Dr. Nicholas DePace is a noted collector of sports memorabilia. The South Jersey cardiologist’s latest idea was to have a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier designed by Chris Collins.
DePace commissioned the statue to be used in a future Philadelphia Museum of Sports. When Joe Hand Jr., the president of Joe Hand Promotions, heard that DePace didn’t have a current place for the statue and was possibly putting it in one of his medical buildings, he reached out.
The statue will be unveiled on Monday, the 50th anniversary of the Ali-Frazier “Fight of the Century,” at Joe Hand Gym in Feasterville, Bucks County. The statue weighs 1,600 pounds and is described as the “new signature piece of hope, dreams, and inspiration” to fighters at Joe Hand Gym.
“[The statue] deserves to get hundreds and thousands of people to ride by it everyday,” Hand Jr. said. “It’s going to inspire a lot of people.”
Joe Hand Sr., the chairman of Joe Hand Promotions, still remembers the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight, the first of three epic battles between the iconic heavyweights. He’s one of the few people still alive who have a reliable first-hand account of the fight, the lead-up to the fight, and the fight’s aftermath. Hand Sr. was Frazier’s co-manager at the time.
“[Frazier] was not the best fighter,” Hand Sr. said. “I never doubted that he would win any of his fights ... especially against Ali. Ali was certainly the superior fighter, but he didn’t have the heart like Frazier.”
Hand Sr. then added, “Joe gave up a lot of time he could have spent with his family by training the way he did.”
The words hope, dreams and inspiration are words the Frazier family used to describe the legacy of “Smokin’ Joe.”
Ali was the more heralded and popular boxer heading into the first fight. Members of Frazier’s family remember hearing the jokes Ali directed at them during the lead-up to the fight.
Frazier defeated Ali in Madison Square Garden via unanimous decision and gave the heavyweight icon his first loss.
“I never leave that fight not being inspired by Joe [Frazier],” Joe Hand Jr. said. “If I was a coach of a team, I would want to tell my team to watch that fight, and play like Joe Frazier fought that night.”
That legacy is what Weatta Frazier Collins, one of Frazier’s daughters, is trying to preserve. She recalls a conversation she had with a young man at a block party. She asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up, and then pitched the idea of being a boxer like Frazier. The kid responded by saying, “Who?”
“Me standing there, I almost passed out,” Frazier Collins, no relation to Chris Collins, said. “He had no idea who Joe Frazier was and lived less than five blocks from 2917 North Broad Street [the address of Frazier’s old gym].”
Frazier Collins stood there and talked with the young man for more than 30 minutes. She turned that into founding the Legacy Exists non-profit scholarship fund in the memory of her father and is inspiring kids to write about what they learned from the Frazier fights and much more.
This week is about the legacy of one of the greatest fights in boxing history. Approximately 40-50 people are expected at the unveiling.
“It’s one of my biggest responsibilities to make sure his legacy continues,” Frazier Collins said. “Especially in the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia has always been a sports town, but it was a bigger sports town from this sole individual that took the time out to say, ‘You know what? This is my home.’”