The late real life boxing champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier will face Rocky Balboa in a monumental battle this fall. Frazier, who died in 2011, was a great champion and son of Philadelphia linked for eternity with the city and with Muhammad Ali–and the great battles the two men fought. Ali-Frazier is a pairing almost every sports fan knows, even those who were born long after boxing’s heyday.
Now the posthumous Frazier will face an even bigger challenge than Ali ever presented–and that’s Rocky Balboa. Artist Stephen Layne is building a 9-foot tall statue of Frazier that will compete for the city’s affections with the giant Rocky statue that is among Philadelphia’s most enduring tourist attractions. The fictional Rocky–whose name has been synonymous with underdogs and Philadelphia since the first Rocky film in 1976–maintains a huge presence in the psyche of the city. But Frazier was a real man, whose accomplishments–including an Olympic gold medal–are as great a personification of this American city as even Rocky Balboa’s iconic rise.