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Rocky True Story Explained: Who Was Chuck Wepner | Screen Rant

The Rocky movies feature the titular, majorly beloved sports drama character, and the true story of boxer Chuck Wepner helped inspire Sylvester Stallone to create him - but who was he? The franchise debuted in 1976 with the simply named Rocky, and the world met the Philadelphia fighter with a signature heart of gold and undying tenacity. At first, he's a down-on-his-luck legbreaker for a local loan shark, but a slew of franchise installments follow his life as he marries Adrian (Talia Shire), has a son, and becomes a world-famous boxing icon and mentor.

In addition to a recurring "man vs. himself" type of struggle for Rocky throughout the series, his persistent, underdog nature in the ring is also a key factor. How his character is established in the first film showcases this as he trains to take on heavyweight world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in a title match. Taking the plunge to chase greatness at his passion, Rocky Balboa has to prove to both himself and the world that he's a worthy contender to take on the famous and highly-regarded Creed.

Related: Who Won The Secret Third Match Between Rocky & Apollo Creed?

Interestingly, Rocky Balboa is actually based on a real-life person: Chuck Wepner. Wepner was born in 1939, and first started fighting on the streets in Bayonne, New Jersey (an interest that would eventually earn him the nickname of "The Bayonne Bleeder," since he bled a great deal during his fights). Similar to Rocky, Wepner seems to have come from a hardscrabble background. He told the Hudson Reporter in 2007 about growing up in the Bayonne area, "This was a tough town with a lot of people from the docks and the naval base and you had to fight to survive." Wepner had a reputation for being a tough adversary in the ring, even going 41 fights without being knocked out prior to his most notable match-up, with boxing legend Muhammad Ali. It was this 1975 fight that really put Wepner on the map, especially in the eyes of Sylvester Stallone.

Similar to Rocky, most people didn't think much of Wepner while he was set to take on Ali in the title match, and the 35-year-old underdog surprised everyone by putting up an impressive fight. Though Wepner ultimately lost, he stuck the match out for 15 brutal rounds, even knocking the legendary Ali down at one point. It's easy to see the parallels between Wepner and Rocky. Stallone apparently watched the fight and was inspired by what he saw and Wepner's story leading up to it. Stallone also said of Wepner's fight with Ali during an interview featured on the Rocky DVD, "I saw a man they called the "Bayonne Bleeder," who didn't have a chance against supposedly the greatest fighting machine that ever lived." And Rocky taking on Creed in the debut movie is clearly drawn from that model.

Wepner's story is certainly inspiring for anyone, not just Sylvester Stallone. He seems to have lived a life rich with colorful experiences - from fighting on the streets, to joining the Marines (and boxing during his service, as well), to taking on world-renowned boxers like Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, and George Foreman. In the Hudson Reporter article, Wepner seemed pleased with how his life has been presented in film. He said, "That's my life up on that screen. He [Stallone] took my life and made a movie of it." And, luckily for Wepner, the movie based on his life is Rocky, one of the most beloved, "All-American" underdog stories of the last 50 years.

Next: Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Prequel Series Explained (Is It Happening?)

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