Indeed, at six-foot-five inches tall, the man who once boxed Muhammad Ali for 15 grueling rounds in the ring looms over the landscape like a giant.
Wepner is a boxer with more than 140 amateur and professional fights and has been called a quick boxer. He managed to use this to his advantage to knock Muhammad Ali to the canvas during a 1975 fight in Cleveland.
This was a fight that caught the attention of Sylvester Stallone, who was watching the film on a closed circuit t.v. in Philadelphia and apparently believed the build-up to the fight would make a good movie - resulting in the 1976 film, "Rocky."
"That's my life up on that screen," Wepner said. "He took my life and made a movie of it."
Known as the Bayonne Bleeder, Wepner became a boxing legend when he was granted a title fight against Ali, when most people believed Wepner's career was over.
While he had already earned a reputation in the rink for not being knocked out in 41 prior professional fights and for his tendency to bleed profusely, the match against Ali gave him a crown that few other fighters could achieve: he went 15 rounds toe to toe with Ali, and managed to knock Ali down.
Now, more than 30 years after that bout, Wepner lives on immortalized in the "Rocky" movies.
Stallone went home from watching the fight and began writing the first draft of the movie "Rocky."
Although Stallone and Wepner only recently settled a lawsuit to give Wepner some of the proceeds from the films, Stallone never denied Wepner inspired him, calling what he saw that night "extraordinary."
Although Stallone claims Rocky was based on Rocky Marciano, a legendary mid-century fighter, he frequently admitted Wepner inspired his films.
In an interview included as part of the "Rocky" DVD, Stallone said, "I saw a man they called the Bayonne Bleeder, who didn't have a chance against supposedly the greatest fighting machine that ever lived."
Wepner, who still lives in Bayonne, answered a few questions about the movies and his fighting career, while getting his car repaired at Dillin's.
"Bruce (Dillin) is my man," Wepner said, crediting Dillin with helping revitalize his career and bring him the due he knew he should have from the series of movies. "Bruce is the reason why people know me today."
Learned to fight in Bayonne
Born in 1939, Wepner claimed he learned to fight on the streets of Bayonne.
"This was a tough town with a lot of people from the docks and the naval base and you had to fight to survive," he said.
Wepner was about a year old when he moved in with his grandmother on 28th Street near Kennedy Boulevard (Hudson Avenue then). He was raised by his mother and grandparents.
"We lived in a room that was a converted coal shed until I was 13," he said.
But he was always into sports, he said, his voice barely audible above the sound of auto repair.
"I played basketball for the Police Athletic League when I was very young," he said.
Faced with a future on the waterfront as a longshoreman, Wepner joined the U.S. Marines looking for other opportunities. There he learned to use his fists in a different way as a member of the boxing team. He eventually became a military champion at one of the airbases, and developed a reputation for being able to withstand other boxers' punches.
A husband and father when he got out of service, he took up work as a security guard at Western Electric. He also worked as a bouncer at local clubs.
When a civilian again, people encouraged him to get involved with the Golden Gloves in Bayonne and he eventually went into the New York Golden Gloves where he won the heavyweight championship.
He turned professional in 1964 and became a popular fighter on the Northeast's Club Boxing circuit. During the early years, he fought throughout the county, including arenas in North Bergen and Secaucus.
Some of his credits include All American Champion, National Golden Gloves Champion, New Jersey Champion, North American and National American Champion. At one point, he was ranked as eighth of world heavyweight boxers.
While most famous for his fight with Ali, Wepner said his fight against Big George Foreman was one the toughest and one of the most controversial since judges stopped the fight in the third round due to Wepner's bleeding. The judges awarded the fight to Foreman on a knock out.
Wepner fought hard-hitting champion Sonny Liston at the Jersey City Armory in 1970. Liston banged up Wepner until both eyes were closed and the fight stopped in the 10th. "At the end of the ninth round (the referees) asked how many fingers they (held) up," Wepner recalled in a quote from his Web site. "I couldn't see. I was completely blind. My manager tapped me on the back three times and I said 'three.'"
So the fight continued, despite Wepner's disability. After the Liston fight, Wepner needed more than 100 stitches to his face.
The moment that inspired the first Rocky film
After he fought and lost to George Foreman and later to Sonny Liston, many people thought his career was over. He later lost a couple of more fights adding to the belief he was through. Even Wepner thought of retiring. He later told a boxing magazine that he took some time off, but never gave up his routine-working out in the morning, working as a liquor salesman during the day, then sparring in Bayonne clubs at night. He also learned more about the defensive aspects of fighting.
He went on to win nine out of the next 11 fights he had, which included some serious contenders. Then in 1975 at the age of 35, he would challenge Ali.
Fight promoter Don King had heard about Wepner and set up the championship match.
Ali was apparently looking for an easy bout as a warm up for his next major challenger and agreed.
When asked prior to the fight, Wepner replied "I've been a survivor my whole life, and if I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali."
The fight went 15 rounds. As in the movie, Ali didn't initially take Wepner seriously, taunting him, and hoping Wepner would wear down. But half way through the fight, Ali got angry and began to battle hard. But Wepner, who had never been knocked off his feet in any prior fight, would not fall. Then in the 15th round, Ali managed to knock Wepner into the ropes, and though Wepner climbed to his feet by the count of nine, he was ruled the loser by a technical knockout.
"There's not another human being in the world that can go 15 rounds like that," the admiring Ali was later quoted.
"He was fighting Muhammad Ali who was like, you know, the perfect fighter and he (Wepner) knocked him down," Stallone said on the t.v. program "Inside the Actor's Studio." "And that validated his entire life. He didn't expect to win. He knocked him down. You can never take that away from him."
"Sly (Stallone called me about two weeks after the Ali fight and told me he was gonna make da' movie," Wepner said on his official Web site. "When da' first Rocky movie was released, I was happy. Year's later, I met Stallone and, upon meeting me, he spontaneously cheered `Hay Chuck!' I guess for the inspiration."
In the end, Wepner had a career total of 31 wins (17 by knock out), 14 losses, and two draws. He fought some of the legends of the boxing world and even worked as the sparring partner for Smokin' Joe Frazier.
A good future
While life has not been easy in the years following his boxing career, including a conviction for drug sales and time serviced in jail, Wepner has come through as a champ, living a clean life in the city of Bayonne which he loves.
Wepner has a biography in progress called "Toe to Toe with Any Foe," which tells his story from teenage on the raspy, gray streets of Bayonne in the early 1950s. A film biography is also in the works.
Wepner also lectures for schools and civic organizations, as well as a host of other personal appearances.
Although Wepner once wore a t-shirt saying "Where the hell is Bayonne" as a joke against his critics, he is very proud of living here, saying it has safe streets and a good government. But he does admit it has become a little less lively than when he grew up and had to fight for his survival.
Of course, he went to see "Rocky Balboa," the latest Rocky movie at the theater in Bayonne. While he liked it, he said, "It's not the first Rocky movie."
But the new movie has been good to Wepner, creating a renewed interest in his tale with interviews slated in many of the major media outlets.