The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Rocky's Philadelphia gets real contender as 9-foot statue of champ Joe Frazier takes shape

  • Print

PHILADELPHIA - 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 neighbourhood.

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 moulding 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."

___

Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart: Fifty Ways To Punt Your Premier

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you in favour of the Harper government's new 'family tax cut'?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google