(CN) – Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” who went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in a fight that he says inspired the movie “Rocky,” sued a production company and producers, claiming they swiped his script to make a competing film about his life.
Wepner says he sold his life story to a production company in 2004 to make a feature film, but Aloe Entertainment, hired to raise money for the project, misappropriated his trade secrets, and now two movies may appear this summer about the colorful underdog.
Wepner’s career included losses to George Foreman and Sonny Liston, and an arrest on charges of selling forged memorabilia, but the Bayonne Bleeder is best known for the time he took Ali to 15 rounds in a title fight. Wepner knocked the champ down in the ninth round, before being routed late and losing by technical knockout in the fifteenth round.
“His dramatic 1975 fight against Muhammad Ali inspired Sylvester Stallone to write and film the Academy Award-winning film ‘Rocky,'” he says in the Feb. 22 complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Stallone has never denied the claim, and Wepner’s life bears more than a passing resemblance to the Oscar-winning film about a working-class white boxer making the most of his title shot against a flamboyant and articulate black champ.
Even 40 years after the Ali fight, Wepner is still enjoying the fruits of his fame.
In 2013, Tollin/Robbins Productions, which had bought the rights to turn Wepner’s story into a feature film, partnered with Mary Aloe and her company Aloe Entertainment to secure at least $5 million in funding to begin production, according to the complaint. Wepner says Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts and Elizabeth Moss signed on to play the leads. Then things went wrong.
Wepner says Aloe “incessantly peppered” him with “nonsensical emails,” odd requests, and side deals that “never developed into actual funding.” He says the partnership ended nearly as soon as it began.
Tollin/Robbins and Wepner were free to procure funding elsewhere, which they did, and wrapped production on the film in the fall of 2015. “The Bleeder” is to be released this summer. Tollin/Robbins is a co-plaintiff in Wepner’s lawsuit, are Nu Image and Boxer Productions.
They say that soon after “The Bleeder” wrapped, they learned of a competing film about Wepner’s life, to be called “American Brawler,” made by Aloe and her new partners.
“Comparison between the two scripts, sizzle reels, and marketing materials makes it clear that defendants used portions of all of plaintiffs’ script, budget, production schedule, sizzle reel, and other production materials to develop their own copycat film, which defendants apparently intend to release before the authorized Wepner film,” the complaint states.
Aloe had access to the proprietary and confidential materials during her brief partnership, and has misused them, Wepner says.
Wepner, 76, seek damages for breach of contract, breach of faith, breach of fiduciary duty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and intentional interference with contract and prospective economic advantage.
He says in the complaint that Aloe and her co-producers “dishonor Wepner’s legacy by stealing his last remaining asset: his life story.”
Aloe’s attorney Richard M. Rosenthal called the lawsuit baseless.
“This lawsuit is completely meritless and lacks adequate factual or legal basis,” Rosenthal told Courthouse News. “My clients intend to vigorously contest the allegations which have been made against them and to file a countersuit at the appropriate time.”
Wepner, who had a career 35-14-2 record, is represented by Lincoln Bandlow with Fox Rothschild.
Also named as defendants are producer Robert Simmons of New York City, Daniel Grodnik, Grodnik/Aloe Productions, and Massive Film Project, all of Los Angeles.
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