Is “Chuck” Rocky Balboa?
By Skip Sheffield
My late friend, mentor and surrogate father figure Hal Williams used to say “I abhor fisticuffs.”
I do too, which explains why I don’t like boxing and I was a little leery about seeing “Chuck.” The Chuck of the title is Chuck Wepner, the self-styled boxing champion of New Jersey. Chuck is played by Liev Schreiber, an actor I greatly respect. Schreiber must have packed on some pounds and got into combat shape to portray the man whose biggest claim to fame was going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.
“I can take a punch,” boasted Wepner, who was also known as “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Wepner was a semi-celebrity in New Jersey simply because he could take a beating. He was also a white man in a sport dominated by black men. That’s why he was chosen March 23, 1975 to battle heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (Pooch Hall) by his manager, Al Braverman (Ron Perlman).
What cinched Chuck’s fame was the release of the first “Rocky” film in 1976. Although he denied it, Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) modelled his underdog character of Rocky Balboa on Chuck Wepner. The people of New Jersey regarded Chuck as their hero. As so often happens, fame went to his head. Chuck, who was married to Phyllis (Elizabeth Moss) and had a loving daughter Kimberly (Sadie Sink), started messing around with other women; principally pretty bartender Linda (Naomi Watts) and snorting cocaine.
I still don’t much like boxing, but I did like “Rocky” and I am glad I got to see the back story in “Chuck.”