Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chuck Wepner's Grooming Decisions

Chuck Wepner was a fairly good heavy weight fighter active in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s. He could take a very good punch, but had one major weakness: He was extremely susceptible to cuts. Since he hailed from Bayonne NJ, his nick name was the Bayonne Bleeder. Wepner managed to be philosophical about his tendency to cut. Indeed his trademark was that, whenever one of his fights was stopped on account of cuts, he would comment, “I’ve cut myself worse shaving.”

He once lost a fight to the English heavyweight Champ Joe Bugner on a ten-stitch cut near his eye. Wepner growled with the referee, “Hell, I ‘ve cut myself worse shaving.” Wepner achieved his greatest fame in 1975 when he got a shot at heavyweight champ, Muhammad Ali. It was an extraordinarily one sided bout. Ali used Wepner as a punching bag and all Wepner could do was get into a clench and hammer away at the back of Ali’s neck with rabbit punches. In the seventh round, Wepner achieved fistic immortality when he managed to land a hard right hand to Ali’s body which, combined with the fact that he was stepping on Ali’s right foot, managed to knock Ali off his feet: something which very few fighters ever accomplished.

When Wepner returned to his corner he said to his trainer (noted cutman Bill Prezant), “Hey, I knocked him down!” To which his trainer replied. “Yeah but now he looks really ticked off.” Wepner battled on gamely into the fifteenth round suffering cuts above both eyes and a broken nose when Ali knocked Wepner down. Wepner managed to regain his feet and pumped his arms in a come-hither motion to Ali. He was losing on points but had made a dramatic comeback in the final minutes. Wepner had taken a first class beating but he was still game. Nevertheless, with only fifteen seconds left in the fight, the referee stopped the contest. Ali later said of Wepner: “There is not another human being in the world that could go 15 rounds like that.”

One of the people who viewed that fight was a young actor named Sylvester Stallone who took Wepner’s story—a terribly overmatched journeyman fighter getting a shot at the world championship and putting in the effort of a lifetime—into the Rocky movie and franchise. As usual, after the fight Wepner commented about the fifteen stitches he’d taken: “I’ve cut myself worse shaving.”

A less famous Wepner bout saw the Bayonne Bleeder take on the former heavy weight champ Sonny Liston in 1970 in what proved to be Liston’s last fight. Liston was old and slow, but Wepner was none too mobile himself and Liston’s fists remained lethal. Wepner took a terrible beating but kept coming back for more. I recently read that Wepner suffered a broken nose, broken cheekbone, and suffered six different cuts that required a total of seventy stitches.

At the end of the eighth round, Wepner face was so bloody that the apocryphal story has the referee holding up three fingers in front of Wepner and asking, “How many fingers am I holding up?” Wepner replied, “How many guesses do I get?” Wepner’s cornerman then helpfully tapped him on the shoulder three times. Wepner said three, and the bout continued.

The referee finally stopped the bout in the ninth round. Afterwards, the reporter asked Liston if Wepner was the gutsiest man he’d ever seen. Liston replied, “No, but his manager sure was.”

I do not know if Chuck Wepner employed his usual tagline after the Liston fight, but if I’d been there, and had heard Wepner say “I’ve cut myself worse shaving,” I would certainly have said, “Dude, grow yourself a beard.”

1 comment:

Who am I said...

I'm really interested in your photo of Wepner stepping on Ali's foot, i work for a production company called Triple Threat TV and If you can write me back and let know where you acquired that photo i'd really appreciate it, we're doing a documentary on Chuck Wepner and this photo could be very helpful.
My name is Corey O'Brien and can be contacted at cobrien@triplethreattv.com