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‘I Was Afraid of Sam Langford’
-Jack Dempsey from Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion, by Clay Moyle

2006, B&H, Seattle, Washington, 430 pages

I have been reading period accounts of boxing bouts by newspaper men as part of an attempted emersion into the popular writing of the time of Robert E. Howard. One of Howard’s inspirations, Jack London, was a boxing writer. Boxing historian and author, Clay Moyle came to my aid with three books on old time boxers. Before this brief review is done, I think the reader of Robert E. Howard’s adventure fiction will understand the relevance of this inclusion in REH Trails, which is an exploration of Howard’s works which are heavily weighted toward the theme of a man being molded by his environment, usually a fierce man sprung from a fierce world. One simply cannot consider Howard and his work without at least a glance at his favorite sport, boxing, which, for the entire first half of the 20th century, was the second biggest pastime in America after baseball.

To contact Clay Moyle and help with his mission of establishing an accurate history of boxing, visit his site at

Clay Moyle has written the best boxing narrative I have read. He doesn’t have the flare of Khan in A Flame of Pure Fire, Jack Dempsey and the Roaring Twenties. But his writing finds a place in your soul for his lonely subject and walks you through another time in a tougher man’s shoes.

Sam Langford is a treasure trove for the student of early twentieth century Negro boxing, when the sport was passed to the least loved segment of American society for exploitation by their betters. But these men—many of them pictured in between these two hard covers—made it better than it was before.

Joe Jeanette, Jack Blackburn, Joe Gans, George Dixon, Jack Johnson, Sam McVea—who fought MMA in Japan in 1905—and Sam “The Boston Tar Baby” Langford, improved the technical execution standard for boxing.

Clay tells the story of Sam Langford, a hard working man with the strongest natural punch in boxing history, one major opponent at a time. The scheme of the book is arranged as is a fighter’s learning curve—his life cycle—according to the hard men he sharpened himself on—proud men who wore flag-kerchiefs tied at their waist and fought longer and harder than any men before or since.

Ironically, in Sam’s time the intelligent fighters were generally the blacks, with the white men in the game being so incredibly tough that the modern mind reels. Sam’s battles with Iron Hague, Barry, Flynn and his rivalry with Stanly Ketchel are covered, as well as his pursuit of the biggest black names in the game.

The wealth of photos is instructive and enlightening. Sam’s short stature, dark complexion and brutal disposal of opponents did not make him a favorite among many white spectators. Sam was in the habit of taking it easy with a man for a while and then making a KO prediction to the reporters at ringside. Below is a quote selected by Clay for the book which gives a good feel for the bad feel of the times, against Fireman Jim Flynn, who suffered terribly against Sam with broken nose and jaw:

“It was horrible-sickening. I sat next to an old Californian who averted his head and held his hat before his face during the last few rounds. ‘I have seen Mexicans cut each other to ribbons with bowie knives,’ he said, ‘but this is too strong for me.’ It was cold, deliberate slaughter. Langford, the cave man, would put his left hand against the white man’s bleeding face and push away to arm’s length [indexing or measuring], his little pig eyes running critically over the maimed white body, a connoisseur selecting a vital spot , the blows so terrible they could be heard all over the pavilion. Flynn fought with the helpless ferocity of a wounded lion. Sometimes he seemed to land heavily, but the fight was painfully unequal. It was a raw, clumsy, savage blunderer, trying to defend himself against the skill and strength of a jungle animal.’”

-Harry Carr, Los Angeles Daily Times, February 8, 1910

Does that not read, in spirit, if not in headlong form, like a passage from a Robert E. Howard yarn?

Clay Moyle has written a savagely soulful tale of one man’s struggle to carve a life out of a hard world with his own hands. I suspect Robert E. Howard would have thrilled to read these accounts and am willing to suggest that he may have read of some of the very ring battles described in Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion.

For Chapter 23, The Forgotten Man, opposite of a picture of a shrunken old man in robe and slippers and sunglasses, seated in an easy chair listening to a radio not long before his death, the author quotes his subject in old age:

“What you want to write about old Sam for? He ain’t no good any more.”

-Sam Langford

The Punishing Art

Add Comment
LynnAugust 3, 2016 12:42 AM UTC

You are going to love Steve Costigan.