Boxing is full of stories, some true, many more not so. There are as many myths surrounding the boxing ring and what went on inside it as there are days of the year, if not many, many more. But one tale that is true, yet is absolutely astonishing and so easy to raise an eyebrow at, tells the story of what happened 100 years ago this week – June 5, 1922 – when eternal greats Sam Langford and Tiger Flowers fought a non-title fight at middleweight.
They say any fear a fighter carries with him, or her, into the ring evaporates the second the opening bell rings. This is the time when all the pre-fight worries and jitters are replaced by the sheer instinct to fight – to ‘do it to him before he does it to me.’ No-one can say how Langford and Flowers were feeling as they awaited the knock at the dressing room door, ‘it’s time to go,’ before their 1922 bout.
But Langford was by this time a seriously compromised fighter; albeit one who had no thought, or ability, of quitting the rigours of the ring. Sam, an incredible 176-37-46, was 37 years of age and the man who had taken on and beaten the best from lightweight up to heavyweight was blind in his left eye. Having fought on for far too long (his debut taking place in 1902; this some ten years before the Titanic sank, if that kind of, sort of puts this into any kind of perspective), Langford had paid the price. Or his eyesight had paid the price.
Sam could still fight, he just had to get in close and ‘feel’ his opponent so as to set up his shots. Flowers, a future king the way the neglected Langford never had been, was approaching his prime at age 26, yet he had already compiled a 30-4-1 record. Kid’s play compared to Langford’s simply insane numbers but still a career by today’s standards. Tiger had fought at middleweight and light-heavyweight.
The fight between the two all-time greats took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and fans witnessed something truly, well, amazing.
Langford, relying by this seriously advanced stage of his career on his good right eye, actually went totally blind in round-two. Somehow refusing to panic – and just imagine if you can (I cannot) the sheer terror that would befall you if you were in the middle of a fight and you went completely blind – Langford is reported to have held the rope, waited until his opponent got close enough, and then, in doing something that is surely worthy of a whole book being devoted to it; at the very least a couple of chapters – the handicapped fighter fired out a blind right hand.
The shot, a classic six-inch bomb, landed flush on the chin and Flowers was out. How Sam did it we can only guess; our guessing done with open-mouthed awe.
“How he used to fight, he used to feel his opponent, he used to go in close – and he was such a brilliant fighter, he could fight inside for the entire fight – and as soon as he was on the inside, he would instinctively know from all his years experience, he could tell where his opponent’s arms were and so forth and he could do ok,” said an expert of the day.
Again, truly incredible.
Langford ended up totally blind, and broke, and largely forgotten. But Sam never once stopped smiling. He passed away in 1956.
Flowers regrouped after the KO loss, going on to beat the one and only Harry Greb in February of 1926, Tiger becoming world middleweight king. Flowers beat Greb again, before losing the title to the tougher than tough Mickey Walker. Ironically, Flowers also suffered eye trouble, dying after an op to remove scar tissue from his eyes, this in 1927. Tiger was just 32 years of age.
We say it often, but it really is oh, so painfully true: they don’t make ’em like they used to.