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With funds raised and sculptor selected, a Joe Frazier statue will finally come to Philly

Philadelphia’s fictional-boxer statue will cease being the city’s sole monument to pugilism next spring.

On Wednesday night, the City announced that $160,000 had been raised to fund, and a sculptor selected to create, the long-awaited statue honoring hometown non-fictional boxing legend Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

Eight artists were selected to submit proposals for the statue which will be erected outside XFinity Live in South Philly’s stadium district.

A panel that included several of Frazier’s family members selected the work of Lawrence J. Nowlan, an Overbrook native who created the Harry Kalas Memorial Statue at Citizens Bank Park.

Artist explains his vision

Nowlan lauded the other proposals and told NewsWorks on Thursday that the announcement was humbling considering his admiration of Frazier, who died of liver cancer in 2011.

Words, he said, cannot capture the “gravity and meaning” this project personally holds.

“I was born and raised in Philly, so this is a dream job,” said Nowlan, whose proposal “was based on how I feel about Joe Frazier, and Joe Frazier as a fighter.”

When studying fight film of Frazier, Nowlan honed in on the sight of Smokin’ Joe victimizing Muhammad Ali with a left hook in their first of three legendary fights.

“He stalked you down in the ring, and then he’d throw that left hook,” Nowlan explained. “I didn’t want a posed picture, like you’d see on a baseball card. I didn’t feel that’d be appropriate for me, or anybody, to make up a pose.

“We have all these great fights to watch, and I’d seen them a million times, but that great image from the first Ali fight, when Ali’s about a foot off the canvas, Joe’s right hand is cocked back, he’s on his toes, looking. That’s the Joe Frazier I know and loved, the one who came out of the corner like a pitbull. That image encapsulates his power.”

Frazier’s son happy with selection

To be sure, the Frazier statue announcement was a long time coming, with boxing fans and Philadelphians alike wondering why the city’s tribute to fictional-boxer Rocky Balboa drew crowds while no such monument existed for Smokin’ Joe.

In the City’s announcement, Mayor Michael Nutter said, “I look forward to the finished product. Smokin’ Joe is one of Philadelphia’s great sports icons and deserves to be memorialized this way.”

Frazier’s youngest son Derek agreed, and said that he was thankful to all who donated and rallied behind the cause.

“I love it and I know [Nowlan] is going to do a good job. The family’s really happy. It’s exactly what we needed,” Derek Frazier said. “He’s deserved it for a very long time, and now we’re finally doing it.”

He said that now he’ll have something tangible to show people when they ask about his father besides Joe Frazier’s Gym on North Broad Street, a facility for which there’s a push to protect as a historic monument.

“He’d be excited and happy, but speechless. He wouldn’t know what to say,” Derek Frazier said of how his father would react to the announcement.

“I’ll probably be down there all the time,” he continued. “His fans reach out to us all the time and no matter what, we answer them, because that’s what my dad would have done. I love hearing the memories. Just the other day, a guy was telling me that he stopped in the middle of the street to teach him how to throw a hook. I asked if he was holding up traffic. He was. Yep, that was my dad, stopping anywhere to talk to someone.”

The financial particulars

When the City announced the Xfinity location was set last September, a call was also put out for donations from the public. At that point, $150,000 was the estimated cost for the statue’s creation and upkeep.

That day, Xfinity and the Cordish Co. immediately cut a $25,000 check to get fundraising started, an effort that continued with a City Hall dinner and screening of Ali/Frazier.

Among the donors who helped the Frazier Statue effort surpass its goal were the Cordish Family ($70,000), boxing promoter Joe Hand Sr. and family ($27,000), legendary Philadelphia boxer Bernard Hopkins and Golden Boy Promotions ($25,000) and promoter Jerry Perenchio ($25,000).

“Back in March 2012, I pledged that a statue would get built so I’m very happy to hear about the progress it has made with the help of Mayor Nutter and the city,” Hand said. “Joe never complained or spoke out about not having a statue, but it bothered me. It’s about time we honored him. Joe deserves it. Philadelphia should be very proud of him.”

Nowlan said he’ll now get to work on the statue, which will need Philadelphia Art Commission approval before arriving in South Philadelphia sometime in the spring of 2014.

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