Hall of Famer
Inducted in 1955
Career record: 168 wins, 38 losses, 37 draws, 48 no decisions, 3 no contests, and 117 wins by knockout
Sam Langford was hands down the best boxer never to win a world championship. It might seem like faint praise, but in his case such an epitaph highlights just how talented the Nova Scotia boxer was, how hard the champions of his era worked to avoid meeting him in the ring, and, sadly, how the history of boxing has been tainted by racism. Langford is considered by some to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in history. However, due to the racism prevalent in boxing during his lifetime he was never able to justify such praise in the ring as white world champions avoided fighting black boxers, especially those as talented as Langford. 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 and a year later was boxing professionally as a welterweight. Over more than two decades, Langford would fight some of the world's best boxers from welterweight up to heavyweight—despite his short stature and comparatively light weight—though he was never given the heavyweight title shot that his reputation justified. In 1903, he defeated lightweight champion Joe Gans over 15 rounds in a non-title bout and a year later battled to a draw with light-heavyweight champion Joe Walcott in a fight that many at ringside felt Langford had won. It was the only official opportunity to fight for a world championship in Langford's career. In 1910, middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel refused to put his title on the line against Langford and the two fought to a tough six-round no-decision. In 1911, Langford knocked out former light-heavyweight champion "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien in the fifth round. In 1906, Langford fought future world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, a man around whom racism swirled. Outweighed by 20 pounds, Langford lost a 15-round decision and, once he was champion, Johnson refused to give Langford a crack at the title. Thanks in large measure to the racism of the era, Langford and many other highly esteemed black heavyweight boxers earned a living fighting one another. It's thought that Langford fought Joe Jeanette 13 times, Sam McVey 13 times, and Harry Wills 18 times. Langford retired at age 43 after almost 300 bouts had left him blind in his left eye. He struggled to live comfortably during the rest of his life, though the sportswriters who thought so much of him organized a fund for his care. In 1958, famed boxing writer Nat Fleischer rated Langford as the 7th best heavyweight of all time, while Charley Rose ranked him number one. Langford was elected to the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.