Wepner, nicknamed The Bayonne Bleeder debuted as a professional boxer in 1964, and began posting many wins and some losses. But after losing fights to George Foreman (by knockout in three) and Sonny Liston (by knockout in ten) many boxing fans thought that his days as a contender were counted.
However, after losing to Joe Bugner by a knockout in three in England, Wepner won nine of his next eleven fights, including victories over Charlie Polite and former world Heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell.
Then, in 1975, it was announced Wepner would challenge Muhammad Ali for the world's Heavyweight title. Most fans took the fight as a joke, and Ali was a heavy winner to retain the belt in the fight, held on March 24 at Cleveland. While Ali did retain the belt by a knockout in the 15th round, it wasn't that which made the sports headlines the morning after: What made the headlines was a moment in the ninth round, when Wepner reached Ali's chin with a right hand, and the champion went to the canvas. Wepner was seconds away from being the world's Heavyweight champion.
Thousands of miles away from Cleveland, a struggling actor bought himself a television set with 100 dollars he had as a birthday present, to watch the Ali-Wepner bout. After watching the fight, the actor, named Sylvester Stallone had become inspired to write the script for a Hollywood movie named Rocky. Wepner also earned the nickname The Real Life Rocky.
Wepner kept boxing until 1978, when he lost to Scott Frank by a decision in twelve and then retired.
In 1986, he ran into trouble and was arrested, going to jail for a short period of time. During the 1990s, he was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, and he has led a relatively quiet life since.
He had a record of 31 wins, 14 losses and 2 draws, with 17 knockout wins.