Before his unlikely 1975 heavyweight title fight against Muhammad Ali, Chuck Wepner was the quintessential journeyman heavyweight, best known for a capacity to take spectacular punishment that had earned him the nickname “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Don King’s tagline for Ali-Wepner—“Give the White Guy a Break”—made clear it was it was supposed to be more show than fight. The finances made it clearer who was the star: Ali’s purse was $1.5 million, Wepner’s $100,000. That was still was enough to give Wepner his first ever chance to train full-time, and after eight weeks in the Catskills, the ex-marine was ready when the bell rung. He went to-to-toe with the champ all night, knocking Ali down once in the ninth and falling only 19 seconds short of going the distance.
If this story of a working-class palooka getting a once-in-a-lifetime shot against a flamboyant champ sounds awfully familiar, it’s because Wepner’s story made a deep impression on a struggling New York actor named Sylvester Stallone. “Rocky” went on to win an Academy Award and spawn five sequels. Wepner all but vanished into obscurity without so much as a royalty check to keep him company. But with the recently released ESPN documentary and a feature film in the works, “The Real Rocky” is finally getting his long-deserved close-up. In celebration, we present this replica of the t-shirt Wepner wore to train full-time for the first and last time.