Saturday, 21 January 2012 18:52

The Black Foursome of the Teens

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At the turn of the 20th century four of the greatest boxers to ever set foot in the ring came to be known as "The Black Foursome of the Teens." The four fighters are heavyweights Joe Jennette, Jack Johnson, Sam McVea and the greatest of the four, Sam Langford.

Sam Langford
Sam Langford is considered by many to be the greatest fighter to set foot in the squared circle. Know as the "Boston Bonecrusher" or the "Boston Tar Baby" Langford fought successfully against fighters in every weight class from lightweight to heavyweight but because he was black was never given the opportunity to fight for a world title in the U.S. Langford did however win the heavyweight championship of Mexico and the heavyweight championship of Australia.

sam_langfordSam Langford was born March 4, 1883 in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia. He was short in stature standing just 5'8" tall but he had a long reach.

Langford moved well and hit with power in both hands, he was considered a boxer puncher "supreme". He fluctuated in weight between 139 and 204 pounds over his 24 year career.

In his more than 290 professional bouts Langford would fight anyone at any weight, sometimes being outweighed by as much as 50 pounds or more.

Langford turned pro in early 1902 and within 18 months of his first professional fight, he beat lightweight world champion Joe Gans. Two weeks later Langford fought welterweight champion Jack Blackburn at a catch-weight of 142 pounds. The catch-weight was so that even if Langford won the bout there would be no chance of him winning Blackburn's title. Some sources report that this bout was an agreed draw.

On December 25, 1905 Langford fought the first of thirteen fights against heavyweight Joe Jennette. Losing the first bout by an 8th round TKO, the two men went on to fight to several draws until finally in December of 1913; Langford beat Jennette in a 20 round decision.

Langford also fought heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in 1906. It took Johnson 15 rounds to beat his much smaller adversary. After the fight Johnson said it was the last time he would fight Langford, "It was too hard and took too long to get this title to take a chance of losing it to Langford." (Bert Sugar on Sam Langford)

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson fought for fourteen years before he was given a chance to fight for the heavyweight title. Having pursued the current heavyweight champion at the time, Tommy Burns, literally around the world, Johnson finally got his chance to fight Burns on December 26, 1908. Johnson would show up at Burns' fights and sit ringside; he would taunt and heckle Burns until Burns finally gave in and gave Johnson the chance to fight for the title. Johnson caught up with Burns in Australia. The heavyweight championship fight was held at Rushcutter's Bay in Sydney, Australia.

Johnson went on to give Burns a beating for fourteen rounds until the police stepped in to stop the fight. It was that day, December 26, 1908, in Australia that the first black heavyweight champion of the world was crowned.

The title belonged to Jack Johnson and there were many in the U.S. boxing community who were not happy about it. Every promoter in the U.S. was looking for "The Great White Hope" to get the heavyweight title back in the hands of a white man.

There was one fact that was without question, Jack Johnson earned and defended the heavyweight title fighting many of boxing's all time greats.

jack_johnsonAmong those that Johnson fought were, Victor McLaglen, the movie actor, Philadelphia Jack O' Brien and Al Kaufman, winning each of the fights handily. On October 16, 1909 came the historic battle with middleweight world champion Stanley Ketchel. Before the bout between Johnson and Ketchel, a deal was made whereby there was to be no knockdown in the fight. In the twelfth round Ketchel saw an opening and landed a powerful shot to Johnson's jaw. The punch dropped the newly crowned heavyweight to the canvas. Johnson, clearly angered by the incident quickly jumped to his feet and landed a powerful left uppercut to the jaw of Ketchel knocking the middleweight down for the count.

Following the fight with Ketchel promoters in the US were more determined than ever to find the "Great White Hope" that would dethrone Johnson and put the heavyweight title back in the hands of a white man.

By this point in his life Jack Johnson's escapades and marriages to white women had turned the public in the US against him. Johnson decided to call Europe home and later South America; in the mean time promoters continued searching for a Caucasian fighter to keep this "wily Negro" from being heavyweight champion of the world.

Before going overseas, Johnson had one last important fight in the states. Former champion James J Jefferies had been talked out of retirement for a fight with Johnson to win back the heavyweight title for the Caucasian race. The bout was put together by world renowned promoter Tex Rickard. The fight was scheduled for July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada where Rickard himself would serve as referee.

Jefferies, who came out of a six year retirement for this fight, lost over 100 pounds to get in shape for the fight. Johnson retained the heavyweight title by knocking Jefferies out in the 15th round.

Finally in the early part of 1915, Johnson was matched to fight heavyweight Jess Willard for the heavyweight championship. The fight was originally scheduled to be fought in Mexico not far from Willard's training camp in Texas but due to political unrest the fight was moved to Cuba and scheduled for April. After 26 rounds in the brutal heat of Havana, Cuba, Jess Willard knocked Jack Johnson out to win the heavyweight title.
Supposedly Johnson was knocked unconscious in the 26th round. Rumor has it that Johnson threw the fight. The last picture of the fight shows Johnson flat on his back, shielding his eyes from the sun; hardly the act of a man who was knocked unconscious.  (Johnson KOs Jeffries)

Joe Jennette
If you were born in the United States in the late 1800's or early 1900's, you chose boxing as your profession and you happened to be black the chances of you getting a title fight with a legitimate contender were slim to none.

Many of the great black fighters of the era fought each other repeatedly just to get a fight in order to make enough money to put food on the table for their families. This was the case for the third member of the "Black Foursome of the Teens," Joe Jennette.

Just like the fighter he most admired, Sam Langford, Jennette was allowed to fight title holders, but usually written into their contract was a clause barring them from winning a title.

joe_jeanetteJennette was an example of the many great black fighters of the time who repeatedly had to fight one another.

Jennette fought Sam Langford fifteen times and Sam McVea five times. Jennette also had fights with ring greats Morris Harris (4), Black Bill (10), Battling Jim Johnson (9) and Hall-of-Fame great Harry Wills 5 times. Jennette also fought Jack Johnson seven times. Jennette ended up beating Johnson once on a foul in two rounds, losing once on a 15 round decision and drawing once over 10 rounds. The other four fights Jennette had with Johnson were recorded as no-decisions.

Many of these fighters went to Europe to fight where they had a much better chance of being treated financially fair. Of the five fights Joe Jennette fought Sam McVea, two took place in Paris. In February of 1909, they met for the second time, according to most ring records of the time; In that fight the two gave what came to be called a "lackluster" performance as the fans made their opinion known after the fight by throwing programs and other garbage into the ring. Both fighters decided to give the fans another bout two months later.

Jennette and McVea agreed to fight a ring battle with no round limits. The resulting fight turned out to be one of the greatest boxing marathons in pugilistic history. McVea scored a total of 27 knockdowns in the fight. Jennette made a miraculous comeback in the 19th round and seized control of the fight. As the fight reached the forty round mark, Jennette clearly controlled the fight but still wasn't able to finish off McVea. Finally, after 49 grueling rounds, McVea couldn't continue and Jennette won the fight.
(Joe Jennette on 'Amazing Sports Stories')

Sam McVea
The fourth member of the "Black Foursome" was Sam McVea. Some record books have his name as Samuel E MacVea and others have it Samuel E McVey.


As a heavyweight fighter, McVea was a strong, durable fighter who possessed considerable brute strength. He fought mostly "Name" black fighters during his 19 year career and won what was called the "Colored Heavyweight Championship of the World." 

He won the title by beating Jack Johnson in 1903, before Johnson won the legitimate heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in 1908.

McVea was born in Waelder, Texas on May 17, 1884. He stood just shy of six feet tall and weighed around 205-215 pounds. McVea, not unlike other black fighters of his era, was limited to fighting only other black athletes. McVea, like the other three "Black Foursome of the Teens," repetitiously fought the same men over and over. Having fought the best of the group, Sam Langford no less than 15 times; McVea also fought in marathon fights some up to 50 rounds. (McVea battles Jim Johnson)

  • Sam McVea was inducted in the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame in 1999. McVea had 97 recorded pro fights with a record of 63-12-7 with 48 KO's; 13 ND and 2 NC
  • Joe Jennette was inducted in the IBHOF in 1997. Jennette had 157 recorded pro bouts with a record of 79-9-6 with 66 KO's; 62 ND and 1 NC
  • Jack Johnson was inducted in the IBHOF in 1990. Johnson fought 123 recorded pro bouts with a record of 77-13-14 with 48 KO's and 19 ND
  • Sam Langford was inducted in the IBHOF in 1990. Langford fought 293 recorded pro bouts with a record of 167-38-37 with 117 KO's, 48 ND and 3 NC

The "Black Foursome of the Teens" was four of the greatest athletes from any era in any sport. It can only be imagined how far these boxing greats could have gone if they were born at a different time in history.


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