|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY||
In the official press release from the gym, there seems to be some ray of hope about the gym reopening after some renovations are done or once new financial investors are found. For a second, these scenarios feel like there's a chance of reversing the situation. However, once the actual quotes are digested, they do little to soften the blow of losing yet another Philadelphia boxing treasure.
The list of this city's boarded up gyms and arenas is a long one. Frazier's is just the latest casualty. But there is something particularly painful this time. Perhaps it's because this is the first time this is really happening for me. As a 45-year old who grew up at the Spectrum fights, my boxing landmarks still exist - the Spectrum, the Blue Horizon, Peltz Boxing, and until last week, Smokin' Joe Frazier's Gym.
As a student of boxing and as the editor of the Web site www.PhillyBoxingHistory.com, I've missed most of the "good old days" of Philadelphia boxing. I never went to the Arena, the Cambria, Shibe Park, Phillies Ball Park, Toppi Stadium, the Met, or many, many of the other legendary venues. Bob Montgomery, Lew Tendler, Tommy Loughran, Midget Wolgast, and most of the fighters listed throughout the Philly Boxing History Web site are before my time. But they have become part of me in a way I cannot articulate. However, I never "lost" any of them. Quite the opposite. These all-time greats are all examples of boxing history that I have "found". I found them in the library, on film, and by creating the Web site. These days, I obsessively collect posters, photographs and other boxing memorabilia as a way to make these heroes real for me. It is my only way to own all those experiences I lose sleep over having missed. It is an expensive habit, but it works for me.
However, I have experienced boxing loss. It has come in the form of watching my favorite boxers slip from their prime. When Matthew Saad Muhammad lost his light-heavyweight title to Dwight Braxton (later Qawi) it seemed impossible. After Matthew had somehow pulled victories from all those close calls, it felt as if he'd never lose a fight. Although I knew in the back of my that it had to eventually happen, it was easy to pretend otherwise. Ah, the innocence of my youth.
When Jeff Chandler finally lost his bantamweight crown, I witnessed a different type of seemingly unbeatable fighter become human. Jeff, the first GREAT fighter I ever watched in person, never fought again. It was hard to accept, but the constant flow of good fighters back then helped ease the pain. Boxing is a timeline that constantly renews itself. As hard as it is to watch one fighter's career come to an end, another promising boxer can capture your imagination and loyalty and make you a fan again.
But losing one of the physical foundations of local boxing feels different. It seems that the structures, the brick-and-mortar buildings, should outlive the timeline of the fleeting ring careers they host. Frazier's Gym has been up there on North Broad Street for almost as long as I've been alive and certainly for the entire time I've been aware of boxing. Originally named the Cloverlay Gym and opened especially for Joe in 1968, Frazier's Gym has always been one of the true symbols of Philadelphia boxing. Countless boxers passed through the place and many went on to great careers.
But unlike the continuum of boxers that came along, there is no promise of renewal. There will never be another Frazier's Gym. Like the Blue Horizon, which announced financial troubles and its potential sale in 2007, once one of these places goes away, it will probably never return as a boxing site. The tough business of the local fight game in the city of Philadelphia won't allow it. The struggling Blue Horizon is still in the fight, but last week, Frazier's Gym lost its battle.
I suppose it is inevitable that all the great places and people of the sport must pass on. For my older friends who experienced all those places and personalities of the past, as well as for the younger ones to whom local boxing is the New Alhambra and outdoor fights mean Beetle Juice at the Lagoon, the passing of Frazier's Gym may not feel as heavy. But for guys my age this one is significant. It is confirmation that the years are slipping by and that the things we love so much will be completely off the next generation's radar - even those things that MUST be remembered.
Luckily we still have Joe Frazier the man around. Our heavyweight champion is still alive and kicking and looking quite good at ringside of the many local fights he attends. He says the walking stick he uses is necessary, but I believe it's just part of his dapper style.
But we must hold onto Joe and the many other boxers of the past who remain in our lives - Harold Johnson, Joey Giardello, Dan Bucceroni, George Benton - and we must honor and appreciate them every chance we can.
They say that it is healthy to let go of the past and keep looking to the future. Although I try to do that the best I can, I must admit that it is an impossible task for me and for the Web site.
Later today I will take a drive by Frazier's Gym to see it in all of its glory before it begins to fade away.
John DiSanto is the Editor of www.phillyboxinghistory.com.
April 5, 2008