Recently, SZoner, Mike Kunda had an extended visit and great meal with Chuck Wepner. Wepner vs Ali was, of course, the fight that gave Sly the spark of inspiration that led to Rocky. Here’s how Mike describes the evening…
Thought I’d share a Rocky related story with the StalloneZone. This past July, I had a gig in Philly as “Rocky” helping a young lady with cerebral palsy achieve a check on her bucket list - to climb the Rocky steps. http://youtu.be/-rEVdAMoFZA The featured celebrity guest was Mr. Chuck Wepner, who went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali, providing the catalyst for a less than broke Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky and had a charity match with Andre The Giant. Well, Chuck and I hit it off, talking about a great many things. This began a series of phone calls at all hours, discussing life, Chuck’s amazing journey and of course, Sly.
Recently, Chuck and I and our family’s gathered at The Victors (Adrian’s) in Philadelphia for nearly six hours of great food, red wine and amazing opera. We drifted from topic to topic. I patiently waited to hear two stories – 15 rounds with Ali and fighting Andre The Giant.
I asked him who hit hardest, Ali, Foreman or Liston. (Liston by a mile)
When listening to Chuck, his respect for both men was bombastic. Chuck repeated numerous times how fond of Ali he is and how they were never mad at each other. It was always for show. He said he and Andre went to dinner to “discuss” the match. It was Chuck’s idea to be thrown out of the ring; Andre’s suggestion to end the fight was more brutal.
The conversation led to WrestleMania 13, where Chuck served as a ringside judge, his friendship with Vince McMahon and many of the WWF wrestlers; the coolest was his many talks with Jimmy “Superfly” Snooka (my wife’s favorite back in the day).
While we ate at an Opera Themed restaurant, he told us of a Soprano he knew well… Jimmy Gandolfini and the rest of his crew.
We knew it was Chuck’s birthday, so we got him a cake and had the staff Opera-sing Happy Birthday to him.
By now, we’re into our fourth of six hours at dinner. We began sharing “gig” stories, trying to make the other laugh more. It was close but I think I had him.
Now, this was my invite and I desperately wanted to show my deep pockets. While my wife was talking with Linda, Chuck’s wife, I was in the men’s room when Chuck decided to tell the manager he was to get the check… no matter what. When I heard this I walked to our table and told Chuck we had to go outside to settle the check. He suggested I “get a ladder first”. Sound familiar?
After dinner we went upstairs to the loft area where Chuck bought more wine, shared more stories including his time being detained for twenty months or so. I was riveted.
We’ve spoke about his lawsuit with Sly – “it was just business”. Chuck has Titanic respect for Sly, and truly loves him, he has from day one. He said without Ali/Rocky he’d be a different person. It was a gift that fate called on him the way it did.
He’s in pre-production with Hollywood for his life’s story – THE BLEEDER, Lev Schrieber playing Chuck. He thought I might make a good Stallone, purchasing a ticket to the fight, showing that moment when Rocky was born in Sly’s eyes. He said he’d tell the producer. What could I say to something like that? I nodded and tried not to pass out.
Craig, Zoners may have their own opinion about the man, but they can’t deny he’s had an extraordinary life.
It’s my pleasure to call him a friend.
Sounds like a very, very cool evening. Thanks for sharing it with us, Mike. – Craig