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Buster Mathis Prepares for Olympic Trials

May 17, 1964 - Buster Mathis was an incubator baby. By the time he was 12 years old, he was 5-6, but he was scrawny at 120 pounds.

“I was chicken,” he recalled today as he stretched across his hotel bed. “All the kids picked on me, but I was too scared to fight. So, I asked my ma to build me up. She fed me soul food — real good steak, corn bread, potatoes. Then, one day I woke up, and I was a big boy.”

Buster laughed, and the bed rocked. For the soul food had done its job. Buster now stands 6-3. He weighs 298 pounds — more when he’s not in training.

At the age of 19, this youngster from Grand Rapids, Mich., holds the Amateur Athletic Union national heavyweight boxing title. He is one of the star attractions in the Olympic boxing trials today through Wednesday at the World’s Fair.

Competition will be held in Singer Bowl, an open-air stadium that seats 18,000. Admission is free to anyone on the fair grounds.

Buster had been boxing since 1961, when he weighed 341. Five months ago, when he started serious training again, he weighed 338. He can put on or take off 10 pounds a day. Putting it on is no trick for anyone whose favorite between-meals snack is half a chicken. As Buster puts it, “I eat real good.”

In the ring, Buster is a showman but no showoff. Though he is the biggest fighter in AAU history, he is surprisingly fast. He moves quickly enough to play defensive tackle for the Grand Rapids Blazers in sandlot football, and the Los Angeles Rams wanted him to try out last year.

Buster (that’s his real name) is the youngest of a family of five boys and two girls. He’s the only athlete in his family. He is a commercial painter, but he wants to be a boxing champion. He knows that Floyd Patterson (in 1956) and Cassius Clay (in 1960), as he was then known, won Olympic titles and went on to greater glory.

“When I was 12 or 13,” Buster said, “I used to go to bed early just to dream of being a great football player or boxing champion. I love boxing. It keeps me busy, and it keeps me in shape. And it’s better for me to be on the sports page than the front page.”

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