Plan for Smokin’ Joe Frazier statue wins approval

The Philadelphia Arts Commission has approved a plan for a statue memorializing boxer Joe Frazier, which will stand near the sports complex in South Philadelphia.

“Smokin’ Joe” lived in Philadelphia as he rose to become one of the greatest heavyweight boxers ever. He died here in 2011.

The developers of XFINITY Live, a retail and restaurant attraction near the stadiums, asked Philadelphia  sculptor Stephen Layne to create a prototype.

The artist chose to portray Frazier as he looked during his 1971 victory in the “fight of the century,” moments after he knocked down Muhammad Ali for the win.

The pose evokes both the physical brutality of the sport, and Frazier’s sportsmanship.

“He was a very noble man who was a great figure in the community for many years. The sport — you can’t get around it, it’s a very brutal sport,” said Layne outside the arts commission chambers.

“I chose that pivotal point in his career when he knocks down Ali. One of the noble things about that — and about him and his character — in the instant he did that he instantly stood up and walked back to his corner, as though it was just a job to do,” Layne said. “That really was his attitude toward boxing, getting the job done.”

That attitude contrasted with Ali’s flamboyant victory dances, which he performed in the ring.

Layne was the second choice to sculpt the piece. The first — Lawrence Nowlan, the creator of the Harry Kalas statue already in place at Citizens Bank Park — died suddenly last summer. Both artists chose a pose from Frazier’s victorious fight over Ali.

The Frazier statue will cost XFINITY Live! $150,000. The oversized 9-foot figure will stand atop a 3-foot base.

“That makes it huge but not inaccessible,” said Layne. “I would like fans to able to get close and take pictures around the piece, have kids come by and sit around the base.”

The final sculpture, to be cast in bronze at an artist forge in Fishtown, is expected to be finished late next year.

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