A proposed Joe Frazier statue took a huge step toward becoming reality Monday night when more than two dozen donors gave at least $1,000 each for a fundraising event that included cocktails, dinner and a screening of Smokin’ Joe’s 1971 defeat of Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden.
Frazier’s family mingled with donors and fans inside a second-floor Conversation Hall where pictures, plaques, title belts, paintings and even a bust of Frazier were on display. Servers brought hors dourves and drinks with fight-theme names to attendees at five tables.
In the middle of the room, where a podium normally sits for press conferences, stood a roughly 20-foot-tall screen on which the fight was shown with the one-time blessing of Jerry Perenchio, who promoted the Frazier/Ali battle for which he still holds exclusive footage.
Though not there, Perenchio donated $25,000 to the $150,000 cause.
Honoring Frazier posthumously
Mayor Michael Nutter, promoter Joe Hand Sr., boxing scribe Stan Hochman (who covered that fight for the Philadelphia Daily News), estate spokesman/attorney Richard Hayden and Joe’s namesake son all spoke with reverence of the man for whom the statue would be a long-overdue honor.
Hayden recounted getting a call from Nutter’s office shortly after Frazier’s Nov. 2011 passing. That’s when the idea of putting a statue along a forthcoming “Walkway of Champions” on the footprint of the former Spectrum was broached.
Cordish Co., which helms the Xfinity Live! site there, agreed and donated $25,000 to kickstart the fundraising effort.
Hand then offered vignettes about something that “wasn’t a boxing match; it was an event” for which formal wear was donned.
About a week later, Hand said Frazier told him he wanted to see the millions that he’d earned in defeating Ali, so they went to a National Penn branch on Broad Street, where a teller graciously arranged stacks of cash into piles in the vault for the champion to see.
Just an average Joe
Nutter then recounted the 2008 day in which, fresh off his first inauguration as mayor, he opened City Hall to residents. He walked to the spot in Conversation Hall where he spent hours upon hours greeting residents, including one named Joe Frazier.
“He didn’t jump in line or anything like that,” Nutter recalled. “It was one of the highlights of my political career.”
Joe Frazier Jr. then thanked everyone for helping with the ongoing fundraising effort.
“He was Smokin’ Joe in the ring and Average Joe outside of it. That’s what made him so special,” the former heavyweight champion of the world’s son said, recounting a time his dad gave a homeless man a hundred-dollar bill with a “don’t go spend that on liquor” caveat.
Friday is the deadline for seven artists to submit design proposals from which the Frazier family and others will select one. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2013 and installed at a site which draws an estimated six million passersby annually.
While exact numbers weren’t shared, Hayden noted that “thanks to tonight’s event, after the mayor and I make another call or two, we will have reached our target.”
Shortly thereafter, the lights dimmed and some of Joe Frazier’s finest moments in the ring played out before an adoring crowd.