Inquirer Editorial: Philly's Smokin' Joe deserves lasting tribute

Posted: September 08, 2012

Yo, Rocky, make room on that pedestal for Smokin' Joe.

Finally, the adopted hometown of former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier seems ready to salute the man and his real-life achievements in the same way the fictional Rocky has been honored here for decades, with a statue.

Give Rocky his due. Sylvester Stallone's character in gray sweat suit and wool cap is likely responsible for more Philadelphians and tourists racing up the Art Museum steps than the Van Goghs or Cezannes inside. And his statue at the foot of those steps draws daily crowds.

But Rocky was a movie character. Joe Frazier was an Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion of the world in 1970, back when that title, and the bruising bouts that produced it, seemed to be watched by everyone on the planet.

So news that a statue honoring Frazier could be unveiled as early as next year, and located near the Xfinity Live! complex in South Philadelphia, is welcome. And long overdue.

The city should also find a way to rescue the former location of Frazier's gym on North Broad Street, now a furniture store, and turn it into a historic site.

The timing of this statue news couldn't be better. Next week, Muhammad Ali, Frazier's longtime rival and his opponent in three epic and unforgettable fights, will be in Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Medal.

Sure, Ali has his charms, and back in the day he was often the first to expound at length on his own greatness. But charming is not the word that comes to mind when it came to Ali's characterizations of Frazier - gorilla, dumb, Uncle Tom. Yes, that was Ali's shtick, but it was cruel and unnecessary.

This was all long ago, of course. Both men moved on, in their careers and their lives. Frazier died last November at age 67.

Next week, Ali will be appropriately feted here for a day. But a statue would be around for generations. That thought would have to bring a smile to Smokin' Joe, and the legion of fans who were always in his corner.

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