My favorite Muhammad Ali story was told by Chuck Wepner, a journeyman heavy weight boxer from Bayonne, New Jersey who fought and lost to Ali over 40 years ago.
Wepner, who is of German and Ukrainian descent, was nicknamed the Bayonne Bleeder for his tendency to cut easily and bleed profusely throughout his 14 year, 51 fight boxing career. He may have been a bleeder, but he was also a big, tough brawler who had beaten some of the best of his era.
Wepner's career was handicapped because he was not able to devote his full time and attention to the business of boxing. He held full-time jobs to support himself and his family and trained early in the morning and after work.
In early 1975, a promoter was found who was willing to put up the money for a fight between Wepner and then Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali. The deal contained a $100,000 guarantee for Wepner and $1.5 million for the Champ. Ali agreed and the fight took place March 24, 1975 in the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio where, at that time, the NBA Franchise Cleveland Cavaliers played.
Wepner trained diligently for the fight. He spent seven weeks in the Catskill Mountains. When he broke camp, he was in the best shape of his life. He was ready and confident. He was sure he was about to become the next Heavyweight Champion of the World.
On the day of the fight he went out and bought his wife a new nightgown and told her, "Wear this tonight because you're going to be sleeping with the Heavyweight Champion of the World."
Wepner fought the fight of his life. He knocked Ali down in the Ninth Round but the Bayonne Bleeder was simply outclassed. Ali won by a Technical Knockout in Round 15. Ali knocked Wepner down, and when he staggered to his feet at the count of seven, he was in no condition to continue. The Referee stopped the fight.
When a badly beaten Chuck Wepner got back to his hotel room that night his wife was wearing the nightgown he bought her. She looked up and, without missing a beat, said, "Is Muhammad coming down here or should I go over to his place?"
Chuck Wepner developed a warm relationship with Ali over the years. He told that story the day after Ali's death and then said, with his voice heavy with emotion, "I loved the guy."
I will post again on Wednesday July 6, 2016 or before if the news flow dictates.
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