Fifty years ago, the world paused as two of the greatest heavyweights in history entered the ring at Madison Square Garden. After an intense 15 rounds, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali in what would eventually be described as “The Greatest Fight of All Time.”
On March 8, the anniversary of this momentous event, sports fans gathered at Joe Hand Promotions’ new headquarters and gym in Feasterville. Attendees waited with bated breath as a massive sheet was pulled back, revealing a larger-than-life statue of Frazier and Ali.
Spanning 9 feet tall and weighing in at 1,600 pounds, the masterpiece is displayed in the front window, where Joe Hand guests and passersby on Street Road can take it in.
The idea for the statue started with Dr. Nicholas DePace, a cardiologist in South Jersey, who boasts a collection of sports memorabilia worth millions of dollars. Pieces include artifacts, autographed cards and game-used items, including Babe Ruth’s batting jersey and hat.
After seeing success at the Collingswood, New Jersey-based DePace Museum of Sports, the doctor wanted to offer even more to the public. Frazier was a longtime patient of his, and had a vision of creating a universal museum of sports that would tell the stories of all famous athletes, not just ones from the Philadelphia area.
It would be a museum of champions.
But what would be the main attraction? DePace knew it had to be something that paid homage to the Frazier-Ali fight. He approached sculptor Chris Collins about making such a piece with some special requests. It had to look as though both men were brought back to life in bronze form. It also had to look like they’d start talking (or punching) at any moment.
“We changed the faces until they became personalities that we could see,” DePace said, adding that the entire project took five years to complete.
DePace is in the process of opening up the Philadelphia-based Museum of Sports, where the statue will be permanently housed. Here, it will feature the actual trunks worn by Frazier and Ali during the fight.
Until then, it will stay with Joe Hand Promotions, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“It’s beyond special and it’s beyond the perfect storm for the Hand family,” said Joe Hand Jr. “We’re very excited about it.”
Present at the unveiling ceremony was Joe Frazier Jr., who often watches his father’s famous fight with his own children. Though they’re too young to understand the sport, they can clearly see their grandfather’s passion.
“You don’t have to be great to start,” he said. “You have to start to be great.”
Frazier Jr. explained how both his father and Ali put in work and dedication to become two of the biggest names in boxing. They overcame adversity and ignored their inner voices of doubt.
Echoing the sentiment about Frazier’s greatness was DePace, who reflected on how the boxer would often sit with his sick and dying patients.
“He didn’t see color. He only saw humanity,” said DePace. “Joe Frazier is the Philadelphia area. He’s personal to the world, but he’s personal to us.”
Also present was Joe Hand Sr., who was thrilled to recognize the 50th anniversary of the fight.
“Even at the time it was happening, no one realized that 50 years later, we’d be celebrating the fight,” he said. “Joe Frazier was not the greatest fighter in the world, but he had the biggest heart. You would’ve had to kill him to take that fight away from him. He was determined.”
The Joe Hand Promotions founder was also excited to see the 50th anniversary of his ever-growing company, which distributes pay-per-view UFC, Showtime Boxing, WWE and PGA Tour Live events for commercial locations. The gym is slated to open to the public at 213 W. Street Road within the next two months.
Visit joehandpromotions.com for more information and updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org