Nova Scotia

'An incredible fighter': New play explores life of boxer Sam Langford

A play on the life and career of Nova Scotia boxer Sam Langford explores one of boxing's little-known heroes.

Weymouth Falls native considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time

Jacob Sampson is the playwright and actor who portrays heavyweight boxer Sam Langford in Chasing Champions: The Sam Langford Story. The play runs from Aug. 5 to Aug. 25 at the Ship's Company Theatre in Parrsboro. (Ship's Company Theatre)

One of the greatest heavyweight boxers in the world is from Nova Scotia — but you've probably never heard of him.

Sam Langford was born in Weymouth Falls in 1883, and by the early 20th century was poised to take the top title in the sport. 

But fighters refused to challenge Langford, sometimes discriminating against Langford because he was black, other times refusing because they knew Langford would win. He never had a shot at a world championship title.

His life is the subject of the play Chasing Champions, which is being staged at the Ship's Company Theatre in Parrsboro August 8 to 25.

'The unknown was the real attraction'

Jacob Sampson, the playwright, told CBC's Information Morning that when he stumbled across Langford's story it immediately captured his imagination.

"I had never heard about Sam," he said. "So the unknown was the real attraction."

Sampson, who grew up an hour away from Weymouth Falls in the Annapolis Valley, said that like WWII nurse Mona Parsons or businesswoman Viola Desmond, Langford is a historically significant figure that many Nova Scotians don't know about, despite his connection to the province.

Second-greatest puncher of all time

Langford has been recognized elsewhere: boxing magazine The Ring named him the second-greatest puncher in the history of the sport, and ESPN has ranked him among the top ten boxers of all time.

"He was just an incredible fighter," said Sampson."Fighters like [Mike] Tyson used to watch old footage and emulate some of the things that Sam Langford did."

Sam Langford is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. (George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress/Wikipedia)

Yet because racism and the economics of the sport kept him from a chance to fight for the title of world champion, Langford was denied widespread recognition. He died destitute in a boarding house in Harlem.

'He was still a very happy man'

Sampson is hoping the play will raise Langford's profile and reflect some of his spirit.

"When you read about fighters ducking him or hiding behind the colour line, it really gives you a picture of what the spirit of [Langford] was.

"Despite that, his spirit was still very gracious and not bitter. He was still a very happy man."

With files from CBC's Information Morning