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With My Eyes Closed ~ Jemuel Johnson
With My Eyes Closed

Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, George Foreman, and Joe Frazier. These figures come to mind when speaking of the best boxers. They’ve been widely praised for justified reasons. However, I couldn’t help but notice that for this list of greats, only Dempsey had over 100 fights. The others average about 55 fights. Does this necessarily make Dempsey more long-suffering than the others? Quality over quantity, right? Well…

The Canadian-born boxer Sam Langford may not register quickly when thinking of the best to do it, but that doesn’t seem quite just. The guy had 300 bouts between 1902-26. 300. Let that sink in. He only lost thirteen of those and knocked out almost half of his opponents. Sam stood 5 foot 7 and 175 pounds. He fought lightweight, welterweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight, all without losing power. Short and burly, but with a long reach and demoralizing hands, his array of offense and defense was splendid. One would think this level of moxie and staying power would have “The Boston Tar Baby” echo through time. Some accepted this. The legendary Jack Dempsey confessed his unwillingness to fight the Canadian, sharing, “The hell I feared no man. There was one man, he was even smaller than I, I wouldn’t fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford.” Then there was “Fireman” Jim Flynn, who was familiar with great boxers, speaking of Langford’s punching strength: “I fought most of the heavyweights, including Dempsey and Johnson. When Langford hit me it felt like someone slugged me with a baseball bat.” Sam was a real brain-scrambler. He had more knockouts than George Foreman and Mike Tyson combined. Him being outweighed by twenty to fifty pounds in many of the brawls not withstanding! Langford took on all the best fighters the first two decades of the 20th century had to offer. During the Color-Line he was the World Colored Heavyweight champion five times and he received champion titles in Australia, England, and Mexico.

It gets more interesting. In 1917 he became blind in his left eye. That would be his cue to resign, right? He fought competitively for 10 more years, knocking opponents out, barely seeing more than shadows out of his good eye! “I went down to Mexico in 1922 with this here left eye completely gone and the right just seeing shadows. They matched me up with Kid Savage for the title. I was bluffing through that I could see but I gave myself away. They bet awful heavy on the kid when the word got round. I just felt my way around and then, wham, I got home. He forgot to duck and so I was heavy weight champion of Mexico.” What a long-suffering man he was. Although able to fight remarkably well with only one eye (a blind left eye can’t see right-handed punches!), this is where a lot of Langford’s losses accumulated. This kind of masochistic resolve isn’t something to be overlooked because it isn’t a front page stat line. Needling through cold data won’t reveal this kind of physical and mental wonder. Ring Magazine—known as “The Bible of boxing”— has Sam second on their list of the 100 greatest pound for pound punchers of all-time. In 1955 he became the first boxer to be voted into the Boxing Hall of Fame without having ever won a world championship. Before the passing of “The Boston Terror”, Sam remarked to a visitor, “Don’t nobody need to feel sorry for old Sam. I had plenty of good times. I’ve been all over the world. I fought maybe 600 fights, and every one was a pleasure.” Easy, Sam. You had me at 300. -Jemuel Johnson
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