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LIer pens movie about the real-life boxer who was the inspiration for 'Rocky'

Zach MacGowen as Chuck Wepner in a scene

Zach MacGowen as Chuck Wepner in a scene from Vertical Entertainment's " The Brawler." Credit: Vertical Entertainment

The newly released sports drama “The Brawler” may be set in New Jersey, but co-writer Robert DiBella happens to be from Long Island.

“The Brawler” tells the story of Chuck Wepner, the real-life inspiration for the film “Rocky.” Wepner, a former Marine and military boxer known for his ability to take just about any punch, was a little-known heavyweight living in Bayonne, New Jersey, when Muhammad Ali unexpectedly picked him for a 1975 championship title fight. Wepner surprised onlookers -- and perhaps Ali himself -- by going 15 rounds, knocking the champ down once and losing by technical knockout in the final seconds of the fight. In “The Brawler,” written by DiBella and Ken Kushner, Wepner is played by Zach McGowan (of the television series “Black Sails”). The boxer was also the subject of the 2016 feature "Chuck," which starred Liev Schreiber in the title role.

DiBella, 28, a native and current resident of Mineola, works as a social studies teacher at Bronx Health Sciences High School. He’s been writing plays and scripts, though, since his days at Rockville Centre’s Molloy College, where a drama professor encouraged him to pursue his passion. “The Brawler,” which DiBella began working on in 2015, marks his first produced feature screenplay.

“I really like biopics,” DiBella says. “And I teach history so I like anything historical. Those are the kinds of movies I really want to do.”

DiBella is working on other scripts -- both film and television -- and collaborating on a possible project with Kristin Beck, the trangsgender former Navy SEAL. DiBella is also back in college, pursuing an advanced teaching degree.

“Well, what I want to be is a renowned screenwriter,” DiBella says with a laugh. “But I’m also getting my master’s in special ed  -- you know, whichever comes first.”

“The Brawler” premieres at the Kent Theater in Brooklyn and on iTunes on Friday, Jan. 18.

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