Name: Sam Langford
Alias: Boston Tar Baby
Birthplace: Weymouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Died: 1956-01-12 (Age:72)
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Height: 5′ 7½″ / 171cm
Reach: 74″ / 188cm
Boxing Record: click
Sam Langford, known as the Boston Tar Baby, the Boston Terror and the Boston Bonecrusher, is regarded as one of the best boxers of all-time and arguably the greatest boxer to never win, or even fight for, a world title. White champions drew the color line, and Jack Johnson, the first black World Heavyweight Champion, said a fight against Langford and other black heavyweights wouldn't draw fans.
Langford stood 5'7½" and fought from lightweight up to heavyweight. He fought between 165 and 185 pounds when he was in his prime. Despite his small stature, he was feared by some of the best heavyweights of his time.
Born in Nova Scotia, Langford left home as a youth to escape an abusive father. He made his way to Boston where eventually he found janitorial work in a boxing gymnasium at the Lenox Athletic Club. Before long he was sparring and honing his own boxing skills. He won the amateur featherweight championship of Boston at age 15.
In 1903, Langford's second year as a professional, he defeated World Lightweight Champion Joe Gans in a 15-round non-title fight. The following year, Langford fought a fifteen-round draw in a non-title fight with World Welterweight Champion Joe Walcott.
Langford fought Jack Johnson for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in 1906 and lost by a decisive fifteen-round decision. Langford weighed just 156 pounds, while Johnson tipped the scales at 185.
Over the years, the myth grew that Langford had given Johnson all kinds of trouble, and that his defeat had been controversial. The story was stoked by Langford's manager, Joe Woodman, in an attempt to drum up demands for a rematch after Johnson had become the first black man to win the World Heavyweight Championship. But Langford had grown bigger (although he was always small for a heavyweight, even by the standards of the time), more skilled and more experienced in the interim, and Johnson demurred.
After Johnson knocked out James J. Jeffries in 1910 to defend the World Heavyweight Championship, Johnson said, "No attention will be paid to Sam Langford's challenges by me. I do not consider he could give me a fight that would draw." When Johnson refused to give him a title shot, Langford claimed the World Colored Heavyweight Championship.
With Johnson and many white fighters refusing to fight black men, Langford and the other elite black heavyweights fought each other repeatedly. Langford fought Harry Wills 18 times, Sam McVea 15 times, Joe Jeannette 14 times, and Battling Jim Johnson 11 times.
In the early 1920s, when Langford was half-blind, he went to Jack Kearns, the manager of World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey, and asked for a shot at the title. Kearns said, "Sam, we were looking for somebody easier."
In his autobiography, Dempsey wrote, “There was one man...I wouldn’t fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford.”
By the end of his career, Langford could barely see. His eyes failing, Langford would fight on the inside so he could feel his opponent and know where his arms were. At the end of a round, he'd use the ropes to feel his way back to his corner. Doctors twice tried to restore his sight, but by the mid-1930s, Langford was totally blind.
In 1944, Al Laney of the New York Herald Tribune decided to write a story about Langford, but he had trouble finding him. Several people suggested that Langford was probably dead, but Laney persisted and finally found Langford living at a rooming house on 139th Street in New York City. Langford had 20 cents in his pocket and was subsisting on a few dollars he received each month from a foundation for the blind.
Shortly after Laney's story was published, a fund was set up for Langford. As a result, he lived relatively comfortably for the rest of his days. Langford passed away on January 12, 1956 at a private nursing home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Nat Fleischer ranked Langford as the seventh greatest heavyweight of all-time in 1958.
- Charley Rose, in the 1968 edition of The Ring Boxing Encyclopedia and Record Book, ranked Langford as the greatest heavyweight of all-time.
- Herbert Goldman ranked Langford as the second greatest light heavyweight of all-time in 1987.
- The Ring ranked Langford as the third greatest puncher of all-time in 1997.
- Historian Tracy G. Callis ranked Langford as the fourth greatest fighter of all-time in 1998.
- The Associated Press ranked Langford as the ninth greatest heavyweight of the 20th century in 1999.
- Langford was voted Nova Scotia's top male athlete of the 20th century in 1999.
- Writer Kieran Mulvaney ranked Langford as the tenth greatest fighter of all-time in 2007 and wrote that Langford was "almost certainly the greatest fighter never to win, or even fight for, a world title."
Known exhibitions boxed by Langford
- 1910 March - Bob Armstrong EX 3 Los Angeles, CA
- 1910 March - George Byers EX 3 Los Angeles, CA
- 1910 October 22 - Johnny Kilbane EX 3 Boston, MA
- 1914 January 26 - Bob Armstrong EX 3 London, ENG
- 1914 November or December - Charley Short EX 6 Bakersfield, CA
- 1916 December - Hugh Walker EX 3
- 1918 November 29 - Jeff Clarke EX 10 Milwaukee, WI