Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion

by Clay Moyle
Bennett & Hastings Publishing
Hardcover, $29.95
436 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-934733-02-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“In January of 1944, the New York Herald Tribune published ‘The Forgotten Man’… a story about Sam Langford, aka ‘The Boston Tar Baby,’ one of boxing’s greatest fighters… It related how only 18 years after his remarkable career Sam had completely disappeared from mainstream society and ended up blind and penniless.
Over 60 years later, Langford is once again relatively unknown among the general population… Why is that the case? How could a man, who was arguably one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time and feared by men such as Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey, be overlooked?
To answer that question one must consider how difficult it was for a black-skinned man to make his way in American society during the early 20th Century.
n Excerpted from the Introduction (page 3)

Sam Langford (1886-1956) was born in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia,
a descendant of escaped slaves who had won their freedom in the 18th Century by taking up arms against their former masters during the American Revolution. One of six children in a family from a humble background, Sam ran away home in 1898, not long after the death of his mother. Eventually, he ended up in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he developed an interest in boxing.
Though only 5’ 7” tall, Langford proved to be an agile, clever and powerful puncher who pulverized his opponents, often taking on foes weighing more than his 170-180 pounds. He turned pro at 16, and soon found himself saddled with an array of colorful nicknames, including ‘The Boston Tar Baby,’ ‘The Boston Bone Crusher,’ “the Weymouth Wizard,’ ‘Old Ho Ho’ and ‘The Boston Terror’.
He went on to win 200 fights, 130 by knockout, over the course of an illustrious, 20 year career marred only by the fact that he was never able to land a title fight. This was due to a combination of racism and the reluctance of champions and top contenders to take him on.
Remember, this was the first quarter of the 20th Century, a time when many states still had laws on the books against staging bouts between blacks and whites. This was because American society had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and notions of white supremacy which would be threatened by the rise of the black athlete.
Consequently, Caucasians colleagues avoided him out of a fear of humiliation, while Jack Johnson did so because he could make more money fighting the latest “Great White Hope.” Sadly, despite being invariably respected by his contemporaries, Sam was denied a shot at a belt, and ultimately ended up blind and broke in Harlem, and a mere footnote in the annals of pugilism.
Now, thanks to Clay Moyle, the entire life of “The Forgotten Man” is entertainingly recounted in Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion, a riveting, bittersweet biography which endeavors to afford this forgotten ring great his rightful place in history. A must read for any devoted fight fan.

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