#103 – Sam Langford, Clay Moyle BOOK REVIEW

November 18, 2018
krauserpua

Sam Langford

Back in my university days, I’d sometimes go exploring in the dim and distant corners of the big university library. Most students would hang out in the usual tabled study areas and the most-borrowed assigned reading was logged at the “short loan collection”, a sub-division of the library given over to one-day borrowing. Thus, much of the library was quiet and uninhabited. The kind of silent empty aisles that the fat kid always gets lost in when pursued by the killer in Halloween movies.

Any time I heard a noise, I resisted the urge to call out, “Hey, guys! Quit fooling around, I know it’s you.” My favourite aisles held the leather-bound archives of social science journals, going back in some cases to the early 1900s. There were row upon row of them, each thick volume a custom-bound collection of one year’s publications of the title. It was the perfect place to relax [1]. Out of curiosity I’d choose a volume randomly [2] and read an article or two. It was hard to describe the feeling, of reading a paper that likely hadn’t been read in decades anywhere in the world. It’s the same feeling that dungeon-crawler games like Skyrim and Dark Souls seek to recapture when opening treasure chests.

From these flights of fancy I came to appreciate just how vast the accumulate store of human data is. A library is a never-ending rabbit warren of information. This feeling was rekindled when reading Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion. Clay Moyle has done a deep dive into newspaper archives and reconstructed the life and career of one of boxing’s most colourful, and under-represented, characters. Langford was a sensation in his day, 1900-1920, but dropped out of institutional memory faster than a mass-shooter with a Democrat voter registration.

It made me think just how few stories are told in book form compared to those which could be told, given the raw information out there. Moyle has done a great job in rolling his sleeves up, interrogating the newspaper databases, and then stitching everything together into a narrative. I doubt it was hard to do, but the work needed to be done and Moyle did a bang-up job, to which I’m grateful. Just think for a minute, of what is possible in this internet-powered word-processor era:

Find a notable character from the past who interests you. Google search his name [3], then go into one of the many newspaper archive databases and search again. Organise the articles chronologically, arranged by clusters around key events in his life. That’s the basis of a book right there, and I suspect it’s more-or-less what Moyle did.

So who is Sam Langford, nick-named The Boston Tar Baby?

Sam Langford book 2

I’d heard plenty about him since I first began collecting boxing magazines in the mid-1990s. The Ring magazine in particular was very good about keeping boxing tradition alive and reintroducing worthy old-timers to each new crop of readers. Langford was one of the ‘big four’ nigger [4] black fighters of the pre-Dempsey era who were denied title shots due to the alleged ‘colour bar’ by which big-name white boxers refused to fight blacks. The others were Joe Jeanette, Sam McVey, and Harry Wills. These were active men, having records of 82-10-10(69), 75-13-10(61) and 70-9-3(56) between them. Langford was busier still, retiring at a mark of 178-29-39(126) which is preposterous by today’s standards but even that number leaves off many unrecorded fights such as during his tours in Mexico, France, and Australia. Sam himself claimed in later life to have fought 600, though I guess that’s an exaggeration.

Fighting a lot is impressive, but it gets especially odd when you see how often they fought each other. Langford fought Jeanette 14 times, McVey 15 and Wills 17 times. All four men were title contenders, so that rather makes the Mickey Ward vs Arturo Gatti trilogy look tame in comparison (as does Jeanette vs McVey’s epic 49-round battle). Many boxing historians, and professionals of the day, considered Langford the greatest boxer who ever lived and then-heavyweight champ Jack Johnson fought him just once – when Langford was a rookie – and avoided him the rest of his career. Langford was only 5 feet 7 and in his prime weighed around 170lbs. I think of him like the black Harry Greb (sadly they never fought each other).

Sam Langford book

Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion does a good job digging into the man’s childhood and early forays into boxing, drawing upon newspaper features written during his athletic prime, and then patiently walks us through his key fights (and wisely skips over the unimportant ones). Boxing is a sport well-suited to this kind of review because the newspapers of the day tended to write detailed fight reports, often multiple papers covering each fight, so there’s a wealth of primary data to explore even when the fight itself wasn’t filmed.

What type of man emerges from this book?

A very likeable one. Langford comes across as cheerful, unassuming and respectful in his dealings with others while fiercely brave and competitive in the ring (unlike, say, Muhammad Ali where the more you find out about him, the more of a cunt he comes off as). He was a savvy technical fighter gifted with an iron chin and a hammer in his hands. Sadly, he was ‘ghetto rich’ in that he’d spend his ring earnings like water and be constantly hustling up new fights to pay the bills. He fought the last few years while blind in one eye [5] and was eventually reduced to scrapping in Mexico to make ends meet. Though he never became punch-drunk, he dropped out of the public eye and spend several years post-retirement living in a tiny hotel room, blind, alone, and listening to the radio.

Boxing men of the 1940s thought so highly of him that he was frequently rescued with testimonial shows, largess, and thrown do-nothing jobs as an excuse to pay him a living wage. Heavyweight champs Joe Louis fought an exhibition for him and Gene Tunney personally paid him a monthly stipend. Somehow, he still ended up broke again. The book paints a typical story of boxers from the era: humble beginnings, a tough early career being pitched in deep, an exuberant run at the top, followed by sad decline, destitution, and physical issues. Langford was an extreme case due to his prodigious fight count, heavy-handed attacking style, and complete inability to save money.

This book is highly recommended to any fan of old-time scrapping, before everyone was a faggot arguing about Conor McGregor or Khabib Nuramjihadallahakbarisis. The boxers of the early 1900s would have laughed their asses off, thinking “whose faggot this is?” at modern UFC competitors.

If you think it’s all well and good an all-time great like Sam Langford getting a single 448-page book to recount his life, but frankly, a random PUA deserves six 500+ page volumes then head on over to my product page here and knock yourself out.

Sigma Wolf store

[1] Or now, to bang a bird.
[2] More precisely, I’d “haphazardly sample” to usual social survey jargon.
[3] Unless it’s an aforementioned Democrat-voting mass shooter, in which case you’ll need DuckDuckGo to get any results.

[4] Sorry!
[5] Just like Greb

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