Then fate took a hand. Mathis broke his hands in a training session and Joe Frazier stepped up.
In his first bout, Frazier fought a Nigerian. Less than midway through the first round, Frazier hit the Nigerian with the left hook and he went down for a 10 count.
In his second bout, he fought an Australian boxer who was several inches taller and about 30 pounds heavier. In the first round, the Aussie hit Frazier with a very solid right and Frazier hit the deck.
Unfortunately for the Aussie, he got back up again. In the second round, he landed a left hook and the Aussie did not beat the count.
In the semi-final bout, his opponent was a Russian. Again, he was facing a fighter far taller and far heavier than him. Joe was getting the better of the fight in the third round and landed a great left hook and he felt a sharp pain in his left thumb. Frazier won the decision and later visited a Japanese doctor (*not* the U.S. Olympic squads physician) and the doctor told him he’d broken his left thumb. I don’t think anybody could have blamed Joe Frazier if had simply announced that he had a broken thumb and he could have gone home with a silver medal. Joe Frazier however was made out of very tough stuff. He wrapped his thumb up and climbed into the ring with a German fighter, again, far taller and far heavier than he. By this time, that German had heard all about Joe’s awesome left hook. I've seen clips of that bout. The German spent a great deal of time moving to his left to avoid Frazier’s hook. Frazier fought the gold-medal bout one-handed landing some punishing right hands and feinting with his left. At the end of the bout, Frazier learned that he earned a very narrow 3 to 2 decision and he took his Olympic gold medal home to Philadelphia. Things were still tough for Joe and his family. Word got out that he couldn't even afford Christmas for his kids, so Philadelphia fight fans took up a collection for him. Shortly thereafter, Joe Frazier turned pro and his fortunes and finances were going to take a dramatic turn for the better.