1916-03-25 Jess Willard nd-w pts 10 Frank Moran, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD
1916-03-25 Jess Willard nd-w pts 10 Frank Moran, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD. Referee: Charlie White. Making his first defence Willard (225) was just too big, too strong and too good for the Pittsburgh man, and had he not broken his right hand in the second round the result may have been quite different. Towering above his opponent the champion used his tremendous reach advantage to dictate the fight, winning at least seven rounds, but Moran (203) was always dangerous with the right hand. There were no knockdowns.
After this, which had been followed by a two-round exhibition for Willard against Soldier Kearns, Sam Langford continued to press for a title shot by taking on all comers in defence of the ‘black’ title, including Jeff Clark (nd-w rsc 5 at the Future AC, St Louis, Missouri on 31 March), Sam McVea (nd-l pts 10 at The Arena, Syracuse, New York on 7 April), Harry Wills (nd-l pts 8 at the Future AC, St Louis on 25 April), McVea again (nd-drew 12 at the Market Street Rink, Akron, Ohio on 2 May) and Joe Jeannette (nd-w co 7 at The Arena, Syracuse on 12 May). This win, in what was a risk for both fighters in a scheduled ten-round no-decision contest, brought Langford overall control of the ‘black’ heavyweight title.
Next up for Langford was McVea (drew 20 at the Avellanedo Roma Theatre, Buenos Aires, Argentina on 12 August) yet again, followed by Bill Tate (nd-drew 10 at The Arena, Syracuse on 30 November) and Battling Jim Johnson (nd-w co 12 at the Future AC, St Louis on 12 December).
1917 started well enough for Langford when outpointing Battling Jim Johnson over 12 rounds at the Academy AC, Kansas City, Missouri on 1 January, before Tate took a 12-round points decision and the ‘black’ title from him at the Grand Opera House, Kansas City, Missouri on 25 January.
While the 37-year-old Willard remained inactive, Langford, no spring chicken himself, regained the ‘ black title’ from Tate (nd-w co 5 at the Future AC, St Louis on 1 May) and then notched up defences over Wills (nd-l pts 6 at the Cambria AC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 11 May), Jeannette (nd-w pts 12 at The Coliseum, Toledo, Ohio on 14 September), Andy Johnson (nd-w co 2 at the Maryland AC, Ardmore, Maryland on 17 September), Wills (nd-l pts 10 at the Clermont Rink, Brooklyn, NYC on 20 September), Wills again (nd-drew 12 at The Coliseum, Toledo on 12 November) and Kid Norfolk (nd-w co 2 at Stockyards Stadium, Denver, Colorado on 17 December). Langford’s ‘black’ title reign came to an end on 14 April 1918 in Panama City, Panama, when he was knocked out by Wills inside six rounds.
Wills then stopped Langford in seven rounds at the same venue on 19 May 1918 before defeating McVea (w pts 20 at the Vista Allegre Bullring, Panama City, Panama on 16 June) and risking the title in short distance no-decision fights against Clark (nd-w rsc 5 at the Sporting Club Arena, Atlantic City, New Jersey on 19 August 1918), Jack Thompson (nd-w pts 6 at the National AC, Philadelphia on 14 September 1918), Thompson again (nd-nc 8 at the Sporting Club Arena, Atlantic City on 15 November 1918), John Lester Johnson (nd-w pts 8 at the Armory AA, Jersey City, New Jersey on 10 June 1919) and Langford (nd-w pts 8 at the Sportsmans’ Park, St Louis on 4 July 1919).
Meanwhile, Willard had remained inactive for over three years, apart from a couple of ten-round exhibition bouts against two nonentities in July 1918, and had spent much of his time travelling with a circus, taking part in sparring sessions. It was not the ideal preparation for a title defence.
By now, Tex Rickard, the promoter, was scouring the country looking for a man who could defeat the 37-year-old Willard, eventually hitting upon Jack Dempsey, who would come to be known as ‘The Manassa Mauler’. Dempsey had come up the hard way, beating men such as Fireman Jim Flynn, thus reversing an earlier loss, Carl Morris, Gunboat Smith (twice), Arthur Pelkey, Battling Levinsky and Fred Fulton. Rickard had been thinking of matching Fulton against Willard, but after Dempsey knocked him out in 23 seconds at the Baseball Park, Harrison, New Jersey on 27 July 1918 he became the obvious choice to meet the champion.