When we consider that no other athlete’s body is so splendidly conditioned as that of a boxer, it makes perfect sense that the most appropriate work of art to represent the sport would be the statue. As fighters hone their craft by sculpting their flesh into fighting shape, so do artists sculpt their clay, stone, or metal into the perfect representation of these most idealized of all people.
Here are ten great statues that show the physicality of the fighter to its best advantage:
In a bronze sculpture, the shiniest part is always that which is touched the most often. On Madison Square Garden’s life-size modern statue of the Old Master, which perfectly captures the balance between his strength and his frailty, the shiniest part is the glove on his outstretched left hand. There has long been a tradition at the Garden for boxers to rub the glove for good luck before a bout. And the result is a pale yellow sheen.
The great Aboriginal Australian bantamweight champion is immortalized in a life-size bronze in his hometown of Warragul. The statue portrays him standing, ready for his opponent, but not prepared to strike. Just as boxers’ faces are often marked with the hazards of their trade, this statue has suffered some bad physical abuse, having been the target of graffiti that cost more to fix than any fighter’s ring wounds have taken to heal.
Created in the 1920’s, at the height of Mussolini’s power, this statue is one of 59 that grace the steps of the Stadium of Marbles, Rome’s great Olympic sports complex, designed by Enrico Del Debbio. The exaggerated muscles hint at the art deco style that was so popular at the time, while the pose and position hearken to the earlier classical style of Rome’s ancient sculptural traditions.
Casey Downing sculpted this beautiful bronze tribute to the Brown Bomber, dedicated in his native town of Lafayette, Alabama. It is a far better likeness than the more stylized statue in his adoptive home of Detroit, which also features a monumental cast of his disembodied fist. But this splendid representation is as plain, honest, and quiet as the man himself.
In Boston, a proud historic city that knows a thing or two about public statues, the great welterweight champion, Tony DeMarco, stands in six-foot bronze, not far from Paul Revere. In the midst of throwing a left hook, Harry Weber’s sculpture captures the energy and grace of the fight and gives onlookers a glimpse into the city’s Italian community and fistic traditions.
The story of the fatal boxing match in ancient Greece, in which Damoxenos pierced the flesh of Creugas with a straight-fingered jab, is rendered in pristine marble by 19th century sculptor, Antonio Canova. The legend states that Damoxenos took two blows to kill Creugas when only one was allowed. Therefore, he was disqualified and Creugas won a posthumous victory.
In the English town of Warwick, best known for its Medieval, Renaissance, and Elizabethan history, stands a bronze statue of the tragic World Middleweight Champion Randolph Turpin. The second man to beat Sugar Ray Robinson (after Jake LaMotta), Turpin suffered enormous financial strain after losing his title and his fame, committing suicide by gunshot at age 37. Here’s hoping the troubled champion would rest easier, knowing he has been immortalized in full action, prepping an uppercut in bronze.
Until recently, the fighting city of Philadelphia - hometown of Joe Frazier, Jack O’Brien, Danny Garcia, and many others - only featured one statue of a boxer, and a fictional one at that. At the base of the steps to the city’s world class art museum is a statue of Rocky Balboa in the victorious pose he struck after running up said steps to the thundering sound of Bill Conti’s Oscar-winning music. A. Thomas Schomberg’s bronze icon sparked great debate when it was donated to the museum after having served as a prop in the third film of the Rocky series.
The Boxer at Rest
This bronze work from 330 BC Greece depicts a weary, weather-beaten pugilist, muscular but marked, resting after a bout. Discovered in 1885 after centuries of obscurity, this masterpiece has been displayed in art museums all over the world. The finely conditioned body and scarred face show a universal truth about the fight game and have inspired other great works, including Thom Jones’ short story, The Pugilist at Rest.
The first real life boxer to be given a statue in the fighting city of Philadelphia is the great middleweight champion who beat the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Billy Graham, and Rubin Hurricane Carter. The Giardello statue, sculpted by Carl LeVotch, bears the idealized form of a Greek god, while stylized like Renaissance Rococo. It stands proudly as the perfect demonstration that the classical arts are alive and well, and have a place among modern audiences even as new styles become increasingly popular. Just like the sport of boxing itself.