In an era when the best fighters often fought each other, regardless of weight class, Langford campaigned from lightweight to heavyweight. But eventually he developed into a fixture of the heavyweight division, where he fought at about 180 pounds. At just over 5’7”, he was an extremely compact, athletic fighter, though he was blessed with a 74” reach, allowing him to fight with great effectiveness from the outside, as well as at close range.
Langford is widely considered the greatest fighter to never win a world title. In fact, he never even got the chance to fight for one. Although boxing was always ahead of the rest of society in the area of race relations and integration, Langford’s career still suffered due to the racism of the time. Even after fellow African-American Jack Johnson managed to capture the heavyweight championship, Langford was part of the great quartet of black contenders who Johnson avoided while champion, along with Joe Jeannette, Sam McVea and Harry Wills.
Langford’s contemporaries considered him the best of the best. Jack Dempsey once confessed that he knew he could not beat him, although by the time Dempsey became champion, Langford was well past his prime and already going blind.
Langford possessed devastating punching power and exquisite defensive skill. He was a master at blocking and returning punches, as well as slipping or bobbing. He had tremendously powerful shoulders and back muscles, which allowed him to coil like a steel spring when slipping punches, making his hooks and uppercuts crushing counters. Despite the racial discrimination he faced, Langford compiled a resume that puts him in the debate with other legends like Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb and Henry Armstrong for the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time.
Blackburn was an elite lightweight contender during an era that was dominated by Joe Gans, who he lost to in two of three fights. Gans is one of the top three to five lightweights of all time. Blackburn was a tall, lanky fighter, with an outstanding jab and lead left hook. But his enduring spot in the Sweet Science was achieved as a trainer.
Blackburn was the man who transformed the immortal Joe Louis from raw potential to dominant heavyweight champion. Shortly after Louis turned professional, his management team of John Roxborough and Julian Black hired Blackburn to train him. At first Blackburn turned down the offer, predicting a black heavyweight could never get a fair shot, no doubt remembering his own contemporaries such as Langford. But eventually Blackburn was persuaded. With Louis, he formed one of the great fighter-trainer teams of all time.
Blackburn worked Louis relentlessly, improving his balance and timing and teaching him to step into his punches, which made him one of the most dangerous punchers in boxing history. Louis always gave Blackburn huge credit for his success, telling people “Chappie turned me into a fighter.
Check out Briggs Seekins’ blog, Pioneers of Boxing, to read about the early, bare-knuckle era of the sport