It was the fight of the century: Chuck Wepner, Bayonne-born inspiration for the film character of Rocky Balboa, going toe-to-toe with Sylvester Stallone, Rocky's creator, in court.
As Wepner saw it, through six movies Stallone had mined the Jersey bruiser's exploits in the ring for box-office gold but he hadn't shared any of it with him.
For Wepner, it was nice to be known far and wide as The Real Rocky. In a suit filed in 2003, he claimed that it would be nicer still if Stallone acknowledged his inspiration with a piece of the profits from the franchise that had earned $600 million at the box office and untold millions more from video, DVD, cable and television sales.
Though the film considers evidence from both sides, The Real Rocky, Jeff Feuerzeig's sprightly account of the Wepner/Stallone grudge match, stands firmly in the corner of the palooka known as "The Bayonne Bleeder." (Wepner's propensity for geysering the red fluid from nose and mouth earned him the rep as "the man who swallowed more blood than Dracula.")
Given this figure whose opponents included Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, Andre the Giant, and Victor the Bear, Feuerzeig's documentary does double duty as a profile of Wepner and of a pursuit that deliberately blurs the line between sport and show business. Among the film's unsurprising revelations: Prior to the 1975 fight between Wepner and Ali presaging that between the film's Rocky and Apollo Creed, Ali advised Wepner to fling "the N word" at him at a press conference.
"We're gonna pump this fight up and make it look like a racial thing," recalls Wepner, quoting Ali.
The Real Rocky
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig and Mike Tollin. With Chuck Wepner. Distributed by ESPN Films.
Running time: 51 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA (violence, profanity)
Playing at: 8 p.m. Friday at the Ritz East with boxer Chuck Wepner in attendance. It will air at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPNHD.
The 50-minute documentary screens at the Philadelphia Film Festival at 8 p.m. Friday with boxer Chuck Wepner in attendance. It also will air on ESPNHD at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Contact Carrie Rickey at firstname.lastname@example.org.