Chuck Wepner Statue Fund-Raiser Kickoff
by Scott Yaniga
April 18, 2017
A visitor to Bruce Dillin’s tire shop in Bayonne, NJ would be excused if they thought they had walked into a shrine to professional boxing rather than a garage. The office walls and the displays they hold are chock full of fistic memorabilia, and a closer look reveals that most of the material represents the life and career of this town’s most famous practitioner of the Manly Art, Chuck Wepner.
Wepner, of course, is the fighter remembered for his gritty losing performance against Muhammad Ali in their 1975 world heavyweight championship battle in Ohio. His courage in the fight was the muse for a struggling young actor/screenwriter by the name of Sylvester Stallone. “What I saw was pretty extraordinary,” Stallone stated in an interview following the premiere of “Rocky”. “I saw a man they call the ‘Bayonne Bleeder’, who didn’t have a chance at all against the greatest fighting machine supposedly that ever lived.”
But for Dillin, a former amateur boxer and fellow Marine Corps veteran like Wepner, Chuck’s story is one that transcends boxing, and perhaps touches more on courage and redemption out of the ring, and not just within it. “It’s one man’s story of starting out at the bottom, making it to the top of the world, and then back to the bottom again. He brings himself back up to the top with the help of a good woman,” Dillin stated. “Chuck’s life is a surprising love story; a pretty exciting roller coaster ride.”
Driven not only by his friendship of over 40 years with Wepner, but also by the phenomenal retelling of the boxer’s life as seen in the soon-to-be-released Hollywood biopic “The Bleeder”, starring Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts, Dillin feels something a bit more tangible and lasting, more than a tribute on celluloid, should be dedicated to the life and times of Bayonne’s favorite fistic son. “I think people, and not just boxing fans or Chuck Wepner fans, would be inspired by the life Chuck has led. He’s faced long odds his whole life and managed to come out on top, all because of his hard work, confidence and the love of a good woman (Linda, played by Watts in the new film).”
Dillin has recently spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to have a statue of Wepner constructed and placed in the Stephen R. Gregg Hudson County Park in Bayonne. “Joe Frazier has one of him in Philly; Joe Louis has his in Detroit; and Stanley Ketchel has his in Michigan. It’s time for Chuck to have a monument celebrating his perseverance and courage. It’s not about boxing: it’s a testament to the human spirit.” The eventual placement of the sculpture is to be at the base of the 46-step staircase at the park that Wepner utilized as part of his training regimen in a pro boxing career that started in 1964, pre-dating Stallone’s pivotal assault on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s stairs in the “Rocky” franchise by quite a few years.
In coordination with the May 12th premiere of “The Bleeder” in Bayonne, Dillin is hosting a VIP dinner at the Frank Family Theater, which will include appearances by stars of the entertainment and sports world. He hopes to jump-start the fundraising process for the commissioning of the Wepner statue by soliciting $500 “Benefactors Donations” that evening, with attendees able to have the VIP dinner ticket price of $150 per person credited towards their donation.
For more information please contact Bruce Dillin at: The Chuck Wepner Statue Fund, c/o: Dillin Tire, 492 Boulevard, Bayonne, NJ 07002. Mr. Dillin may be reached at 201-436-5564 (from 8am-5pm), or at 201-957-4131 all other times.