Chuck Wepner Was the Real Boxer Who Inspired ‘Rocky’

The average person has probably heard of a few boxers. Obviously, there are greats like Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, and Mike Tyson. But one name that also may pop up is Rocky Balboa.

Obviously, he’s a fictional character from the Rocky franchise, but in reality, Rocky was actually based on a real boxer. Here’s a look at Chuck Wepner, the boxer who inspired Rocky Balboa. 

Chuck Wepner
Charles ‘Chuck’ Wepner | Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

The ‘Rocky’ story

Rocky and some of its sequels have become some of the greatest sports movies of all time. Obviously, everyone has their favorite one, but in any case, its cultural impact can’t be understated.

Even if you’ve never seen the Rocky movies, you probably have heard of or seen a version of one of the most iconic scenes in Rocky. 

The training montage in ‘Rocky’, where Balboa is jogging around Philadelphia in his gray sweats is simply iconic. The story of Rocky is the classic underdog story, and it makes the movie very memorable.

Rocky is a nobody, but through hard work and dedication, he toughs it out and proves the world wrong. He might not win in the end, and indeed, at the end of ‘Rocky,’ he loses to Apollo Creed by split decision, but he’s still a winner in his heart.

This underdog story, unsurprisingly, is based on a real story. In a stereotypical Hollywood movie, Balboa would’ve won the fight. But, since it was based on a real boxer, Balboa, like Wepner, lost. 

The Chuck Wepner story

Wepner was born in New York City in 1939 and he started boxing professionally in 1964. As NPR said, he wasn’t the best boxer, he was a brawler who just wanted to swing at his opponents. Then, in 1975, right after Ali had beaten George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali needed another fight. 

Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world, but Ali didn’t need to fight only the best boxers of the day. Like NPR said, boxing has a tradition of giving boxers easy fights as a way to make some money while the boxer avoids taking some serious damage. Wepner was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb, as he had a record of 30-9 at the time, which was good, but not great.

Ali, being the greatest, easily dominated Wepner for most of the fight. But, as NPR said, in the ninth round, Wepner landed a big shot to Ali’s body, which knocked Ali down. Very few people had ever done that to Ali, and they were usually the best boxers in the sport. Ali got up and survived, and they continued fighting until the very last round. Wepner had gone 15 rounds with Ali, but with just 19 seconds on the clock, Ali knocked Wepner out.

Wepner retired from boxing three years later, but this fought would live on forever through ‘Rocky.’

Comparing Rocky Balboa with Chuck Wepner

As NPR said, Sylvester Stallone, when he was writing ‘Rocky’, didn’t base Balboa’s story on Wepner entirely. But, Stallone was there, in the stadium, watching Wepner knock Ali down for the count. Wepner’s fight with Ali was ultimately what inspired Stallone to write ‘Rocky’ as well as the ending of the movie where Creed beats Balboa. 

That said, that’s pretty much all they have in common. Stallone admits that the fight inspired him to make the movie but the rest, including the ‘Rocky’ sequels, was all Stallone. 

In the ‘Rocky’ franchise, for example, Balboa is now a trainer and he trains Creed’s son, Adonis. In real life, Wepner cashed in on his popularity, according to NPR, and he became a liquor salesman. That said, Wepner later sued Stallone for copying his life story and they settled out of court.