The Bleeder is the true-life story of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber). Sometimes life is like a movie. Sometimes is better.

The Bleeder is the true-life story of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), a liquor salesman from New Jersey, who went 15 rounds in the stunning 1975 heavyweight world championship against the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali.

In his ten years as a boxer, Wepner endured eight broken noses, 14 losses, two knockouts, a total of 313 stitches, and ultimately inspired the billion-dollar Rocky franchise. But his toughest fights were outside the ring – living an epic life of booze, drugs, wild women, incredible highs and extraordinary lows.

The Bleeder is directed by Philippe Falardeau, the acclaimed helmer of The Good Lie and the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar, and stars Liev Schreiber as Chuck Wepner; Elisabeth Moss as Phyllis, Wepner’s first wife; Ron Perlman as Al Braverman, the manager-trainer who guided Wepner to his unlikely title fight with Muhammad Ali; and Naomi Watts as Linda, Wepner’s salvation – the woman who caught his fall.

The film also stars Jim Gaffigan as John Stoehr, Wepner’s loyal best friend who lived vicariously through the fighter; Michael Rappaport as John, Wepner’s estranged brother; and Pooch Hall as iconic heavyweight world champion Muhammad Ali. Morgan Spector portrays Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the screenplay for 1976’s Rocky soon after the Wepner-Ali fight, garnering a total of ten Oscar nominations, with three wins, including Best Picture. Stallone might have penned Rocky, but in the mind of Wepner, and in the eyes of many others – he was Rocky.

It was 1974, and Chuck Wepner was the heavyweight champion of New Jersey. When he wasn’t in the ring, Wepner sold liquor on the mean streets of Jersey – and sometimes Chuck’s unique skill set with his fists proved useful for a little work on the side to pick up extra cash.

Known as the Bayonne Bleeder – being a competitive fighter at this level wasn’t quite what you’d call ‘glamorous’, but everyone has a dream, and Chuck’s was to get a shot at the title. As a boxer, Wepner wasn’t exactly known for his big punch, but more so for his spirit, big heart, and his tenacity to withstand a beating and come back for more. He was once pummeled so badly by Sonny Liston that he suffered a broken nose and cheekbone, ultimately taking a total of 120 stitches to put him back together, and leaving him mulling retirement. However, Wepner quickly recovered and got back in the ring.

The only thing more frightening than not getting what you want is actually getting it. After racking up an impressive string of eight wins, Wepner rose from obscurity and got his big shot to fight against Ali. He was determined to go the distance.

Having been the underdog, for the first time in his career Wepner was paid enough to train full- time. To everyone’s surprise, he became the first man in boxing history to knock Ali to the canvas while he was defending the title. Enraged, Ali rose to his feet and pummeled Wepner unmercifully, ending the fight 19 seconds into the 15th round.

While Wepner and Ali went glove to glove in Cleveland on that historical evening, a hungry young actor named Sylvester Stallone watched the fight on closed circuit TV, and inspiringly wrote a screenplay about a nobody boxer named Rocky Balboa, who receives a million-to-one opportunity to fight for the heavyweight title.

Chuck initially thought he was famous after surviving 15 rounds with Ali, but that was nothing compared to when Rocky came out. Wepner quickly attained genuine hero status as the real-life inspiration for Stallone’s script. Wepner was anointed King of the Jersey shore and was just as big of a star as if he had knocked out Ali.

However, just when Wepner thought he was invincible, life set him up for the ultimate K.O. The aftermath of that fight triggered a series of events and numerous legal struggles that led to Wepner grasping to stay in the limelight. Ultimately, these obstacles led to sobriety and redemption after serving five years in prison for cocaine possession. After doing his time, Chuck found something, or rather someone more important – his second wife, Linda, who was there to catch his fall and help him get back on his feet.

The story behind the making of the Bleeder

Mike Tollin and Jeff Feuerzeig acquired the rights to Wepner’s life story a decade ago and soon after, Schreiber was approached about the project: “A few years ago, Mike Tollin, brought me the documentary film about Chuck Wepner that they had made with Jeff Feuerzeig called The Real Rocky, which ESPN aired in 2011.” Actor/producer Schreiber shared, “They told me that they wanted to develop that documentary into a movie script. I loved the story, and I love boxing, so I told Mike that I was willing to see how things would develop.”

Liev Schreiber, a lifelong aficionado of the ‘sweet science’, realized his dream of playing Wepner, the New Jersey liquor salesman and heavyweight fighter who, at age 35, got a chance to fight Muhammad Ali right after he had shocked the world by regaining his title against a seemingly invincible George Foreman in ‘The Rumble in The Jungle’ in Zaire.

The Bleeder is as much about Wepner trying to deal with sudden fame as the ultimate underdog as it is about that epic fight 40 years ago when a journeyman brawler, against all odds, shocked the world. “It wasn’t just a straight ahead fight film,” Schreiber elaborates on what the exact story elements were that attracted him to the material. “I think that there’s a theme in a lot of boxing movies about people who come from violent pasts or who are angry at the world, and here we have a man with a genuine sweetness to him. That sort of character really intrigued me.”

“This is not a boxing movie, per se. It’s a rise and fall story and redemption story. It defies our expectations,” says producer Lati Grobman.