Bayonne man spearheads effort to erect statue of NJ boxing legend that inspired ‘Rocky’
A fan of New Jersey boxing legend Chuck Wepner is spearheading an effort to have a statue of Wepner erected in a local park.
Wepner inspired the Oscar-winning film “Rocky,” and is a personal hero to New Jersey resident Bruce Dillin.
“Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I were married in Las Vegas. Chuck and Linda came to our wedding,” Dillin says.
Dillin’s tire shop in Bayonne is also a mini museum dedicated to Wepner – The Chuck Wepner Waiting Room.
“We have all the mementos,” Dillin says.
It is a memorabilia-filled shrine to the boxer and lifelong Bayonne resident whose shockingly close to victory 15-round triumphant loss to Muhammed Ali in 1975 inspired the film “Rocky.”
“In the original movie ‘Rocky,’ there was a kid on the street corner and Rocky said, ‘Hey, put the cigarette out. Go home and do your homework.’ Well I was the kid on the corner and Chuck actually did tell me to go home and do my homework,” Dillin says.
The Wepner Waiting Room is just the start of Dillin’s effort to honor his hero. Artist Wu Zhen has created a bronze statue of Wepner that Dillin hopes to have erected in a local Bayonne park.
But Dillin’s efforts are coming up short. The statue is complete and is awaiting pickup at a foundry in southern New Jersey.
“So it’s there. It’s waiting. I have it in hock right now. I need $18,000 to get it out,” he says.
Dillon's been determined to pay for the $80,000 statue privately with donations. One more round of fundraising, and he's confident the statue will be freed and the Real Rocky will have a statue in his hometown just like the fictional one has in Philadelphia.
Wepner is 82 years old and is battling cancer. But he can still bust chops like a champ.
“One more event. That’s what [Dillin] told me four events ago. By my calculations, he’s raised about $17 million off of me,” Wepner jokes.
And what does Wepner think of the statue?
“Unfortunately the face looks just like me. But what are you gonna do?” he says.
A fundraising effort for the statue was delayed by the pandemic, but Dillon says he is hoping to have something to announce soon to put them over the top.