We hear a lot of criticism about the Klitschkos Brothers’ World Domination from the American media and boxing figures. One man who disagrees with that point of view is former 1970’s top 10 contender and world title challenger Chuck Wepner.
“Even though the Klitschko brothers aren’t from this country, they’re a credit to this sport. And a credit to the heavyweight division,” Wepner told me at a recent boxing function. “You never hear anything bad about them. They have the European style which is a little different. They’re both very good boxers and Wladimir, who held the title longer, they’re excellent fighters in their own right. I wish them all the luck in the world. We had a lot of problems in boxing and some bad publicity but those two guys – you’ll never hear anything bad about them. They’re both gentleman, class people.”
Wepner, like many ring observers, isn’t sure which brother is the better all around gladiator. “I’ll tell you what, you see one you see the other. Vitali has been around longer, he came back. Wladimir is the one I met over at Madison Square Garden at the Golden Gloves. Wladimir is a tough guy. They’re both very smart, both are good boxers. Why should you go in and take two to land one? Like I used to do it, if you don’t have to? They outbox people and they both hold world championships now. It’s unfortunate they can’t fight each other. I think it would be one helluva fight. But they’re brothers so I can understand that. I’m proud of them both because they do the sport of boxing proud.”
A constant criticism we hear in the boxing world is that the Klitschkos luckily benefit by reigning over an extremely weak and inept era. I ask Wepner if he subscribes to that theory – or are the Klitschkos too good for their own good?
“We had a tough era with Ali, Frazier, Norton, Foreman, Liston, Terrell, Bonavena, Quarry,” replied Wepner who boxed 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1976. “Not to seem like a blowhard or showoff or anything – I think that might have been the top era of all time. But they’re both excellent. I think they can hold their own in that era. They were very good fighters and are still very good fighters. I hope they’re around for a while because they’re good for the sport.”
Wepner met Wladimir Klitschko at Madison Square Garden a few years ago, during the finals of the Golden Gloves Boxing tournament. “I met him at Madison Square Garden. He told me he was on the plane and he saw Classic Sports and he saw a fight with Ali and who was it with but me. We had a nice conversation, he’s a very nice young man, like I said, a reeal gentleman. Both are handsome guys, they’re a credit to the sport.”
One last question for Chuck. What fight of your’s did you feel at your very best? What was your finest performance? He doesn’t hesitate to answer. “Ali. That was the best I ever felt in the ring. Going 15 rounds. It’s the only fight I ever trained for full time in my career, my entire career. I got sent to camp by Don King. The other fights I used to have to run in the morning, work in the day, train at night. It’s tough to really get on top of your game when you have to do that. For the Ali fight he sent me up to camp. I trained for seven weeks and I showed a lot of people I was better than they thought I was.”
What did Ali say to you after the fight?
“Well, you hear him at the press conference: ‘I told you that guy was a tough guy. I would never fight that guy in an alley, he was a great fighter.’ That’s why he never gave me a name (like) the Mummy. He said, ‘I respect Chuck Wepner.’ He was always a gentleman to me and he always respected me and I respect him back. I love Muhammad Ali. It was not only a great opportunity for me but a gret honor to fight him.”
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