Chuck Wepner: Muhammad Ali Wanted Me to Call Him a N***** to Promote Fight
Former boxer Chuck Wepner was featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that aired Tuesday called The Real Rocky. The New Jersey native went 35-14 in his career, and he’s known for his 1975 fight against Muhammad Ali. Though Wepner lost that fight in 15 rounds, he managed one knockdown, and his performance helped inspire the Rocky character.
During the documentary, Wepner explains that Ali wanted him to go to great lengths to promote the fight. He even wanted Wepner to make a racist statement to help turn the fight into a black-white issue. Wepner recalled a promotional appearance the two made and how Ali tried to get him to make a racial comment on TV.
“We’re in the green room, and all of a sudden the door opens, and in walks Ali,” Wepner recalled. “And he says to me ‘Chuck, when we go out on stage, I want you to call me a n*****.’
“And I said, ‘jeez champ, I can’t do that. I have a lot of black friends, some of my sparring partners are black. He says ‘no, no, you gotta do this. You gotta use the n-word, you gotta call me a n*****. We gotta pump this fight up and we’re going to make it look like a racial thing.’
“Well I said ‘I don’t want to do that, I won’t do it.'”
When Wepner refused to do it, Ali did it anyway. He whispered to the TV host during the show that Wepner had called him a n*****. That led to some pushing and shoving on stage during the show, and it helped spark some excitement for an otherwise boring fight.
Even if Wepner wouldn’t play along, Ali was going to turn the fight into a racial story line. Like so much with Ali’s life, that story shows how much of an actor and showman he was. What he didn’t realize is that some people aren’t willing to permanently ruin their reputations for a little promotion. Wepner made the right decision.