NEWARK, N.J. – Former heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner (search) won the first round of his legal dispute against Sylvester Stallone (search), although the actor managed to score some points with the judge.
U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden denied Stallone's bid to dismiss the lawsuit, permitting a trial on one of Wepner's claims: that Stallone inappropriately used Wepner's name to promote his "Rocky" (search) movies.
But Hayden knocked out Wepner's two other claims: that Stallone was unjustly enriched by trading on Wepner's life story and that Wepner suffered by relying on Stallone's promises.
"For us, it's 100 percent victory, since those two claims were tenuous at best," Wepner lawyer Anthony G. Mango said Tuesday.
Stallone lawyer Jon Paul Robbins declined to comment. "We're not going to litigate this in the press," he said.
Hayden did not schedule a trial date, but said that lawyers should begin exchanging documents and taking depositions, including those of Stallone and Wepner, Mango said.
The judge, in a 12-page ruling signed Monday, also denied Stallone's effort to exclude any conduct that happened after Nov. 12, 1997. Stallone argued that a six-year statute of limitations should apply, dating back from when the lawsuit was filed in November.
Wepner countered that the misappropriation of his name was continuous and thus not subject to the statute. The judge noted Wepner charged Stallone used Wepner's name to promote "Rocky," its four sequels and products associated with the films.
Wepner was a New Jersey club fighter nicknamed "The Bayonne Bleeder" (search) for the damage he was prone to receive even while winning. He was plucked from obscurity by boxing promoter Don King (search), and gained notice in 1975 in a punishing 15-round loss to Muhammad Ali.
"Rocky," which won the 1976 Academy Award for best picture, was the story of a down-and-out club fighter from Philadelphia who got a longshot chance at boxing's heavyweight title when reigning champ Apollo Creed was looking for a patsy for his Bicentennial fight. Stallone played Rocky Balboa, who nearly dethroned the champ.
"Wepner contends, and Stallone does not contest, that the main character, Rocky Balboa, was based on Wepner and the plot of the first movie was inspired on the 1975 fight," the judge wrote.
The lawsuit claimed that Stallone made several promises to Wepner that he would be financially compensated over the years, but no payments were made.
The judge, however, found that Wepner could identify no specific agreements relating to the use of his name to promote the films, that that the facts in the lawsuit "fail to support the allegation that Wepner expected payment for the use of his name in marketing."
Wepner, 65, lives in Bayonne, and works as a liquor salesman. Stallone lives in California.
The Ali fight came about somewhat by chance.
After Wepner knocked out Terry Henke in the 11th round of a 1974 fight in Salt Lake City, Utah, King offered him a title shot against George Foreman (search), who was the reigning heavyweight champ. But when Ali defeated Foreman, Wepner got the match with Ali.
On March 24, 1975, the two fought in Richfield, Ohio, and Wepner knocked Ali down in the ninth round. Ali eventually scored a 15th-round technical knockout of Wepner with 19 seconds remaining.