Senior Boxing Writer
At one time, Buster Mathis Sr. of Grand Rapids, Michigan was the best amateur heavyweight in the world. This was in 1964, after he had twice defeated another promising amateur named Joe Frazier. He was on his way to the 1964 Olympics Games in Tokyo but an injury sidelined him. Frazier took his place as an alternate. Joe won the Gold Medal and the rest is history. Where does Buster Mathis stand in the annals of heavyweight history? Did he ever get the respect that he may have deserved? He was a good enough prospect to have Cus D’Amato guide his professional career. He was a a very big man for his era and was surprisingly fast and agile for a big man.
At the beginning of his pro career the 300 pound Mathis shedded weight and subdued opponents. In his fourth fight he would outpoint a rugged customer named Bob Stallings. In his sixth fight he woul halt Chuck Wepner.
Buster was built up like most prospects at that time were. His record is spotted with journeymen like Charlie Polite, Mike Bruce, Everett Copeland, Sonny Moore…After 23 straight victories he was matched with old foe Joe Frazier for the New York State recognition of the heavyweight title that had been taken from Muhammad Ali.
This time Joe would have more rounds to work over and wear down Big Buster. Finally in the eleventh round Buster went down and Joe had a piece of the heavyweight pie. After the loss to Frazier, Mathis put together a nice five bout win streak. He beat Mel Turnbow, James J. Beattie, Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, Dick Wipperman and James J. Woody. That was pretty respectable opposition at that time. This led to another shot at the big time. A match with the brawling Canadian contender George Chuvalo. The bout with Chuvalo would be the highlight of Buster’s fine career. If anyone ever doubt that Buster was a world class heavyweight, get a hold of the film of this fight. Mathis was the master of Chuvalo throughout the twelve round contest.
The win over Chuvalo put Buster right back in the thick of the heavyweight picture.By this time the once 300 pound Mathis was tipping the scales around 235. Six weeks after the Chuvalo triumph, Buster would take on the erratic but always entertaining Jerry Quarry. On the night they fought Quarry was nothing short of brilliant. It was a boxing clinic and Buster was soundly defeated. At this point Buster took some time off after a high profile loss.
It would be well over two years before Buster would re-enter the ring and his opponent would be none other then the comebacking Muhammad Ali. Buster had ballooned to over 250 pounds and although game to the core he was totally outclassed by Ali and lost a twelve round decision. This would finish Buster as a serious contender.
Buster would defeat the undefeate Claude McBride but in his next bout he was savaged by another unbeaten prospect named Ron Lyle. That would be the end of Buster’s career. Big Buster only lost four of thirty four fights. He lost to Frazier, Quarry, Ali and Lyle. Does that make him all bad? The Buster Mathis that defeated George Chuvalo was one of the best heavyweights of the lat 1960′s.