Blackburn and Langford Go Distance

      Charles Henry “Jack” Blackburn achieved his greatest fame as the trainer of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis from 1934 to 1942.  Louis is widely considered to be one of the top three to five heavyweights in professional boxing history and some consider him the best heavyweight fighter.  “Jack” Blackburn developed the talents of the young champion and helped him break the color line against African-American fighters fighting for world championships.


Jack Blackburn, a great fighter in his own right and the trainer of Joe Louis

     What many do not know is “Jack” Blackburn was a decorated African-American boxer at the turn of the Twentieth Century.  Often fighting much heavier fighters, Blackburn beat or drew with some of the greatest fighters of his era.

     One of Blackburn’s toughest challengers was the equally talented black fighter Sam Langford.  Langford fought from lightweight all the way up to heavyweight.  Langford would win the Colored Heavyweight Boxing Championship several times.

     Because African-American fighters were often denied the opportunity to fight white fighters particularly for championships, black fighters were forced to fight each other repeatedly.  On August 18, 1905, Blackburn and Langford met for the fourth time in Leiperville, Pennsylvania.

     The men entered the ring in the peak of condition although some felt Blackburn may be overtrained.  None of the correspondents elaborated on why they thought Blackburn was overtrained.

     Blackburn was the taller fighter at 5’10’ to Langford’s 5’07”.  However, the muscular Langford was bigger at 149 pounds to Blackburn’s 139.   Despite the height difference, Blackburn fought well inside the clinches.

    The fight followed a similar pattern from their previous bouts.  Langford pressed the action with several rights to the jaw.  Blackburn responded by primarily thrown a left hook to the jaw with several body shots each time the men clinched.  The referee was busy in this fight as the men often clinched to end an exchange.  Blackburn was more effective with the body blows in the clinch.

     Langford continued to press the fight primarily aiming for Blackburn’s head.  A heavy blow dazed Blackburn in the 10th round but he continued the fight, which went the 15-round decision.  Originally, the fight was considered a draw but Langford received the newspaper decision.  Both men received $62.50.


The Great Sam Langford from the Public Domain

     Of the six fights between the men, four were draws, one was a no contest and this fight was the only decision for Langford.  Langford and Blackburn continued to fight successfully but Blackburn’s career was interrupted in 1909.

    After being involved in a bar fight, which ended in the shooting death of another man, “Jack” Blackburn served five years in prison for manslaughter.  After a Pennsylvania promoter got him paroled, Blackburn continued his fighting career.  Although he only weighed 150 pounds, Blackburn almost beat 6’02”, 180 pound Gunboat Smith.

     Blackburn finished with an official record of 113 wins, 25 losses, 13 draws and 5 no contests.  More of a defensive boxing specialist, Blackburn only recorded 32 knockouts.

     In 1923, Blackburn began training fighters and would achieve his greatest fame.  Fights fans from 1900 to 1923 knew a different Jack Blackburn though.

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Sources: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1905 edition, p. 6 and The St. Louis Star-Times, December 6, 1923, p. 18.

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