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Monday, September 17, 2012

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter kicks off Frazier statue campaign

Move over, Rocky. Make way for Smokin' Joe.

The mayor of Philadelphia kicked off a campaign Wednesday to raise money for a statue of hometown boxing great Joe Frazier, a tribute he called "long overdue."

Joined by members of Frazier's family, Mayor Michael Nutter praised the onetime heavyweight champion as a fearless, determined fighter and "a good human being" who gave back to the community. Frazier died last year of liver cancer at age 67.

"Joe Frazier fought as a Philadelphian, and now it's our turn to fight for Joe's memory by erecting a statue that captures his indomitable spirit," Nutter said.

The $150,000 fundraising goal includes money for maintenance of the memorial, which Nutter hopes to unveil by the end of 2013.

"Smokin' Joe" slugged his way to the heavyweight title in 1971 by becoming the first boxer to beat Muhammad Ali. They fought two more classic bouts, including 1975's "Thrilla in Manila." Frazier lost both rematches.

On Wednesday, his eldest daughter, Renae Frazier-Martin, spoke proudly of her father and his athletic accomplishments, noting his 1964 Olympic gold medal and professional record of 34-2-1, with 27 knockouts.

"To the world, he was Smokin' Joe Frazier ...," Frazier-Martin said. "To the city of Philadelphia, he was just Joe. He lived here, he worked here, he built here, he went to church here, he taught here, he gave here and -- don't forget -- he partied here, too."

The Frazier memorial might finally quiet critics who have long derided the city for showering more brotherly love on fictional movie fighter Rocky Balboa than on a real champion.

A "statue" of Rocky -- it's actually a movie prop left over from "Rocky 3" -- stands beside the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Frazier's statue will be placed at Xfinity Live, an entertainment complex near Philadelphia's three sports stadiums. The property lies in the footprint of the now-demolished Spectrum, an arena where Frazier fought.

Jeff Snyder, development director for the complex, announced a $25,000 corporate donation Wednesday to kick-start the collections. All contributions will be managed by the city's nonprofit organization, The Fund for Philadelphia.

Separately, preservationists are seeking to save Frazier's former gym, which served as his training site and a neighborhood anchor in north Philadelphia. Frazier sold the building in 2008.

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