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New biography about Sam Langford Posted on 08-14-2008

Here's another review: Nova Scotia boxer considered by many to be one of best of all time, although world championship title eluded him By CHARLES SAUNDERS Halifax Herald Sun. Apr 27 - 2008 More than 60 years after his death, Sam Langford’s name and reputation continue to command respect. Although he never held a world championship, Langford — a native of Weymouth Falls — is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. He was a small man who loomed larger than life. Virtually every book on the history of boxing mentions him, sometimes at length. His name even appears in works of fiction, such as Budd Schulberg’s famous novel The Harder They Fall. Yet for all the praise he garnered for his prowess in the ring, the full story of Langford, the man, remained untold for far too long. It’s as though his life is an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. For years, that puzzle has been crying out to be put together. Now, Clay Moyle, a boxing historian from Edgewood, Wash., has answered that call. As a longtime fan of pugilism, Moyle’s interest was piqued by the pieces he saw of Langford’s life. "The more I read about him, the more convinced I became that he was one of the greatest boxers of all time," Moyle says. "Under different circumstances, he might have become a world champion of at least four, if not five, different weight categories. It was a grave injustice that he didn’t get the opportunity. "I was shocked that a Sam Langford biography didn’t exist, and decided I would try to write his story." After five years of research and writing, Moyle has given us that biography: Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion. Weighing in at nearly 500 pages (429), the book takes us on a journey through a tumultuous life filled with triumph and tragedy, accomplishment and disappointment, joy and pain. The reader accompanies Langford from his boyhood in Weymouth Falls to his death in Boston, with all the epic events in between. Standing five foot seven inches tall, Langford began his career as a 130-pound teenager. At the end of his 23-year career, his weight topped 200 — not all of it muscle. His peak weight was 170 to 180 — just about all muscle and arms.Whatever his weight, Langford was known as a clever ring strategist — and also a murderous puncher. Moyle quotes Harry Wills, a heavyweight who fought Langford more than 20 times: "When he hit you in the body, you’d kind of look around half expecting to see his glove sticking out of your back. When he hit you on the chin — well, when that happened, you didn’t think at all until they brought you back to life again." Wills wasn’t the only opponent Langford fought multiple times. But his name will always be linked with a man he fought only once: Jack Johnson, the first black fighter to win the heavyweight championship of the world. Two years before Johnson made history in 1908, he met Langford in a 15-round bout at Chelsea, Mass. The record shows that Johnson won by decision. Legends say that even though he was outweighed by 30 to 40 pounds, Langford knocked Johnson down. The decision was not disputed, even by Langford. But whether or not Langford put Johnson on the canvas has been a bone of contention for decades. Moyle’s definitive account of that fight — including an encounter a few days later that was supposed to be an exhibition but turned into a brawl — leans toward the conclusion that Langford did not drop Johnson. Yet Johnson himself, according to one of the autobiographies Moyle cites, says Langford did knock him down. Of the hundreds of bouts Langford fought, this one was the most significant. Had Langford won, he, not Johnson, might have gone on to win the heavyweight title. Once Johnson got the title, he made sure Langford would never get the chance to take it away from him. Moyle chronicles Langford’s frustrating chase of Johnson: signed contracts unfulfilled; demands for more money than Langford’s manager, Joe Woodman, could raise; claims by Johnson that there was no money to be made with two black men fighting for the title — in the end, the quest was fruitless. Although Langford could have sunk into bitterness, Moyle is convinced he didn’t; that Langford’s upbeat personality was genuine, not a facade. Langford was certainly a genuine wit, who could have held his own with Muhammad Ali when it came to gab. This scene from the lead-up to a bout Langford had with John Lester Johnson is but one example: Upon entering the arena, Sam encountered Johnson stretched out on a rubbing table with a handler fanning him and he inquired: "What are you doing, boy?" "Just taking a little nap," replied Johnson. "Why now? You’re gonna be takin’ one in that ring," replied Sam. John Lester Johnson didn’t last a round. Suppose fate had dealt Langford different cards, and he had beaten Johnson to the heavyweight title. Johnson’s reign proved controversial, and it set back race relations in America. Could Langford have changed history? "I don’t think white America would have been happy with any black heavyweight champion during that time," says Moyle. "But Sam was certainly 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." Playing the cards he had, Langford stayed in the game too long. He kept fighting even when he was blind and out-of-shape. After finally quitting the ring, he descended into poverty and infirmity. Moyle paints a bleak, but accurate, picture of Langford’s later years. Still, Sam was hardly the first fighter to go broke, and he bore his hardships with dignity and humour. Although the book concentrates on Langford’s ring exploits, it also provides glimpses of his family life that complete his story. Sam Langford was an uncrowned champion. But Moyle’s biography crowns Langford with glory.
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cmoyle replied on 08-14-2008 06:40PM [Reply]
Last post by me today. Here's link to view it at Amazon, where you can see a book description and some more short reader reviews, though like I say you can order a signed copy directly from me by emailing [EMAIL="cmoyle@aol.com"]cmoyle@aol.com[/EMAIL]: Amazon.com: Sam Langford: Boxing's Greatest Uncrowned Champion: Clay Moyle: Books
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