1916-03-25 Jess Willard nd-w pts 10 Frank Moran, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD

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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 on 31 March at the Future AC, St Louis, Missouri); Sam McVea (nd-l pts 10 on 7 April at The Arena, Syracuse, New York); Harry Wills (nd-l pts 8 on 25 April at the Future AC); McVea again (nd-drew 12 on 2 May at the Market Street Rink, Akron, Ohio) and Joe Jeannette (nd-w co 7 on 12 May at The Arena, Syracuse). 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, yet again, McVea (drew 20 on 12 August at the Avellanedo Roma Theatre, Buenos Aires, Argentina); Bill Tate (nd-drew 10 on 30 November at The Arena, Syracuse) and Battling Jim Johnson (nd-w co 12 on 12 December at the Future AC).

1917 started well enough for Langford, outpointing 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 on 25 January at the Grand Opera House, Kansas City, Missouri.

While the 37-year-old Willard remained inactive, Langford, no spring chicken himself, regained the ‘ black title’ from Tate (nd-w co 5 in St Louis on 1 May) and then notched up defences over Wills (nd-l pts 6 on 11 May at the Cambria AC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Jeannette (nd-w pts 12 on 14 September at The Coliseum, Toledo, Ohio); Andy Johnson (nd-w co 2 on 17 September at the Maryland AC, Ardmore, Maryland); Wills (nd-l pts 10 on 20 September at the Clermont Rink, Brooklyn, NYC); Wills again (nd-drew 12 on 12 November at The Coliseum, Toledo) and Kid Norfolk (nd-w co 2 on 17 December at Stockyards Stadium, Denver, Colorado). 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 and defeated McVea (w pts 20 at the Vista Allegre Bullring, Panama City, Panama on 16 June) before risking the title in short distance no-decision fights against Clark (nd-w rsc 5 on 19 August 1918 at the Sporting Club Arena, Atlantic City, New Jersey); Jack Thompson (nd-w pts 6 on 14 September 1918 at the National AC, Philadelphia); Thompson again (nd-nc 8 on 15 November 1918 at the Sporting Club Arena, Atlantic City); John Lester Johnson (nd-w pts 8 on 10 June 1919 at the Armory AA, Jersey City, New Jersey) and Langford (nd-w pts 8 on 4 July 1919 at the Sportsmans’ Park, St Louis).

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 and eventually hit 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.