of the year taking on unbeaten Duane Bobick, 36-0 (31), who represented the USA in the 1972 Olympics. He had defeated Cuban Teofilo Stevenson for the Pan Am Gold in 1971 and beat Larry Holmes so bad in the Olympic Trial finals that Holmes got disqualified for refusing not stop holding Bobick on the third and final warning in the third and last round. Wepner was stopped in the sixth round on cuts. “Bobick was very a strong puncher,” said Wepner.
Wepner would travel to South Africa to meet Mike Schutte, 33-6-1, and lose a 10 rounder. Schutte had defeated Rodney Bobick, Duane’s brother in his previous fight. “I won that one easily. The UK judge had me ahead 7-3,” said Bobick.
In Binghampton, NY, 3 months later Wepner would lose to Horst “Him” Geisler, 10-3, in the tenth and final round. “This was the toughest and strongest (along with Liston) fighter I met though I was at the end of my career. I heard he was killed by a truck later,” said Wepner. He ended with a 12-6 record with all bouts ending in knockout. He was from Montreal and no record of his death could be found.
In 1978 Wepner scored 2 knockouts in North Jersey before meeting young prospect Scott Frank, 4-0, for the State title in Totowa. Wepner would lose for the final time over 12 rounds and announce his retirement. The referee was former world champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott. “He was young and tough. Braverman wanted to stop it after the eighth but I told him I was going the distance,” said Wepner.
Wepner would be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in October of 1982 with a record of 35-14-2 (17). “Henry Hascup is head of the Hall of Fame and is one great guy. He does so much of this work by himself. He and Burt Sugar are two of the best historians on boxing,” said Wepner. This writer has to agree about Hascup being a great guy and a tireless worker for boxing. Last week in Trenton there he was with his wife doing the announcing at an amateur show in Trenton. They are also one of the best looking couples in the game.
Wepner has worked for what is called Allied Liquors now for 41 years. He and his wife celebrated their birthdays last Saturday. “I met my wife (Linda) in the early 90’s. I knew I would have to change my lifestyle and I did. It was a second chance for me,” said Wepner. Go to http://wepner.homestead.com and you’ll see Chuck and his beautiful wife Linda in Bayonne, NJ.
The re-union between “Big” George Foreman and the “Bayonne Bleeder” Chuck Wepner happened at Resorts Casino Hotel on March 4th! Wepner arrived first with his wife Linda and it seemed like everyone (including me) wanted to get their picture taken with him. He couldn’t have been more gracious about it. Foreman arrived with his son “Big Wheel” and George’s brother Roy. They too couldn’t have been nicer. Dolores Fischer of Dee Lee Promotions had both there as guests..