Joe Frazier immortalized outside XFINITY Live!
A Sports Complex-situated statue honors a boxing legend and likely his most famous blow.
By Joseph Myers - southphillyreview.com
Joe Frazier participated in the first sporting event at the Spectrum, knocking out Tony Doyle on Oct. 17, 1967.
While Philadelphia, especially South Philly, has produced enough famous residents that it will never need to defend its reputation as a source of greatness, it has also come to adopt many individuals as its own even though their birth certificates say otherwise. South Carolina native Joe Frazier enjoyed the distinction of being a welcomed outsider and bore pride from residing in the City of Brotherly Love as he ascended the heavyweight boxing ranks. On Saturday, fans and family lauded the legend at XFINITY Live!, 1100 Pattison Ave., which hosted the unveiling of a bronze statue of the southpaw.
“I have been waiting for this for more than 40 years,” Mayor Michael Nutter said to a robust crowd. “Joe was just like Philadelphia; he took a few bumps but always rose. That’s the definition of a fighter.”
Artist Stephen Layne chose as his inspiration the famous 15th-round punch that the pugilist landed to send great rival Muhammad Ali to the canvas March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. At more than 1,200 pounds, the labor of love required 14 months, but considering that loved ones waited far longer for the revered individual to receive locally-based artistic kudos, that duration seemed like the blink of an eye.
“My father loved representing the United States and particularly Philadelphia on the global stage,” Marvis Frazier said of his patriarch, whom liver cancer claimed Nov. 7, 2011. “Thank you for acknowledging him.”
Through his eponymous promotions company, longtime friend Joe Hand spearheaded the campaign to honor “Smokin’ Joe,” with numerous individuals and entities contributing cash. Having become a confidant to the boxer in 1965, the year after his Olympic gold medal-winning efforts in Tokyo, Hand prized his deceased pal as a role model and the artwork as “an example of true triumph over adversity.”
“I was a police department detective who wanted to help to promote his career because he had so many gifts,” he said of Frazier, who held the heavyweight title from ’70 to ’73. “You wanted to be around Joe because he had a knack for weathering any storm and for encouraging people never to settle for anything but their best.”
Born in ’44, Frazier took to boxing early in life and after spending the first 15 years of his existence in the Palmetto State, he left for the East Coast, eventually settling in Philadelphia. He claimed Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship crowns from ’62 through ’64, with the final year also including his Olympic accolade. Turning professional in ’65, he would embark on a journey that would yield a 32-4-1 mark and win the praise of millions.
“He was tough but graceful,” Nutter opined. “At the height of his career, you were either a Joe Frazier fan or a Muhammad Ali fan, and no knock against Ali, but I was a member of a Joe Frazier-living household.”
Along with the aforementioned New York contest in which Frazier defeated his greatest foe to retain the world championship belt, the duo met on two more occasions, with Ali emerging the victor in both. Their interactions with each other often contained mutual displays of disrespect because of their competitive fires, but all was not negative between the two, with Ali sending a statement to mark the festive day.
“I am very happy to know that Joe is being honored and memorialized in the city he loved, something that is long overdue,” the 73-year-old icon said. “Joe was a great boxer and a worthy opponent in the ring. He always brought his best when he stepped over the ropes. This lasting tribute will help ensure Joe’s legacy lives on with each new generation.”
Former Ali business manager Gene Kilroy likewise lavished praise on the left-hander, whose Ivy Hill Cemetery gravesite he visited with Marvis and daughter Weatta Frazier-Collins earlier that day.
“In the ring, you’re taught not to see anyone as a friend,” Kilroy revealed. “However, there was no way anyone could not think of Joe as an upstanding guy no matter the context.”
Frazier-Collins noted her father would likely have said people should spend money on different endeavors but divulged she feels he “is at peace now, finally, now that he’s gotten his just reward.”
“When I think of him, I consider him the quintessential Philadelphia athlete,” former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell said. “Along with Philadelphia Eagles great Chuck Bednarik, he never quit. That’s why we’re here today. It’s to celebrate Joe Frazier Day and the lessons we can learn from always persevering.”
When Layne and Frazier family members unveiled the statue, thunderous applause filled Pattison Avenue, allowing Grays Ferry resident Ronald Masterson to liken the reaction to what he heard when watching the Frazier-Ali bout live in ’71.
“There were more people there, for sure,” he said, “but I’d say this group is more appreciative because Joe is ours forever.”