When he took the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church pulpit at Joe Frazier’s “Homegoing Ceremony” last November, Rev. Jesse Jackson roared a message that made the thousands in attendance jump to their feet.
“Tell them Rocky was fictitious. Joe was reality,” he preached. “Rocky’s fists are frozen in stone. Joe’s fists were smokin’. Rocky never faced Ali or Holmes or Norton or Foreman. Rocky never tasted his own blood . . . Joe Frazier deserves a statue in downtown Philadelphia.”
More than 10 months later, and after years and years of griping that Philadelphia honors a movie boxer as opposed to a real-life hero of the sweet science, that plea took a tangible, ceremonial step toward becoming reality.
Announcement drew family, friends, fans
Nearly a dozen Frazier relatives joined Mayor Michael Nutter outside City Hall, with North Broad Street as a backdrop, to announce a site had been selected for a statue to honor the late hometown hero who represented “the true spirit of this great city.”
The caveat to the sculpture being placed on land where the Spectrum once stood was money.
Nutter, who said the statue would be “a fitting tribute to a true Philadelphia icon,” urged Frazier fans to donate via the FrazierStatue.com fundraising site with a goal of $150,000 to cover the statue itself and preservation upkeep.
That number dropped by $25,000 courtesy of a check from Xfinity Live — the entertainment complex outside of which the statue would stand — which was presented at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
While no city capital dollars have been set aside for the fundraising drive, Nutter told NewsWorks that “I expect to [personally contribute], but don’t know what it’ll be.”
Design bids have not yet gone out, according to Renae Frazier-Martin, daughter of the former heavyweight champion of the world who died on Nov. 7, 2011 after a brief battle with liver cancer.
A committee will collaborate with the Frazier family to decide upon a final design for the statue. The targeted completion date is before the end of 2013.
While it wasn’t a statue unveiling, the announcement brought the city one step closer to what many consider a long-overdue honor.
Nutter, who recalled his father taking him to fights at the historic Blue Horizon on North Broad Street and at the since-demolished Spectrum, started the event by saying, “This is very personal for me” and spoke in awe of Frazier’s legendary left hook.
“Joe Frazier represented all that is good about the sweet science, sport and, most importantly, about humanity,” he said, roughly 30 blocks south of the North Broad Street gym in which Frazier trained himself and fighters who aspired to be like the guy who once floored Muhammad Ali.
On a few occasions, “Frazier got knocked down, but he always, always, always got back up. No matter what,” said Nutter, drawing an analogy to the city’s resilience.
His admiration went beyond the ring.
“Smokin’ Joe carried himself with great dignity. … He gave and gave and gave so much to our city,” Nutter said. “He was always ready with a quick smile. Sometimes, he’d even tip his hat to you. Joe Frazier truly deserves this recognition. We need fans to show their support.”
Family reacts to news
In addition to his daughter, Frazier’s sons Brandon and Derek stood behind the podium, the former presenting Nutter with a T-shirt.
Frazier-Martin spoke about her father’s love of Philadelphia, and how he was known to pull his Cadillac over and provide “roadside assistance” if he saw a fellow motorist in need of help. The statue “belongs to all of us,” said Frazier-Martin, who drove by Xfinity Live for the first time Wednesday and approved of the selected site.
Brandon Frazier said the news was so welcomed because he knew his father had long deserved, and wanted to be commemorated with, a statue.That he died before it became a near-reality wasn’t that much of a downer because “he finally got it,” Brandon said.
Derek Frazier, Joe’s youngest son, concurred that it was exciting news.
“My father gave a lot to the city, and they’re going to give something back to him,” he said. “This is something that the city needs, to honor a real boxer who did real things. It’s nice to see this finally happening.”