Originally Posted by Duodenum
Sincerely, Chuck ultimately vindicated his title shot by stepping up to perform as well as he did against a still dangerous GOAT, who had just kayoed the most physically powerful boxing champion of all time. He certainly did far better than Daniels, Stander, LeDoux, Cobb and Cooney did in their championship bids. (No, Chuck didn't quite go the distance as Tex did with Holmes, but Tony Perez almost certainly would have stopped Holmes/Cobb. Unlike Tex, Wepner managed to win some rounds in his title shot.)
Going in, the big lure for many kids was the fact that Wepner was the largest contender of his day, but prognosticators were predicting that the Bayonne Bleeder would wind up like Henry Cooper did twice, and like Chuck himself did against Liston. While there was never any question about who would be the winner, it was impressive that Ali was able to drop him for the count as late as he did. (Wepner was down for 12 seconds before struggling up to his feet on his own. Tony Perez waved off his count at seven, but if he continued it, he would have counted Chuck out.) Foreman and Liston failed to drop Wepner with headshots, something Muhammad wouldn't have done either without Perez's call of that earlier knockdown for Chuck.
Don King in fact offered Wepner a rematch with Foreman for the title, after Chuck knocked out 37-3-2 Terry Heinke in 11 rounds, before Ali upset Big George, in anticipation of a failed challenge by Muhammad.
I don't recall any protests against Wepner getting his shot. Chuck was well liked as a gutsy performer, and a genuine regular guy who average fans could relate to. A white liquor salesman against a tee-totaling Muslim? Of course such a pairing would be promotable. It was also the requisite easy payday the public accepts of newly crowned champions.
Wepner was a proven 12 round performer (albeit in the two minute rounds of NJ Title bouts).
Wepner was the only white American heavyweight to challenge for the championship between Ron Stander and Scott LeDoux. In a country where the majority of the population is Caucasian, this was highly desirable for Don King to promote (dollar green being the only color he cares about), and Ali immediately capitalized by declaring Wepner a "Great White Hope" (failing to conceal the smile on his face as he said it). Chuck tried to generate some promotional heat by calling Ali "Clay," but then he kept calling Muhammad a "gentleman" and "Champ" to his face. All the pretenses of animosity were flagrantly good natured, and tongue in cheek, but the public was more amused than disappointed by the interplay between the two. (Even today, when they encounter each other, Ali playfully stomps on Wepner's foot.)
Looking back, Wepner was as suitable as any Caucasian-American contender could have been at the time. Ali had Jerry Quarry's number. Bobick wasn't ready yet (and never would be). Yes, Chuck may have gotten a gift decision against Terrell, but he was also screwed out of one against King Roman in PR. He'd been plugging away for eleven years, had only lost to competent opponents, and avenged two of his nine losses (to Tomasetti and Neuman) in decisive fashion.
Finally, he produced the most credible performance of any unsuccessful challenger for the title since Ali himself in the FOTC. Because of him, the fans in Cleveland got their money's worth, and that's more than many other championship opponents can say.