"The hell I feared no man. There was one man I wouldn’t fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford." -- Jack Dempsey
In the annals of boxing history, you have fighters whose iconic names live on forever, gathering acclaim over the decades. Johnson and Dempsey, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and so on and so forth.
But then you have the other names. The men whose due was not given them in their own time, whose legend grows first with research, then in an almost mythical nature. Sam Langford is one of those.
Langford (181-34-38, 128 KO) stood no more than 5 feet, 7 inches. He fought lightweights, and made his way all the way up to the heavyweight ranks. Abe Attell once named Langford the greatest middleweight to ever live, and while a debatable point, it can easily be argued that Langford was, in fact, that level of fighter.
His punching power is legendary. Of that power, Harry Wills once remarked, "When Sam hit you in the body, you’d kind of look around half expecting to see his glove sticking out of your back. When he hit you on the chin, you didn’t think at all until they brought you back to life. When he knocked me out in
Keep in mind, Wills was a 6'2", legitimate heavyweight, and an all-time great at that.
Clay Moyle's book, Sam Langford: Boxing's Greatest Uncrowned Champion, collects all of the greatest stories of Langford's globetrotting, take-any-fight career, one that to this day is sadly underrated. It's a fascinating study of a man and his desire to defy not only odds, but the sheer fear of him that existed in so many of his contemporaries. His chase of Jack Johnson is gripping, even when you know that Jack never wanted to get back in the ring with him after one meeting left him discouraged.
How could a man so small in stature have been so devastating? The legendary Ring Magazine editor Nat Fleischer ranked Langford as the seventh-best puncher of all-time. Often he only got fights because he promised to take it easy on opponents. Had he lived in even a slightly different time, Langford could have been world champion at 135, 147, 160, 175 and heavyweight. Really think about that -- it was a different world in so many ways.
Moyle's story of Langford's career is incredibly detailed, painstakingly researched, and leaves nothing out. Langford's story is remarkable enough, but Moyle brings it to life in such a way that I found myself emotionally invested in the career of a man whose last fight came in 1926, three years before my grandfather was born.
If you don't know the story of Sam Langford yet, or even if you do, I couldn't recommend the book more highly. It can be purchased at SamLangford.com.