The story of the struggling actor who wrote a screenplay he refused to sell unless he portrayed the lead is part of movie folklore. Rocky (1976) went on to become a worldwide hit, win the Oscar for Best Picture, spawned seven sequels (thus far), and transformed Sylvester Stallone from a bit-player into a movie star. Whereas Chuck Wepner’s bout with Muhammad Ali may have inspired Stallone to write Rocky, the boxer’s life outside of the ring is far less inspirational.
That Chuck’s fortunes will not match those of his fictional counterpart becomes immediately apparent when we are introduced to his latest opponent, a wrestling bear named Victor. From this opening scene, this biopic flashes back to touch upon an unremarkable boxing career that nevertheless sees him ranked as the best white heavyweight in America. Ali, fresh from his victory over George Foreman, decides to ‘give the white guy a chance’, thrusting Chuck into a spotlight he was ill-prepared for.
It is indicative of this film that the amount of screen time devoted to the actual bout is matched by a scene of celebratory debauchery that follows. Notwithstanding such behaviour, the movie’s most successful moments come from the depiction of Chuck’s relationships with those who care for him. Yet time and again, Chuck proves himself unworthy of their affection.
Along with actual footage of some of Chuck’s fights, this biopic also inserts scenes from the boxer's favourite movie, Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). Yet despite Chuck’s life resembling aspects of both Mountain Rivera and Rocky Balboa, and fine work by an ensemble cast, the film fails to entice us into his corner.
While he was in prison, Chuck Wepner did agree to meet Sylvester Stallone. He only became disenchanted with their relationship after visiting the actor on the set of Cop Land (1997). Wepner would later sue Stallone for using his life story as the inspiration for Rocky. The two reached an out-of-court settlement and are still on speaking terms.
Chuck Wepner’s favourite movie is Gentleman Jim (1942), not Requiem for a Heavyweight. (1962). His favourite quote from the movie, "I can lick any man in here", was worked into his audition for Rocky II (1979).