Traditionally the heavyweight division had been the realm of American dominance and in 1964 it was believed that the nation had a new star in the shape of the 133 kg (295 lb.) man-mountain Buster Mathis. Mathis had impressed as much with his hand speed as his power in the US trials and he seemed a certainty for Olympic gold but Mathis never got to travel to Tokyo, let alone fight for gold. A hand injury forced his withdrawal and he was replaced by Joe Frazier, the man he defeated to clinch a place on the Olympic team. Frazier took his opportunity with gusto and made quick work of his first two opponents. A sterner test appeared to wait in the shape of Soviet sailor Vadim Yemelyanov in the semi-final but the only difference this time was that the humiliation lasted an extra round and that Yemelyanov was a resilient punch bag. Opposing Frazier in the final was the experienced Hans Huber of Germany. Huber had noted Frazier’s performances and attempted to use his speed and footwork to negate the American’s punching ability. The fight reached the final bell and two of the judges agreed that Huber had succeeded in his mission but the three others voted in favour of Frazier and the American took the gold medal home.
Frazier turned professional in the aftermath of the Games and, though overshadowed by the exploits of Muhammad Ali, established himself as one the all-time legends of his sport. He became heavyweight champion of the world in 1967, ironically by beating his old rival Buster Mathis, and four years later became the first man to defeat Ali in the “Fight of the Century“ at Madison Square Garden in New York. He lost his crown and his undefeated record to George Foreman in 1973 and lost a rematch to Ali early the following year. A third fight with Ali, “The Thrilla in Manilla“, is perhaps rated as the greatest, and most brutal, fight of all time.