Jack Johnson vs. Sam Langford

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1906-04-26 : Jack Johnson 185 lbs beat Sam Langford 156 lbs by PTS in round 15 of 15

  • Location: Lincoln A.C., Chelsea, Massachusetts, USA
  • Referee: Martin Flaherty

Two and a half years before the start of Johnson's legendary reign as World Heavyweight Champion, he met Sam Langford at the Lincoln Athletic Club in Chelsea, Massachusetts in defense of his "colored" portion of the heavyweight crown. Johnson, who had met the best heavyweight contenders (compared to the 156 lbs Langford, who had just recently started fighting heavyweights), dominated the bout and won by a lopsided fifteen-round decision. However, Langford's manager, Joe Woodman, told everyone who would listen that Langford floored the "Galveston Giant" with a right uppercut and gave him a tremendous battle. Woodman's account persisted for years, which offended Johnson greatly and prompted him to issue a series of vehement denials.

In an open letter to The Ring in 1934, Johnson wrote: “I have accounts of the fight from my dear old friend, Tad (legendary sports writer and cartoonist Tad Dorgan), which show how badly Sam Langford was whipped. Please note the account of our fifteen-round fight at Chelsea, Mass., which I am enclosing. The report shows that I gave poor Sam such a severe trimming that he had to find his way into a hospital to recuperate. The records of that fight prove that statement to be correct."

In 1945, Joe Waterman, who believed Johnson was the greatest of all the heavyweight champions, backed up Johnson's account. Waterman stated that he was at the fight and witnessed Johnson dish out a "terrible beating" to the smaller Langford.

In his 1958 book, 50 Years at Ringside, Nat Fleischer, founder of The Ring, produced the testimony of his father-in-law, Dad Phillips, who allegedly saw the fight.

Said Phillips: “Jack Johnson decisively defeated Sam Langford. He was complete master of the situation. Jack so far outclassed Langford that for a time, until he purposely eased up on his onslaughts, the fight was one-sided."

Fleischer once cornered Woodman and good-naturedly demanded the true version of events. According to Fleischer, this was Woodman’s response: “You’ve got me, Nat. Langford never dropped Johnson. But I was anxious to fix up another fight between the two and, knowing Jack’s pride, I invented the story of that knockdown to goad him into the ring against Sam again. Although it never happened, all the newspapermen believed it. They just never took the trouble to investigate. That knockdown was just a publicity gimmick.”

This was the only time Johnson ever met Langford in the ring. After Johnson defeated Tommy Burns to win the title, Langford established himself as the leading contender for Johnson's title. However, in spite of many challenges by Langford and his handlers, Johnson never gave Langford a shot at the title.

Pocket Battleship: Sam Langford
Newspaper accounts from the day after the fight