By CHARLES SAUNDERS*
(May 13, 2008) – I’VE GOT GOOD NEWS for everyone who is a student of boxing history – and anyone who enjoys a story about a great man’s struggle against adversity.
Clay Moyle, an author and boxing historian from Edgewood, Wash., has written the definitive biography of Sam Langford, one of the greatest boxers of all time. Langford, a Nova Scotia native who fought out of Boston during the first decades of the last century, would have almost certainly have become a world champion if he ever had the chance to fight for a title. He never got that chance – hence the title of Clay’s book: Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion. The publisher is Bennett & Hastings Publishing, and the book is available from Amazon.ca. It can also be ordered from http://www.prizefightingbooks.com.
As a boxing historian, Clay already knew a great deal about Langford, who started his career as a lightweight and eventually became the No. 1 heavyweight contender. Given that knowledge, he says, “I was shocked that a Sam Langford biography didn’t exist, and decided I would try to write this story.”
It took Clay five years to research and write his book. The effort shows in the book’s meticulous detail. It’s an exciting read as well. How could a volume about a man Jack Johnson avoided like the plague be otherwise?
Q: Considering all the “tall tales” that have arisen about Sam Langford’s ring exploits, what criteria did you use to separate fact from fiction, such as the famous “it’s the last round for you” story?
A: In the book’s introduction, I wrote that separating fact from fiction was impossible in some cases. For example, I found the story about him extending his hand to an opponent and telling them it was the last round for them attributed to no fewer than four different opponents. If I wasn’t able to confirm a story from a primary newspaper source, or from a quote or story from Sam, or another party that I considered a reliable source, I decided to leave it out. Or in some cases I would include it, but note that I had been unable to confirm the truth of the story from a primary source.
Q: Was Joe Woodman as good a manager as Sam Langford was a fighter?
A: No, but in my opinion he was a good friend to Sam, and a more than adequate manager who was very adept in dealing with the media.
Q: How is Langford remembered by his family and the community in which he was born – Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia?
A: His great-granddaughter Carol Doyle remembers him as a loving husband, father, and grandfather. She remembers him as a frequent visitor to his daughter Charlotte’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 1950s, and recalls that his daughter, ex-wife Martha, and her father, Sam’s grandson Joseph, had nothing but good things to say about him. Carol, and her three boys, Sam’s great-great grandsons Arlin, David, and Brendon are all extremely proud of Sam. It is my understanding that the community of Weymouth Falls is also extremely proud of the accomplishments of its native son, and that in addition to a monument proclaiming it as the site of his birth, and the community centre that is named after him, there are regularly scheduled reunions during which he is honoured.
Q: If Sam had fought Jack Johnson for the heavyweight title in 1911 or 1912, what do you think his chances for victory would have been? Would he be the favourite, the underdog, or would it be “pick ‘em”?
Jeannette said that Sam was the greatest fighter who ever lived, and that he would have been champion any time Johnson had given him a fight
A: Johnson would undoubtedly been the favourite had the two men fought for the heavyweight title. He was the bigger man and one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. But there were a number of very knowledgeable men in the boxing fraternity who thought Sam would emerge victorious, including Joe Jeannette, who fought both men a number of times. In fact, Jeannette said that Sam was the greatest fighter who ever lived, and that he would have been champion any time Johnson had given him a fight. My own opinion is that it would have made for one helluva good fight, and that Sam would have certainly had a puncher’s chance.
Q: Although Sam comes across as a happy man even in the most adverse circumstances, did you find any indications that he was bitter over never having had a chance to win a world championship?
A: It’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t have been a little bitter about that, and I think he was certainly frustrated about it at many times during his career, but all my research led me to conclude that Sam had a very positive outlook on life, and that the statements he made to various parties during the latter part of his life about being perfectly content with his lot in life were genuine.
Q: If Sam Langford, not Jack Johnson, had become the first black heavyweight champion, would Langford’s blackness have been forgivable in a way Johnson’s was not?
A: I don’t think white America would have been happy with any black heavyweight champion during that period of time, but Sam was certainly much more popular with whites as a whole, and I believe would have been much less objectionable than Johnson was. I also wonder if it wouldn’t have taken so long for a black man to get another chance at the title after Johnson lost it to Jess Willard, if Sam had been the champion instead of Johnson.
I strongly recommend that you buy this book, folks. Take it from me; you’ll be glad you did.
*Charles Sauders is a veteran newsman, author and vice-president of the Boxing Cmmitttee of the Society of North American Hockey Historians And Researchers, www.sonahhr.com Charles is the author of Black and Bluenose: The Contemporary History of a Community (1999) as well as Share & Care: The Story of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (1994). He has also written numerous articles about the history of boxing in Nova Scotia and contributed to the retrospective history The Spirit of Africville.