While hometown hero Chuck Wepner is still standing tall, a mural depicting him on a building at 737 Broadway got a technical knockout.
The mural, which was put up in 2015, occupied the space from the ground to the roof of the three-story building that houses Andrew’s Restaurant on the first floor. The image appears to be adapted from a 1970s-era photo. It was installed 40 years after Wepner’s famous bout with Muhammad Ali.
The mural was painted on cloth by artists Nicholas Macchia and Nestor Uraga and attached to the wall of the building. Wepner told the press he was thrilled by the community’s tribute to him.
The mural has been painted over in a color that matches the building’s exterior.
Adam Amato, who owns Dave’s 33rd Street Automotive Repair, which faces the mural, said, “He’s a nice guy. We’re so busy, we don’t always have time to look up, but now it feels empty, all the same color.”
Amato supports Bayonne’s new art scene. “I like the art they’re doing around town,” he said, “the electrical boxes, the statues downtown.”
All in all, Amato wishes that Chuck was back on the wall. “I would have preferred that they left it up,” he said. “Now there are black smears and stains on the wall.”
Legend has it that Wepner, better known as the “Bayonne Bleeder” or “The Real Rocky,” served as the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series.
In 2016, the movie “Chuck” retread this well-worn ground. Liev Schreiber played Chuck, with Elizabeth Moss and Naomi Watts playing the women in his life.
Wepner lived near Kennedy Boulevard when he began fighting as a heavyweight in the local professional circuit in North Bergen, Secaucus, and other Hudson County locales.
In 1975, he lost in a technical knockout 19 seconds short of going the full 15-round title fight against world champion Muhammad Ali.
A year after the bout with Ali, Wepner took on professional wrestler Andre the Giant, but lost after Andre threw him out of the ring.
A little scrap
After the city of Bayonne installed the mural, one of the co-owners of the building, Mr. Shi, told the press that city employees allegedly hadn’t contacted the owners about the art installation.
Shi, who declined to provide his full name to reporters, said that he never received a request for permission to install the mural from the city, and wouldn’t have agreed to it if he had known.
Shortly after the mural was installed in 2015, Bayonne’s corporation counsel John F. Coffey told the Bayonne Community News that there was a miscommunication among city officials, Shi, and the co-owners of the building.
The property owners agreed to allow their building to serve as the home of the Wepner mural for three years. The Bayonne Urban Enterprise Zone paid them $100 per month in a license agreement which is required by a city ordinance.
While Shi granted permission through the license agreement for the mural to stay on the building for three years, the fact that the city has now restored the wall to its previous state indicates negotiations to keep the mural were off the table.
Chuck Wepner is far from the tough guy of the mural. He’s now in the fight of his life, battling cancer. “I don’t care one way or the other,” he said of the lost mural, adding that they would be “charging double to keep it up.”
Boxing in bronze
Wepner is pleased that there will be a statue in Hudson County Park. While Wepner’s image will no longer be a towering presence on Broadway, Bayonne-based artist Zhen Wu is constructing a bronze statue of Wepner in hopes of installing it at Stephen R. Gregg County Park atop the stone steps.
The 2,500-pound clay sculpture, set to be bronzed, depicts Wepner in his prime, prior to facing Ali. The muscle-bound Wepner sculpture depicts the man’s mean mug shaped by decades of scar tissue, along with proper fighting gear.
Bruce Dillin, owner of the local Dillin Tire Co. and a lifelong friend of Wepner, is still raising funds for the statue’s completion, which would cover the cost of materials.