Even a great movie or TV show isn't above throwing in one ridiculous, larger-than-life character who almost ruins any element of realism in the plot. The genius who's too smart, the hero who's too cool, the rebel who breaks the rules but somehow never gets punished for it.
Hey, you know where else you find ridiculous characters like that? Real life.
The Ridiculous Premise
We're so used to Sylvester Stallone playing sneering, invincible killing machines that we forget that the whole point of Rocky was that the guy was a vulnerable, everyday schlub who worked odd jobs because he stunk at boxing. Hell, half of you reading this probably only saw the sequels and don't even realize the original Rocky ended with him losing the match.
Despite punching so much meat
No, the inspirational -- and laughably unrealistic -- part of the story was that this Philadelphia doofus and part-time boxer somehow got a shot at the flamboyant world champ, knocked him down, then went toe-to-toe for the duration of the fight, taking the best the champ could dish out. At the end, Rocky's face is a swollen, bloody mess, but he hangs tough and for one night proved he could hang with the best.
The real guy's name was Chuck Wepner. In 1975 he was a liquor salesman in New Jersey by day, boxer by night. And he got the same deal as Rocky. A lottery ticket of a fight that, if he won, would make him the champion of the world. It was considered such a big deal at the time that Wepner made the cover of Sports Illustrated, despite the fact that he looked like this:
"Take some of the light off his face? Or maybe throw a bag over it?"
Remember how by the end of his climactic fights, Rocky's face always looked like an animal you've never seen before had been run over by a truck? And the unrealistic amounts of blood leaping off of Rocky's face in slow motion every time he got punched? Wepner's boxing nickname was "The Bayonne Bleeder" because his face would spurt blood pretty much the moment a boxing glove touched it (Wepner had more than 300 stitches in his face -- he was apparently not the most elusive boxer of his era).
Instead of Apollo Creed, Wepner simply had to face one of the best boxers in the history of human civilization - Muhammad Ali. The champ wanted an easy fight as a warm-up to a real match later, so we're guessing he was looking at a list and picking between "The Bayonne Bleeder" and a guy named "Brittle Ribs Ranalli." Ali and Wepner would split the purse 94% to 6% in Ali's favor.
Just as in Rocky, Ali toyed with Wepner early on and just as in the film, Wepner knocked Ali down, shocking the boxing world.
And seriously, look at the guy
Ali got up, and spent the rest of the fight using Wepner's face as a speed bag. But just like Rocky, Wepner would not go down. Finally, in the 15th and final round, the refs stopped the fight. Wepner's face looked worse than Rocky's -- he'd need 23 stitches after it was over. But he stayed on his feet.
A young Sylvester Stallone watched that match on TV, and immediately pounded out the screenplay for Rocky, spawning an Academy award-winning film, five sequels and an entire generation of scrappy underdog protagonists in sports movies. Wepner would live on in obscurity, only capturing the public eye when he emerged from retirement years later to fight a Soviet superman and single-handedly end the cold war.