Bruce Dillin is preparing for what he hopes is the final round in his efforts to erect a statue of boxing legend Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” at the top of the stairs of Stephen Gregg Hudson County Park.
Wepner famously boxed 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali during their heavyweight title fight in 1975 before Ali bested him with a technical knockout. Wepner’s career and fight with Ali is said to have inspired the movie series “Rocky.”
The scene from the film where Rocky runs up and down the stairs in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in preparation for the big fight is said to be inspired by Wepner. He apparently ran up and down the stairs in Stephen Gregg Park in preparation for his fight with Ali.
A years-long journey
Dillin is the owner of Dillin Tire Company and a longtime friend of Wepner. Dillin runs a small museum dedicated to the boxer out of the lobby of his auto repair shop. In 2015, he began the journey toward erecting a statue of Wepner at Bayonne’s county park.
By 2017, Dillin had found a sculptor, and he didn’t have to look far. Next door neighbor Zhen Wu agreed to sculpt the mold for the bronze statue for free as long as Dillin provided what he needed.
Dillin has held a number of fundraisers, including the Roast of Chuck Wepner and a premiere of the movie “Chuck” starring Liev Schreiber. The proceeds went toward the cost of the statue.
“I ran it at the Franks Theatre here in Bayonne and threw a Hollywood-style premiere,” Dillin said of his first fundraiser. He raised $31,000 at the event held about four years ago.
“Two years ago I ran the Dean Martin-style comedy roast of Chuck Wepner,” Dillin said. “We had a celebrity cast of speakers.” He raised $61,000 that night.
The final round
Those fundraisers brought in most of the necessary cash. Now Dillin needs to raise $18,000 to collect and finish the statue, including coloring and final touches.
Dillin contemplated borrowing money to get the job done: “I can actually get the loan under the Chuck Wepner statue from a committee, and they borrow the money under my name, which means I would ultimately be responsible.”
But Dillin will likely stick to fundraising himself, which he says he is pretty good at.
“I haven’t had a problem collecting money,” Dillin said. “I didn’t beg people for money. Nobody gave me money that I didn’t earn.”
Fundraiser slated for October?
According to Dillin, the next fundraiser will likely be in October. He is trying to secure the cruise port in an attempt to raise $50,000 in one night through a celebrity boxing event and beer tasting. That would pay the remaining funds needed for the statue in addition to help purchase a base for the statue and the surrounding landscaping.
“I haven’t had a commitment from the city or the state to help me with any funds,” Dillin said. “And I haven’t asked.”
Dillin hopes to accomplish this feat in Wepner’s lifetime. At the age of 82, Wepner’s latest fight is against cancer.
“If you go by the box office, the greatest story ever told was the ‘Rocky’ story,” Dillin said. “Chuck Wepner is undoubtedly the real ‘Rocky’ and I want his story to be remembered.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.