Written by David A. Avila
Monday, 01 January 2007 19:00
“It’s finally signed,” said Richard Schaeffer, CEO for Golden Boy Promotions. “It took a while but it’s definitely going to happen.”
Barrera (63-4, 42 KOs) will meet Marquez, 33, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on March 17, 2007.
Ironically, aside from the two hailing from Mexico City, Barrera and Marquez also fought for Forum Promotions based in Los Angeles and were main events for many fight cards at the Inglewood Forum. Now they battle for Golden Boy.
When Barrera, 32, first emerged on the boxing scene he was known as the “Baby-Faced Assassin” who willingly scrapped with anyone inside the ring. Then he slowly traded his toe-to-toe style for a more rounded boxer-puncher style that used his speed and brains. His victory over Prince Naseem Hamed and two subsequent victories over Erik Morales were his crowning achievements.
“I want to fight this year then retire,” Barrera said after his last fight against Rocky Juarez.
Marquez (46-3-1, 35 KOs) arrived in California under the tutelage of Nacho Beristain, who is recognized as one of the finest boxing trainers in the world. His main pupils of classic Beristain are Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, who retired undefeated and will be inducted into the International Hall of Fame in June 2007, and Rafael Marquez, the current IBF bantamweight world titleholder and younger brother to Juan Manuel. The high guard with precision punching and excellent defense has propelled both brothers to world titles.
It was Marquez’s battle against Manny Pacquiao that gave him his greatest moment. Though knocked down three times in the first round he proceeded to give Pacquiao a boxing lesson in winning all but three rounds on the judges scorecards. He needed every one of those rounds to gain a draw. Saw people felt he beat Pacquiao.
“It’s going to be a HBO pay-per-view card,” Schaeffer said. “It’s a big enough card.”
France’s Mendy faces America’s Hanshaw
Boxing is back on television this weekend after a short respite. One great match features France’s Jean Paul Mendy, 33, an undefeated southpaw who has been Europe’s most avoided fighter, against Hanshaw. On advice from his manager Gabriel Gaide, who lives in Las Vegas, Mendy signed up for the super middleweight tournament staged by Gary Shaw Productions and Showtime. It’s proven to be an eye-opener for avid fight fans. The Frenchman can truly fight.
Hanshaw, 28, an exceptional amateur fighter, has been basically loitering in the professional ranks until this tournament let the country realize the Ohio native can really fight. He’s beaten two fighters whose combined pro records were 35-2-1.
The fight takes place in Southaven, Mississippi at the Desoto Civic Center and can be seen Friday on Showtime beginning at 11 p.m.
Anthony Peterson and his brother Lamont Peterson will be featured in another fight card that takes place in Mississippi. What are the chances of that happening in the same southern state on the same day?
Anthony Peterson faces Mexico’s Juan Humberto Garza in a 12-round bout for the WBO NABO lightweight title.
Lamont Peterson faces Juaquin Gallardo in an eight-round junior welterweight contest. Both brothers are pretty tall for their weight division and extremely fast. They are also managed by Shelly Finkel. The bouts will be aired on ESPN on Friday beginning at 6 p.m. It’s a great opportunity to see the flashy and talented Peterson brothers in action.
Israel Vazquez seeks Rafael Marquez fight
WBC junior featherweight titleholder Israel Vazquez could be facing WBA bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez in the spring. Another fighter mentioned for Vazquez has been Jhonny Gonzalez who seeks a rematch after getting stopped by Vazquez last November. Frank Espinosa, who manages Vazquez and former junior bantamweight titleholder Martin Castillo, was looking for opponents for both of his fighters.
“We definitely want Rafael Marquez, we feel that would be the best fight for the most money,” said Espinosa. “But Golden Boy Promotions wants us to fight Daniel Ponce De Leon for the minimum of money. We would rather fight Marquez for more. The fans want that fight, the media wants it and we want it.”
Castillo, who recently lost his title on the scorecards after suffering a bad gash, sustained surgery and plastic surgery to the injury-prone eye. He won’t fight until April 2007.
“They want him to go back to Japan to fight the same guy but I don’t want a tough fight. We have to see if his injured eye holds up. We want a tune-up before going to Japan,”
Espinosa said. “We’re also looking at fighting Jorge Arce in the summer.”
At one time Isidro “Chino” Garcia was seen as a possible opponent for Castillo. But the former WBO flyweight titleholder spewed some venom at his former. Bad idea. Now Espinosa won’t give him the payday.
Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga
It’s still in the rumor mill but Fernando Vargas may return to the ring to face Nicaragua’s Ricardo Mayorga. Nothing is official and no official word has been released from Main Events who promote Vargas or Don King Productions who promote Mayorga. Stay tuned.
Written by Joey Knish
Monday, 01 January 2007 19:00
I'm not sure when it became mandatory that a fighter had to come up with a moniker to go along with his birth name—assuming he even keeps the name he is born with as some do not—but at some point some fighters should just say enough is enough. How many Thai fighters have changed their names to "3K Battery" or something like that? I don't know exactly the number, but I do know that there are at least four of them on record. Fahsan 3K Battery was born Narongrit Pirang and his current claim to fame is having lost to Manny "PacMan" Pacquiao. "PacMan" fights just like the little digital man in the video game, constantly moving forward and eating up everything in its path. It works for him.
Sergei "White Wolf" Liakhovich surrendered his WBO Heavyweight title when he found out firsthand that Shannon "The Cannon" Briggs actually earned his nickname—Briggs stopped Liahkovich in the last seconds of the "White Wolf's" first title defense. Dr. Wladimir Klitschko has a doctorate degree so don't think he can use "Dr." as a nickname so much as it is a title, although there clearly are no rules in the name game, but more often he goes by "Steelhammer." Klitschko recently defended against the "Boxing Banker" Calvin Brock. Brock—surprise, surprise—actually works in a bank. "Steelhammer's" brother "Ironfist" Vitali is also a doctor. Vitali never got his rematch against Lennox Lewis who officially had the nickname of "Lion" but never used it as far as memory serves. He always was the simple, classy "Lennox Lewis," the self-crowned "Emperor of Boxing." I liked it like that.
"The Rose of Soweto" Dingaan Thobela recently retired after failing to make weight and retiring on his stool rather than come out for round ten against "Bazooka" Soon Bates in Johannesburg. Thobela was born in Soweto, an acronym for the South Western Townships of South Africa, but found his sweetness had gone stale in losing his final seven bouts which extended back to December of 2000. When I think of "The Rose" I think Bette Midler, not boxing. The movie starring Midler followed the life of a talented but exhausted singer whose life and career were controlled by her manager. Hmmm . . . maybe it does have some relevance to boxing after all.
"Bazooka" Bates shares the moniker which is also used by junior middleweight Ike Quartey, who can fire like a bazooka with 31 knockouts among 37 professional wins. Quartey's last stoppage win was last year over Carlos "El Elegante" Bojorquez. While being "elegant" can win dance contests it makes one wonder when Bojorquez assumed the name for boxing purposes. The Los Mochis Mexican started his career rather clumsily with a 4-1-3 mark and has gone 5-6-0 in recent history. One has to wonder when the "elegance" kicked in, or where it went.
There is only one "Golden Boy" when we think of boxing, but one has to wonder what Oscar De La Hoya may have used as a nickname had he not won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. Surely the "Silver Boy" or "Bronze Boy" didn't have the luster that the gold medal brought. But, technically speaking, every four years there are a bunch of young fighters who win gold medals at the Olympics, and they are "Golden Boys" too. Looking at some of the fighters on De La Hoya's record it seems that back in the day nicknames perhaps were a bit better. Hector "Macho" Camacho was a tough dude, Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker certainly put something "sweet" into the "science" of boxing. De La Hoya's more recent wins over guys like "El Lince de Parla" Javier Castillejo, who's moniker translates to "The Sharp-Sighted One from Parla" (Parla, Spain being when Castillejo was born) illustrates the possible decline of the moniker madness.
Two of the current heavyweight champions were covered above, with Oleg Maskaev and Nicolay Valuev being the other two major titleholders. WBC champ Maskaev goes by "The Big O," something that may only be understood only between he and his wife, while the "Beast from The East" Valuev is the hairy (everywhere but on his head that is) giant that rules the WBA heavyweight waters. Valuev's first defense was a TKO over Owen "What The Heck" Beck. Beck may have had trouble coming up with a name so just threw up his hands and said "what the heck" in frustration, or perhaps it was born when, coming off two losses in his past three fights before meeting Valuev, fans wondered "what the heck" he was doing getting a title shot.
Whatever the method to the madness, it does sometimes seem to be just that, madness. While Juan Lazcano, the "Hispanic Causing Panic," boasts one of the better monikers out there, too many fall short or have no reflection of the fighter. We can all appreciate heavyweight David Tua wanting to change his birth name from Mafaufau Sita, but isn't his original name simply much more . . . "original" and stylish? I think so, and whatever "Tuaman" is supposed to accomplish for David Tua outside the ring it doesn't seem to amount to much and comes up short, just as the fighter has in the ring.
In the end a meaningless moniker is just that, meaningless.
Written by Phil Woolever
Monday, 01 January 2007 19:00
De la Hoya won’t be in many annual listings for Fight or Fighter of the Year of 2006, but he enjoyed one of the boxing business’s most productive seasons in more ways than most. His promotional enterprise made significant gains with a widening stable and extended television contracts while his personal stock rose after he creamed Ricardo Mayorga.
You can tell a lot about a person sitting next to them at the fights for a little while.
If the fight game is as mental as it often appears, de la Hoya shouldn’t be an underdog against Floyd Mayweather, Jr next May.
De la Hoya was confidently relaxed, in winter vacation mode for a mid-December Golden Boy card at Desert Diamond.
What follows is a mix of interview data and off-the-wall conversation, with the distraction of a tape recorder and intervals of nonstop fan photos and hugs. Any state secrets or gossip exchanged remains hushed.
An endless stream of well-wishers would keep most people psyched comfortably, but de la Hoya seems to have discovered a personal, maturing aura of content strength.
“I think I found the formula to balance my life,” said de la Hoya. “You know, I have family, my career, promotions and businesses, all the things we do outside boxing. It’s a matter of just making time for everything. Balancing.”
De la Hoya has a lot on his pugilistic plate, including the business side of facing off with Mayweather in the New Year’s glossiest fight, plus promotional hassles like the Manny Pacquiao contract coup of rival Bob Arum with pending lawsuits.
Multitasking will change to focus on physical aspects.
“Once I start serious training two months prior to the fight, there’s no distractions whatsoever. I might do a few things here and there, but distractions are very minimal.”
Meanwhile, de la Hoya spoke on various subjects, cracked non-boxing related jokes between rounds, and got ready for Christmas shopping (“You know, my wife is so simple to shop for. I’ll probably get her some flip-flops. Down in Puerto Rico she loves flip- flops. She loves Abercrombie and Fitch cargo pants. Beside from that big, eight-karat ring I’m gonna give her, she’s very easy to shop for.”)
De la Hoya credits domestic bliss for his inner peace, but his zip code basics face change.
“When I made a pact with my wife to get married, I promised her that we would spend the first four or five years of our marriage down in Puerto Rico, because after that we’re gonna move back to California fulltime.
“I mean, imagine. I’m gonna move my wife to California, when she’s been living all her life in Puerto Rico. It’s a big move for her, so I kind of negotiated that. Now the four years have passed, and we’re gonna be moving back to California, possibly after the Mayweather fight.
“It’s been nice living in Puerto Rico. People have been very respectful, everywhere we go. People always whisper in my ear, ‘You beat Trinidad, but oh my gosh, don’t say I said anything.’”
After de la Hoya announced intentions to keep fighting beyond Mayweather, he was called out by the man who sent Trinidad into probable permanent retirement, recent Golden Boy partner Winky Wright, another of boxing’s elite.
“I think it’s a first in boxing, a fighter challenging his promoter,” chuckled de a Hoya. “Look, I’ve never shied away from any challenge. I’ve always tended to fight the best, and I think this would be no exception.
“If destiny will bring us together then so be it. I’m obviously more than willing. I have a tough job at hand May 5th and I want to take care of that and move on from there. But I’ve always been up against the best, and Winky Wright is one of the best.”
De la Hoya doesn’t have to eat leather every time he’s dealing in mega-fights, but that still doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk. The potential Pacquiao – Marco Antonio Barrera rematch is one such situation.
“Obviously, I turned promoter to do the right thing and this is no exception. We’ve done the right thing with Manny Pacquiao. We signed him to a contract, and we have a very strong, solid contract.
“The fact that Bob Arum came in and interfered, now he has to pay for it. My legal people are on it and will take care of the situation, but hopefully we can straighten it out sooner than later. Actually, I’m out of it. Richard Schaffer is dealing with that whole situation but I’m very confident that our contract will hold strong. The truth will come out and we will prevail. I’m gonna continue on being the positive face for boxing.
“Barrera – Pacquiao, that’s the fight everybody wants to watch. As a promoter that’s the fight I want to do, that’s the fight that’s necessary to keep boxing up on a level of excitement. I think Pacquiao was the Fighter of the Year. I feel that we will make that fight. Let’s hope we can do it soon.”
Maybe the smooth grind of big biz stardom makes for an appreciation of general public pleasures and distractions like slapstick comedy, classic rock or standards.
“I like movies like Meet the Folkers and comedies like that,” smiled de la Hoya. “I have an Ipod, and I’m listening to Elton John, the Beatles, and Motley Crue. I have AC/DC, the Who and Sinatra.”
Does he ever listen to his own Mexican pop CD?
“That’s collecting dust in the corner of my house somewhere.”
De la Hoya can afford to be modest. His proven talent and charisma make for A-list trappings and alpha “Man Law” endorsement jurisdiction, including political connections.
“Arnold (Schwarzenegger) is a friend of mine. I’ve been around him on occasions before and after he became Governor. He’s really trying hard to be fair and do a good job for California. He’s a lot more serious about politics since he won the election, but he’s still a funny guy.”
De la Hoya’s commentary on immigration law after the Mayorga blowout or appearance at charity events he sponsored indicates a natural politician, though he claims no interest.
Another popular entertainment figure who mentions a political future is Hall of Fame hoopster and previous fellow golfer “Sir” Charles Barkley.
“I don’t know if you could call what Charles does really playing golf, but he’s a great natural athlete and he’s always a blast to be around.”
On other entertainment, the door seemed half-open, half closed to the possibility of promoting other combat sports.
“It’s funny you know, when it started UFC was very popular. Now we’re hearing and seeing that their arenas are not filling up the way they used to before. I think that’s a sign maybe that trend is slowing down. It’s great entertainment, obviously, but boxing has been around for so long, the history of [that type] fighting will never be overshadowed.”
De la Hoya’s sense of history in facing top opponents makes even old critics admit he’s consistently performed at a level reserved for only the best.
He’s really up for Mayweather, but you could say the same thing about the Bernard Hopkins fight. The big question beside weight might be whether a relatively comparable showing for de la Hoya (as against Hopkins) means a win against Mayweather.
“I’m treating this as the biggest fight of my life,” claimed de la Hoya. “I started training already (around mid-October). I’ve done a lot of pre-camp [workouts]. The other day I ran ten miles.
“I’m still training with Floyd Mayweather Sr., but I haven’t made the final, final decision yet. I talked to him in Las Vegas (mid-November) and he looked into my eyes and told me, ‘I’ll train you to beat my son.’
“As odd as that sounds, he will do it. I’m still gathering my thoughts about it because one thing I don’t want to do is get in-between family. That’s just not in my nature.
“I have to make sure that Floyd Sr. is going to be one hundred percent with me, passionate and right there, because if he’s not I can’t afford to have him in my corner. This is my life. I have to be ready.”
While de la Hoya cites various improvements he’ll need to be properly prepared for Mayweather Jr., there’s a vibe that hints Oscar would be more than ready if the fight was tomorrow.
It’s a little bit farther down the road than that.
In the meantime, we wish for all, life is good.
Written by Michael Olajide
Monday, 01 January 2007 19:00
I reached out to Toney first because Toney I knew professionally/personally. When he played Joe Frazier in Michael Mann’s ALI, starring Will Smith, I won’t be shy in saying I made the connect to get him seen for the part... (Remember, ability without connection=no part.) That was years ago now though and time changes things—like phone numbers, for example. So I called up his promoter, Dan Goossen. I have known Dan for even longer as he was the manager of Michael Nunn when both of us were young contenders vying for the middleweight title. Upper/Mid-80’s… That seems an eternity ago, or so, to me… I remember looking at the Goossens on TV and thinking how distinctly different they looked from the boxing managers of the day... or any day for that matter. Dan himself reminded me of Peter Cetera, for those of you that knew the super-band Chicago… but they had the easygoing Beach Boy style and an LA tan on their healthy-handsome visages. You get the picture… But let’s get something straight: interviews are generally something most fighters NEVER want to do… Correction, interviews with pseudo-writers, writing for online boxing publications where you don’t get multiple pictures of yourself doling out knuckle sandwiches to the needy. It’s boring and boxing writers ask the same redundant thing… where were you born, why do you fight, what is it like to be hit, why do you want to fight him, what was your childhood like, what made you want to start fighting? But it’s not like Time magazine is going to ask something entirely different… “So Mr. Balboa, global warming is fact and I, in fact the world itself, think it pertinent, given your last fight, you give us your opinion of cold fusion and if it is even a relevant and optional energy source that will allow us to work in harmony with nature.” So needless to say, I had to come from a different angle… try to spice up the mundane.
I dreaded making that first call, then a quick thought came to mind, I have always found it beyond amusing when I hear the managers and promoters speak on behalf of their fighters like they were the ones actually doing the fighting; taking the blows (like Stoney, John Ruiz’s guy. “Yeah, when we get a hold of you…” you get my drift), so even though neither Dan Goossen (James Toney’s promoter) nor Ivaylo Gotzev (Samuel Peter’s manager) are guilty of that infraction, why not present this piece from that perspective? Don’t mind me, gotta keep it fresh.
First to bat was Dan Goossen, I told him of my idea… asked him to get in touch with his inner James Toney and answer questions as James. I asked him if he ever acted, making the mistake of thinking everyone in LA… forget it. He did humor me though.
Is there anything about Peter that scares you in this fight? Nothing scared me going into the first fight. The way I handled him… going into this fight, you can imagine where I am being in the condition I am in now. There is no way he can withstand the continual assault I will put on him. Samuel is probably thinking, what is Toney gonna be like now that he is in better shape… he’s gotta be concerned… what’s he gonna do, how can he handle me now when he couldn’t handle me at 50%? I am gonna be bigger, faster, stronger… stronger than ever… my punches will be more accurate and more frequent.
You know about Peter’s abilities… was there something he was better at than you originally thought? Nothing about Sam Peter was better or worse, only something about JT that was better or worse… compared to my condition now, I was in bad shape then… I’m in better shape today…. He can’t overcome what I am gonna put on him.
What did you think when he hit you with the double punch thing? He did that out of frustration… he couldn’t hit me… That’s a sign of a man confused.
Did you ever think you had him hurt at any point? I did have him hurt in the 6th/7th round and Peter held on… I didn’t get the chance to press, but being in real shape now, I am going to be a tougher fighter.
If you win this fight… When I win the fight…
Who do you want to fight next, Valuev or Klitchsko? This is an elimination for the WBC title that Maskaev has… but it’s hard to pick any of those guys as having a long shelf life… they may have the style in that they are tall and stuff, but I would chop a seven-footer down as easy as a six-footer. Jan 6th is the next step into my world. It’s Lights Out!
I like it… I’d say Dan knows his fighter… “Dan, wait, while I have you on the phone, I have a couple questions for you… what’s up with James’ prior level of condition? That seems to be a reccurring issue ever since he was a heavyweight… how’s that changed for this one?” “Look Michael, it’s no secret James has the ability, but with all the injuries he was suffering, he had to put rehab to the forefront and the conditioning he needed… the conditioning of an elite athlete, went to the wayside. At times his weight was astronomical for a fight…. But he was able to win on his knowledge. Rahman said he was lucky to have a Toney that wasn’t in shape, but it was the injuries… He had torn his bicep and triceps as well as his Achilles… took fights like the Ruiz fight on short notice, the remnants of the substance the doctors had given him post-surgery weren’t completely flushed out of his system and that’s why James was stripped of his win… But again, this is a completely different James Toney. That’s behind, be ready for the new James Toney.
Now for Samuel Peter: Even though I had never met him I heard he was a man of few words, but maybe we would connect on a level that he shared with stablemates, my roots in Lagos, Nigeria only being a slight detour from Akwaibom, where he was born, may lead to intriguing conversation as well. I ran into a wall as thick as the man’s chest… Not even remotely interested in conversation. After a few calls to my DKP connection, Teddy Singleton, I was at least able to get his manager Ivaylo Gotzev on the line. So on and so forth, a little less enthusiastically I basically made the same requests of him as I did of Dan Goosen.
Is there anything about Toney that scares you in this fight? Scare me? I don’t think he knows what I got this time around but I know what he’s got… all this talk about his new training methods, this Billy Blanks, it means nothing.
You know about Toney’s abilities, was there something he was even better at than you thought he would be? He is even slicker than he looks… a lot of people think he can be hit here and there, looking at him on the screen, but when you are in the ring it’s a different story… he has a very tough head to crack but I will this time.
What were you thinking going into the first fight? Basically I was thinking about pressuring him, but not enough. I didn’t put enough punches together… now I am going to throw more punches… more power to the body… and once that is done the head will die… this fight we focused on the skills and the conditioning… this is the best fight in the heavyweight division… and my 2nd chance to beat really him down.
How is this one going to be different? This time I want to go buy my Bentley so I want go in there and end it early.
Did you ever think you had him hurt at any point? I had him hurt… he held the ropes, but he’s a trickster and did what he had to, to survive.
Who in the heavyweight division do you want to fight the most after this fight? I want to fight for the heavyweight belt… WBC belt, I want it right away… Maskaev.
“Ivaylo, thanks for taking the time… if Samuel gets a moment please give him my number and have him call me, I’d appreciate it.” “No problem… sorry about this, he decided to go to the gym early. He’s working hard for this fight.” I tried to believe that one, but, I don’t know, maybe I’m just tainted by common sense. Yes, I believe he is working hard, but do I think he went to the gym early? If you believe that, then I got a bridge that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn I’d like to sell you… Ivaylo, before you go, a question, how long have you been with Sam? “Since the Olympics… I saw him, I saw raw potential and talent… you can’t forget that this is a guy with less than 20 amateur fights and only 30 pro fights. That is 50 fights total and he is rated top in the world, so he is learning on the job… This is a heavyweight that can throw 20-30 punch combinations! You are not going to believe how much better he is in this fight from the last.”
The men behind the fighters know their fighters and can talk their talk come September 6th on Showtime… We’ll see if their fighters can walk their talk.
Written by Robert Ecksel
Monday, 01 January 2007 05:39
According to the London Gazette, "The Queen has directed that the appointment of Naseem Hamed to be a Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, dated 31 December 1998, shall be cancelled and annulled and that his name shall be erased from the Register of the said Order."
Hamed's former trainer, Brendan Ingle, told the Mirror that Hamedâ€™s losing the MBE is a â€œterrible blowâ€¦ This will really upset him. He was delighted at receiving the award from the Queen. Afterwards he was so proud he used to show it to everyone.
â€œIt is really sad the way things have turned out. He was a fantastic champion." Read more at the BLOG
Written by Robert Mladinich
Sunday, 31 December 2006 19:00
Because the character was based on Wepner, who as a prohibitive underdog gave a good account of himself while unsuccessfully challenging Muhammad Ali for the title in 1975 in Cleveland, he had more reasons than most for his lack of enthusiasm about Rocky’s sixth incarnation.
In the latest film, the Rocky character, who is now 58, returns to the ring for one last stab at boxing glory. His nemesis this time around, Mason Dixon, is played by former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver.
“Of course I thought it was implausible in the beginning,” said the 67-year-old Wepner, who a few months back reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Stallone for never compensating him for being the inspiration for the Rocky character.
“But Stallone kept it real by not training like he would train to fight, but training to just give a good account of himself. He still has the ability to take a punch and keep coming forward. To his credit, Stallone didn’t try to make himself into a real fighter at his age. He knew what his limitations were and just wanted to prove something to himself.”
Two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Wepner, who was then 62, engaged in an exhibition boxing match with an old ring foe Randy Neumann. The charity bout was one of many organized by ShoBox analyst Steve Farhood to benefit the families of emergency workers who were killed at the World Trade Center.
Wepner whipped himself into the best shape he could on short notice and was intent on not looking foolish. Although always known as a consummate brawler, Wepner defied his age and quite possibly boxed better than he ever did in his heyday.
During a career that lasted from 1964-78, he compiled a record of 35-14-2 (17 KOS) against the likes of Ali, George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell. Besides his repertoire of dirty tactics, he was nicknamed the “Bayonne Bleeder” because of his propensity to bleed as if stabbed with a shank.
“That helped me understand Stallone’s motivation to recreate the character, even though he (Stallone) is pushing 60,” continued Wepner. “Life doesn’t stop at 60. Stallone felt that he had some unfinished business. He took care of that business with this movie, which is very, very good.”
Stallone has stated that he loved the Rocky character, but felt that he cheapened it with several of the sequels which transformed the fabled fighter into a cartoon character. He also frankly admitted that because his career went into a tailspin in recent years, he wanted to atone for his fall from grace with a very personal tribute to a wonderful cinematic hero while also reviving his own career with such a heartfelt movie.
Stallone couldn’t bear the thought of the Rocky legacy being devalued by the caricature it had become in the much-maligned sequels to the first film. To that end, he has succeeded.
There has been nothing but praise for the latest film, from hard-to-please critics as well as the real-life Rocky himself.
“The movie started off a little slow, but it got pretty exciting by the end,” said Wepner, who, accompanied by media crews in his hometown, viewed it on opening night at the Frank Theater on the East End of Bayonne. A photo of him at the theater was splashed across the front page of the next day’s Jersey Journal newspaper.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all,” he continued. “The first movie was a masterpiece. This one was pretty close.”
Until it was settled in September, Stallone and Wepner were engaged in litigation that had the potential to get ugly. The real-life Wepner had sued the reel-life Rocky for using his name to promote the franchise, which has generated $1 billion in revenue, without his permission for 30 years.
Wepner’s name and likeness are still used in DVD pre-logs, a fact that Stallone never denied. On a recent television broadcast, business show host Neil Cavuto jokingly told Wepner that Stallone still continues to make him famous, even more than three decades after the first “Rocky” film walked off with the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year.
Wepner said that he is glad that he and Stallone were able to settle amicably. At one deposition hearing in San Diego, he told the actor, “No offense, it’s just business.” He said that Stallone didn’t appear to take the matter personally. For that he was grateful.
“The case was a no-brainer,” said Wepner. “I’m just glad that it’s over and that we can move on.”
There is always the possibility that Wepner will soon become a movie icon in his own right.
He has led a very colorful life with enough twists, turns and excursions for several lifetimes. Talk is that both Tim Robbins, an Academy Award winner for “Mystic River,” and John C. Reilly have expressed interest in playing the lead in a feature film.
Moreover, renowned documentary filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig, who brought us the acclaimed “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” which was a portrait of the manic-depressive singer/songwriter genius, has been filming a documentary about boxing’s quintessential underdog.
Life is good for the immensely likeable Wepner, who in December was honored by the Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 8, in New York. As a guy who always sees the glass as half full versus half empty, he is eagerly looking forward to, as he always has, what the future holds for him.
“I’m like the way the Rocky character was in 1976, and the way he is now,” said Wepner, who has been employed as a liquor salesman for many years. “Both films have paralleled my life in a lot of ways. The first one was about a hungry fighter who had a dream.
“The last one was about a guy approaching 60 who still had something to prove to himself. I refuse to give in to my age. Age is just a number to me. You are as young as you feel, and right now I feel pretty good. I’ve always lived life to the fullest, but this is a really exciting part of a great life.”
One reason for his youthful exuberance is his relationship with his third wife, Linda. She jokes that he still has the heart, as well as the libido, of a teenager. They complement each other greatly and are always at each other’s side. Their marriage appears to be a match made in heaven.
When her husband was presented with a “Champion Forever” belt at Ring 8’s fiftieth anniversary Christmas bash earlier this month, Linda was gushing.
“My heart is fluttering,” she said. “It always flutters when I’m around him. Maybe it’s fluttering a little more this time because the movie just came out and he’s the real-life Rocky. I know it and now everyone in the world knows it.”