Sam Langford Fights for Welter Title

Sam Langford is considered one of the greatest pound for pound fighters of all time.   Born on March 4, 1883 in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, he is considered the greatest Canadian boxer of all time.  His fighting career stretched from 1900 to 1926.

Langford only stood 5 feet six and half inches tall and weighed 185 pounds at his heaviest.  He fought in ever weight class from lightweight to heavyweight, which was rare even at the turn of the 20th Century.

In 1903, he defeated Joe Gans in a non-title lightweight bout.  It would have been for the title but Langford couldn’t get any lower than 138 pounds, so he missed the lightweight limit of 135 pounds.

Langford was not yet considered a tremendous boxer because the St. Louis Republic reporter was very dismissive of his victory.  Gans did well for the first three rounds but Langford scored several powerful shots in the 4th Round.  Whether Langford’s stronger punches took the toll on Gans or he simply didn’t train well for such a lightly regarded challenger, Gans began to slow.  Langford dominated the final eight rounds.  Gans only success in the fight was in not being knocked out.

In 1904, Langford challenged Barbados Joe Walcott for the World Welterweight Boxing Championship.  The bout took place on Monday, September 5, 1904.  According to almost all sports writers, who covered the bout at Lake Massebesic in Manchester, New Hampshire, Langford clearly outpointed the champion.  Langford even dropped Walcott in the third round but Walcott beat the count and finished the fight.


The Great Sam Langford from the Public Domain

Prior to modern rules in the 1920s, it was not unusual for the referee to be the sole judge in fights that went the distance.  When the referee declared it a draw, the 1,200 paying customers yelled about the perceived robbery.  It was not unusual for black fighters to lose close decisions to keep the titles on white champions.  However, both contestants were black, so it wasn’t racial prejudice on the part of the referee.  It was not unheard of for managers to pay referees to see things their fighters way in the case of a close decision.

I read the news accounts of this bout from several newspapers of the time.  It is telling that even though everyone felt Langford won, no one was surprised.  Controversial decisions were business as usual.  Promoters and managers would fix fights by fixing the judges.

Sam Langford would be frozen out of a heavyweight title shot.  Ironically, Jack Johnson, the first black World Heavyweight Boxing Champion would refuse to fight all other African-American fighters.  Johnson won the decision in his only bout with Langford before Johnson won the title.  Many ringside observers felt Langford had actually won the fight but lost another controversial decision.  Johnson refused to ever fight Langford again.

Langford won the World Colored Heavyweight Boxing Championship.  His greatest rival was probably Sam McVey.  Langford fought over 256 bouts.  Retiring at 39, Langford lived a relatively long life dying in 1956 at 72 years of age.  Unfortunately, very little footage exists of Langford, so his greatness has been lost to most boxing fans.

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