A Bronze statue of Chuck Wepner, the famous “Bayonne Bleeder” will soon be on its way to Bayonne.
A close friend and perhaps the biggest fan of Wepner, Bruce Dillin of Dillin Tire Company in Bayonne, has secured enough funds to bring the statue to the city following a third and final fundraiser. Dillin runs a small museum dedicated to the boxer out of the lobby of his auto repair shop.
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. As such, Dillin has been seeking to erect a statue of the boxing legend at the top of the stairs in Bayonne’s county park since 2015.
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. However, Dillin still needed the funds to have the statue cast in bronze using that mold. So he set out to raise the money himself.
Dillin has held a number of fundraisers, including a premiere of the movie “Chuck” starring Liev Schreiber and the Roast of Chuck Wepner. The proceeds of both fundraisers went toward the cost of the statue, which has since sat in a state of near-completion at a bronze foundry in Philadelphia.
Fundraiser bash at a brewery
The third and final fundraising event was held at the 902 Brewing Co. at 101 Pacific Avenue in Jersey City on April 19. While Dillin previously eyed an event in Bayonne in October of 2021, COVID-19 and other factors delayed things until now.
Many came out to support the effort to secure the Wepner statue, including Bayonne Mayor James Davis. Davis touted Wepner as being Bayonne, “through and through.”
“Chuck can live wherever he wants, do whatever he wants, and he chooses Bayonne, the greatest city in the world,” Davis said.
Wepner himself, at the young age of 83, was also there. He thanked the crowd, noting many familiar faces had been there along the way.
“I’m so proud to be from the city of Bayonne,” Wepner said.
Wepner also noted he lived in Jersey City at one point, making the event’s location more fitting.
“I’m also from Jersey City,” Wepner said. “I lived in Jersey City for a while too when I was in the Marine Corps.”
Dillin, the man who made it possible, also addressed the crowd.
“Fifteen years ago, I was being honored at a dinner and I made a joke that they were making a statue of Chuck Wepner,” Dillin said. “Everybody laughed at the joke then asked me when we were doing the statue and I said ‘Well, it was a joke, but sure, why don’t we have a statue?'”
Thanks to the event, Dillin was able to raise the last amount of the money needed.
A long time coming
After the event, in an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Dillin explained what will happen next with the statue.
“It’s from the love and respect of the people that supported this,” Dillin said. “Some of them were at every event. And some gave more than they had to give to come to an event.”
According to Dillin, many organizations donated their time and effort, such as the lighting for the event done by F&S Lighting or the DJ.
“Everbody did this for Chuck,” Dillin said. “It was unbelievable.”
According to Dillin, 902 Brewery Co. was quickly on board once Dillin brought Wepner to the brewery.
“I walked in there one day, walked up to the owner and said I want to have a party and wanted this and that,” Dillin said. “He asked me to bring Chuck Wepner there. The next day I brought him and then he agreed to do it.”
The brewing company even did a beer release in Wepner’s honor that night, with a new beer dubbed “The Real Rocky,” another nickname for Wepner. Dillin said the can featured an image of Wepner he also had commissioned, which shows Wepner in the moment when had knocked Ali down in their legendary bout.
“If you ask anybody that went to any of my events, they were overwhelming successes with entertainment you can’t match,” Dillin said. “Needless to say, I’m going to get that statue.”
Approximately $16,000 of the total $80,000 for the statue was raised. Dillin now has the funds necessary to have the job finished and bring the statue home. Wu recently went to the foundry to inspect the statue as the finishing touches are put on it.
“He critiqued them on a few things he wants changed,” Dillin said. “Then it will be ready for something called the patina. It’s the preparation of the surface to last outside.”
Installing it in the park?
Following that, the statue will finally be on its way to Bayonne. And Dillin said that the funds raised will likely cover the cost of the base of the statue and any surrounding landscaping at the park.
When it comes to putting it in Stephen Gregg Park, which is a county park, Dillin said he has not had any conversations with any county officials yet. After all his efforts, he said he’d rather wait for the county to come to him and ask.
“After all of this time I’ve been doing this for years, not one of them ever said anything to me,” Dillin said. “But that’s alright, we’re bringing this statue home.“
Ideally, Dillin wants to unveil the statue sooner than later. Wepner is getting older and it would be nice to do it while he is alive, especially as he battles cancer.
“This statue will still be there in 100 years,” Dillin said. “It will still be there and it will still be a relevant story.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.