Local boxers reflect on Frazier's passing

FILE - In this April 2, 2009, file photo, Joe Frazier poses for a portrait in New York. The former heavyweight champion has died after a brief final fight with liver cancer. He was 67. The family issued a release confirming the boxer's death on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, File)
November 14, 2011 6:48:47 AM PST
Joe Frazier lived quietly in his Center City condo for the last few years of his life, but he was at the center of the world spotlight during the height of his boxing career.

His bouts with Muhammad Ali were among the greatest sports spectacles ever.

"It was the largest sporting event of my lifetime, it was bigger than the Super Bowl," boxing promoter Joe Hand of Feasterville, Pa.

Hand's office is cluttered with Joe Frazier memorabilia.

He was among the investors who backed Frazier after he won the Olympic gold medal in 1964.

By 1971 Frazier was squaring off against the greatest, Muhammad Ali in what was billed "The Fight of the Century" in Madison Square Garden. Frazier won that fight with a stunning left hook.

But, he lost the next two bouts to Ali, including 1975's "Thrilla in Manilla."

Along the way, Frazier inspired a host of young athletes, including Easton's Larry Holmes.

Holmes was a sparring partner when Frazier was training for the first Ali fight and suffered a few broken ribs.

"He landed some shots, I landed some shots, but for three rounds, I was glad that third round came so I could get out and the next guy get in cause I was young and in the learning mode. Joe was smokin'," Holmes said.

Smokin' Joe Frazier was a worldwide celebrity, but he never forgot his hometown roots.

When he retired, he became an active member of the community and helped train a new generation of boxers at his North Philadelphia gym. Current light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins is among the Philadelphians inspired by Frazier.

Hopkins went on to say Frazier was a hardworking and down to earth man who didn't snub his nose to anybody.

Frazier was fierce in the ring and gentle in life and always just a regular Philly guy.

"He represented the city well all around the world, but never lost that sense of being a Philadelphia guy. That's what we'll always appreciate about him," Mayor Michael Nutter said.

Joe Hand says he's determined to honor Frazier with a statue.

"Joe Palooka has a statue then you have Rocky here in Philadelphia, that's nice that we have that statue, but where the heck is the statue for Joe Frazier?" Hand said.

Mayor Nutter is already investigating a fitting tribute, whether it be a statue or a street named for Frazier.

The champ's three children have asked for privacy and haven't made any public comments.

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