PHILADELPHIA (AP) - With a pair of boxing gloves draped over Joe Frazier’s casket, the Rev. Jesse Jackson stood nearby and delivered a stirring knockout pitch for the fitting tribute he said the late heavyweight champion deserved, the immortal reward his family longed for in his life.
“Tell them Rocky is fictitious, Joe was reality,” Jackson said, referring to the hometown character from the boxing movie, “Rocky,” and whose statue stands at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Rocky’s fists are frozen in stone. Joe’s fists are smokin’. Rocky never faced Ali or Holmes or Foreman. Rocky never tasted his own blood. Champions are made in the ring, not in the movies.
“There deserves to be a statue of Joe Frazier in downtown Philadelphia.”
Long overdue, perhaps, Jackson should, at last, get his wish. After all, in the year after his death, Frazier’s legacy is stronger than ever in Philadelphia.
Perhaps there’s just something about boxing champions and this city _ a 1-2 combo that perseveres through time. Because in the 12 months since Frazier’s funeral, Philadelphia has wrapped its arms around his presence and power:
_ A fundraising venture for a statue near Philadelphia’s three sports stadiums is in the works for the former heavyweight title holder.
_ There’s a “Fight Night” planned at City Hall for a one-time showing of his 1971 “Fight of the Century” bout against Muhammad Ali.
_ His former manager is trying to write a biography on Frazier’s life outside the ring.
_ And last week, Frazier was put to rest in a newly designed crypt that his children had built for him. Floyd Mayweather Jr. helped pay for the more fitting resting place.
Frazier, who died Nov. 7, 2011 after a brief battle with liver cancer at the age of 67, spent much of his life in his adopted hometown fighting until the end to earn respect as one of the city’s sports greats. By the end of 2013, Frazier’s brand and being could boast a little cottage industry of tourist spots around town.
On Saturday, friends and family gathered at Ivy Hill Cemetery Chapel to unveil the crypt, an upgrade from the unmarked mausoleum where Frazier’s remains were kept for the last year. The tomb has a picture of Frazier draped in his Olympic gold medal and wearing his heavyweight championship belt.
Derek Frazier has tried in the past year to find way to honor his father, and recently made his boxing debut himself. Frazier got in shape and fought an exhibition bout in New Jersey for an upcoming reality show special, and said “my dad was always on my mind,” before he stepped into the ring.
He couldn’t escape Smokin’ Joe’s presence when he helped pull away the sheet and saw his father’s image on the crypt for the first time.