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9-foot Joe Frazier statue rising in Philadelphia

'Smokin' Joe' Frazier Statue Rising in Philly


By KATHY MATHESON

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Busloads of tourists line up every day in Philadelphia to take photos with a statue of Rocky Balboa, the fictional heavyweight fighter made famous by Sylvester Stallone.

Will they line up for pictures with a sculpture of real hometown champion Joe Frazier?

"Properly promoted, I think it would be much, much bigger than Rocky," said Robin Hazel, who was visiting the city recently from Ottawa, Canada. "Rocky is great, it's a movie. But Joe Frazier's real. And he's Philadelphia."

Artist Stephen Layne is finishing up a 9-foot-tall clay version of "Smokin' Joe" that captures Philly's local hero in mid-punch. Frazier became the first fighter to beat Muhammad Ali when he outslugged "The Greatest" for the heavyweight title in 1971.

The effort to memorialize Frazier, first announced two years ago, was almost knocked out by fundraising problems and the sudden death of the original sculptor. Layne, 46, won the commission the second time around and began working in March.

Steering clear of the victorious, raised arms stance of the Rocky statue - which was originally a prop in "Rocky III" - Layne instead found his spark in a photo of Frazier flooring Ali with his powerful left hook. The moment captured in the sculpture reflects the work ethic of Frazier and the city he called home, said Layne.

"That pose of glory ... the Rocky pose, I don't think that's quite the vibe of Philadelphia," Layne said while working in his studio in the Fishtown neighborhood.

Layne, who was raised here, both attended and taught at the city's esteemed Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He said he felt drawn to the Frazier project because of the shared Philadelphia connection and a sense that artists, too, must be fighters to survive in their field.

"It was so obvious that (Frazier) was completely willing to get beat up ... so that he could achieve what he wanted," Layne said. "And I thought that was just an inspirational thing to watch."

Frazier won the 1964 Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and later finished with a professional record of 32-4-1, with 27 knockouts. Two of the losses were epic rematches with Ali, including the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975.

When Frazier died of liver cancer three years ago at age 67, his place had long been cemented in sports history. Still, a public fundraising campaign for his memorial generated few contributions, so four major donors ponied up most of the $160,000 needed for the statue and its maintenance fund.

Two of Frazier's daughters, Weatta Collins and Renae Martin, said they are thrilled with Layne's work, noting the artist has been receptive to feedback from family members as the piece progressed.

"It's really long overdue," Collins said. "We're very happy that it's finally being done."

Layne plans to finish the clay work by the end of September. The statue will then go through a molding process before being cast in bronze and installed at Xfinity Live, an entertainment complex by the city's three sports stadiums. Frazier fought near the site at the now-demolished Spectrum.

The unveiling of the 1,800-pound likeness is expected next spring, probably in April, said Richard Hayden, an attorney for Xfinity Live.

The sculpture's location will be off the beaten path for visitors - about five miles south of the Rocky statue, which stands by the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps that Stallone famously ran up. Collins said her family is working with tourism officials to ensure sightseeing maps include the Frazier memorial.

Arnaud du Croix, of Veenendaal, the Netherlands, took a picture with Rocky recently because the movies were "part of my youth." He questioned how many foreign tourists would recognize Frazier's name, though as a boxing fan he enthusiastically supports the Smokin' Joe tribute.

"It's a bit silly to have a statue of someone that was never a professional boxer," du Croix said of Rocky. "It made the city of Philadelphia very famous, but they should have a statue of a great boxer - of Joe Frazier."

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Micheal Lombardo September 02 2014 at 1:34 PM

The REAL ROCKY statue is in Brockton, MA. A tribute to the only undefeated heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano.
The statue is said to be largest of its kind. It was dedicated on September 23, 2012 and is adjacent to the Marciano Stadium at Brockton High School.

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darkcloudstonite September 02 2014 at 9:26 PM

Rocky would have destroyed Frazier in a fight. Why do I think that ? Because Rocky is all about having the heart of a champion. He never gave up dammit and I'm not too proud to say that Im typing this with tears streaming down my face

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stevendy1 September 02 2014 at 1:29 PM

anything is better than that racist" fist" in downtown DETROIT..what a disgusting thing to see upon entering the downtown area..put it over in front of the same named arena which is scheduled to be torn down.. a sad reminder of the failed policies of former mayor and head racist coleman young..give detroit the " rocky " statue instead...

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masterrob7 September 03 2014 at 7:21 AM

I liked the Rocky movies and his statue. Dont really care for the Joe Frazier statue. For those who said I dont like the Rocky movies and he is a terrible actor...I bet you saw all his movies then and now and he is living alot sweeter then you. Meaning rich $$

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mouse September 02 2014 at 5:09 PM

I knew and spent some time with Smokin Joe but he did have his demons before and after his boxing career. We was however a gentleman, accomplished and never above anybody he spoke too! There is room in the city for both Iconic figures. His likeness should be on Broad Street where he founded his gym! At least it is not a statue of Mumia Abu Jamal! At least not yet.

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twalsh4440 September 02 2014 at 3:14 PM

Love Joe ALI ALI BUM BUM BUM

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Albert September 02 2014 at 4:08 PM

Joe put his heart and soul into his profession, community and family. Its about time they memorialized him.

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foxx1952 September 02 2014 at 3:02 PM

Well Now If you ask me , and you didn't , I think they should keep both of the statues , of Rocky , and Smokin Joe , Rocky Balboa is just a movie , but what this move did for young coming up boxers is unreal it gave a lot of kids the dream of they can make it if you work hard , as in the show Rocky did for this reason it should stand as is and for what it represent ,Smokein Joe yes a great fighter and a real fighter should have his day to, there for He to should have a statue in his honor.

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1 reply
cdsuzi8878 foxx1952 September 02 2014 at 4:49 PM

Here, here

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rcpmmp September 02 2014 at 1:57 PM

Maybe they should interview people from Philly or at least the USA for opinions, Are we that mercenary that we respond only to foreign money to determine who we memorialize? "Rocky" is more than a person, he's a symbol of courage, pride, perserverance, determination, love of family and being true to ones self. Not bad ideals to display.

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belldn3 September 03 2014 at 12:45 AM

At least it will be of a REAL fighter.

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