After a third fundraiser for the cause, “The Real Rocky” Chuck Wepner has a bronze statue coming to Bayonne to commemorate his prolific fight career.
“None of us are perfect and Chuck Wepner is Bayonne through and through,” Mayor Jimmy Davis said to applause at the 902 Brewing Co. in Jersey City last night.
“Chuck can live wherever he wants, Chuck can go do whatever he wants, he chooses Bayonne: the greatest city, right Chuck? The greatest city in the world.”
Also affectionately referred to as “The Bayonne Bleeder,” Wepner, 83, lives in boxing infamy for nearly surviving a full 15 rounds in a heavyweight title fight with Muhammed Ali in 1975, with the challenger scoring a somewhat controversial knockdown in the ninth round.
The fight was the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s massively successful “Rocky Balboa” series, which was all later detailed in the Wepner biopic “Chuck” that was released in 2016 (though didn’t premiere locally until the following year).
“Long story short, it’s been a great night, just like every night with you guys, I see the same faces … and I’m just so proud to be from the City of Bayonne, and another thing: I was also from Jersey City,” Wepner said last night.
“I lived in Jersey City for a while too while I was in the Marine Corps. That was way back in 1956, way before most of you people were even born.”
The statue, which first began being sculpted by artist Zhen Wu in 2018, is seven feet tall and Wepner hopes it will be erected at the stairway of Stephen R. Gregg Park: the steps he ran regularly when training for his showdown with Ali.
Bruce Dillin, the owner of Dillin Tire Co. and a longtime friend of Wepner, organized the three fundraisers and told HCV that they have raised the $80,000 to cover all the costs related to the statue.
He recalled that the idea of the statue started out as a joke many years ago.
“15 years ago I was being honored at a dinner and I made a joke that they were making a statue of Chuck Wepner. Everybody laughed at the joke then asked me when we doing the statue and I said ‘well it was a joke, but sure, why don’t we have a statue?,'” he recalled.
“And with the love and support of all these people, I got the money independently of any political organization, anything, we made the money ourselves, ya know? … Just the love and respect everybody has for this man: it was real easy for me to do these fundraisers.”
In an interview, Wepner said at times the project seemed like “a bottomless pit,” but he’s happy that he saw it through.
“We got the money to pay for it, we’re gonna have it here in Bayonne, hopefully in Hudson County Park in Bayonne, New Jersey: the town that I grew up in and the town that I love.”
Wepner is the second Hudson County boxer to be recognized with a statue: with the “Cinderella Man” James J. Braddock having his likeness unveiled at the North Bergen park that bears his name in September 2018.