Langford eyes defence, bigger stage

Andrew Harrison
02/10/2015 11:16am

Middleweight prospect Tommy Langford is something of an original. A wild-eyed, volume-puncher fascinated with defence and world-rated despite being just inside the domestic top ten, Langford is a convivial soul in an often cold and unforgiving trade.

A third-generation sports devotee, Langford gained a university honours degree while seeking to make progress as a boxer. He boasts dual home support in both North Devon - where he was born and raised - and Birmingham, where he relocated in order to follow his dream. Langford (13-0, 4 KOs) always appeared destined for sport. His mother is a hockey and tennis enthusiast and teaches physical education at a local secondary school in the family’s hometown of Bideford – a picturesque port town on the south-western coast of England. Langford’s father, a retired civil engineer turned teacher with a passion for football, is equally sports-minded.

“My whole family are massively sporty, and it’s the same with all my grandparents,” Langford, 26, told Boxing Monthly during an early-morning conversation. “It’s always been a big thing in my family. It’s the thing you turn to if things are going wrong.”

Hyperactive as a youngster, Langford found outlets in a variety of pursuits as a boy, including running, football and tennis. Then a brief foray into karate fostered new-found self-discipline, and an ambition to compete in a combat sport. One of five children (two sisters, two brothers) with siblings involved in football, tennis, boxing (his younger brother Jack won schoolboy titles), surfing and motocross, adherence to his parents’ mantra that ‘education was key’ wasn’t easy.

In fact, it took the prospect of a boxing scholarship at Birmingham University – one that would permit him to continue working with like-minded boxing coach Tom Chaney – for Langford to see the light.

“The main reason I moved to Birmingham was for boxing,” Langford confirmed. “The university was [secondary] really. I got to a point in my career where it was either: I had to work or I could box. When I was about 16, I could have gone and got a job – I would have ended up working on a [building] site. I’d never been a big fan of study or reading. I got pushed down that route because I wanted to take my boxing to the highest level and I’m glad I did now because I got a degree [in sports and exercise science] at the end of it as well. When I was doing well at boxing, my education was doing well.

“I made the connection with Tom Chaney from Hall Green [ABC] when I was about 16 – because I was sparring with [former British welterweight champion] Frankie [Gavin] quite a lot – and from there it was ‘I’ll try and get to Birmingham University’ so then I just had to make sure I got the grades – which I did – and then the rest is history like. Boxing was the reason why I stayed in school.”

Langford compiled an impressive 106-fight career as an amateur (86 wins) that culminated in his graduation to the national team.

“I boxed for Bideford ABC until I was 17-18 when I moved to Birmingham and then I boxed for Hall Green,” he recalled. “I boxed for England whilst I was at both clubs. The last season as an amateur, I captained the squad that went over to Canada. I boxed the Canadian that went to the Olympics at sixty-nine kilos [Custio Clayton] – he lost a dubious decision to Fred Evans. I boxed him [twice]. I beat him and lost to him, but I felt like I beat him both fights to be honest with you. [It was a] bit of a hometown decision.

“It was a wicked experience – brilliant. I loved it and I’m glad that capped off my amateur career. I’ve boxed Callum Smith, Anthony Fowler – a lot of good domestic fighters [as an amateur]. Callum’s obviously gone on to the heights he’s gone onto. I’ve done sparring with him recently and he’s probably the best technical fighter I’ve been in the ring with, but Fowler was also very good and he’s gone on to win Commonwealths and a bronze medal at the worlds so they’re the two best fighters I’ve fought.”

Langford neglected to mention he’d recorded victories over both Merseyside men until prompted – and then moved to curb any hint of self-regard by pointing out: “Obviously, looking at what they’ve gone onto, they’ve gone on to be the best fighters if you know what I mean?”

Langford turned pro late-2012. His greatest adversity throughout two years on the small hall circuit was self-inflicted, when he elected to box with cracked ribs. After stepping up his level of opposition at the beginning of 2015, Langford encountered a mid-fight moment of crisis against Sheffield southpaw Wayne Reed in February.

“I busted my eardrum [in the fight],” Langford recalled. “When it happened, I knew straight away what I’d done. I was fortunate during the fight that, at the time it got perforated, his gum shield came out - so I got sent to a neutral corner. I was in the corner checking my balance and everything. It never really caused me any pain – it was such a small hole. It was better after a couple of weeks. My balance was fine; I was hopping from one foot to the other to see if it was alright. As soon as I knew that was okay I wasn’t worried then.”

A perfectionist, Langford has since stepped up his defensive drills.

“I try to watch a lot of Andre Ward and [Floyd] Mayweather obviously, because they’re so good defensively. I’ve always had an offence. I’ve always been able to throw punches in numbers and been quite accurate.

“The thing I think I need to always concentrate on and try to work on is defence. They’re so elusive and hard to hit I try to pick things up off them. It’s mainly their feet really – the way they dictate the fight with their footwork and adjusting distance.”

Langford speaks better than most analysts. He considers himself a box-fighter. He views his height (6ft) and his nutritionist’s qualification as advantages. He’s well-versed in the Midlands’ recent tradition of producing top middleweights such as Wayne Elcock, Robert McCracken, Richie Woodhall and Matthew Macklin (The first professional main event Langford saw live involved Devonian Scott Dann and “Mad Dog” Elcock in 2005).

Langford’s ideal 160-pounder? “I’m a massive Marvin Hagler fan,” he revealed. “He was a really good technical boxer – I think he was underappreciated. He was hard as anything: no-nonsense, just got on with it, just liked fighting and only wanted to fight the best. When he stuck to his boxing he was a great boxer. He could make them miss, counter-punch and move well. He gets remembered for being a bit of a brawler but I think he was far from that.

“I think I fight quite a lot like [Joe Calzaghe], but obviously I’m orthodox - he’s southpaw. I’ve got a big engine and throw a lot of combinations. If I can add a defensive side to me then obviously I’m going to be a much harder fighter to beat. I used to do a lot of work with Frankie [Gavin]. I picked up a lot from him over the years – he’s tremendously elusive. It’s just all feet. If you’ve got really good feet and can dictate a change of distance then you’re going to cause people problems. We do a lot of drills on footwork and we’re gradually developing head movement as well.

“I’ve got that first title under my belt [Langford won the vacant WBO Intercontinental title with a fourth round TKO over Mexican Julio Cesar Avalos in July] and that’s put me in the WBO rankings [Langford is rated seventh]. I’ve got a number of options. I’m not going to go chasing any particular fighters. Having said that, if the fight came up with [British middleweight champion] Nick Blackwell and it was worth doing financially and in terms of where it’s going to propel me onto then obviously it’s worth doing [Langford outscored Blackwell’s brother, Dan, last year]. I’m confident I’d outbox anyone. As long as I do what Tom tells me, I’ve got no fear of anybody.

“Obviously, I haven’t gone over six rounds yet and I haven’t lost a round so there’s a lot of learning that still needs to be done I think. I need to get pushed a little bit more than I have been – and that’s no criticism of anybody else, it’s only credit to me really.”

Langford, a ticket-seller in a burgeoning domestic division, was to have boxed on the undercard of Andy Lee vs Billy Joe Saunders in Limerick on 19 September, but the show’s postponement brought about a change and he now tops the bill at Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Saturday (3 October).

“My wife [Leanne, a student nurse] finds it strange,” he chuckled. “You need to have that buzz and that popularity to be able to sell tickets and to be able to get the bigger fights. The support doesn’t make me nervous; it doesn’t make me feel anxious, it just makes me feel better. It makes me feel more at home. It’s good because it means that anywhere up the west coast of England I sell loads of tickets. It means everywhere you go you feel like the home fighter.”

Tom Chaney, maestro of Small Heath

Tom Chaney boxed as a schoolboy for Birmingham’s Small Heath ABC - the inner-city gym that spawned world-class middleweight Matthew Macklin and Chaney’s former charge, Frankie Gavin. After retracing his steps with son TJ some years later, Chaney discovered an aptitude for coaching and in 2000 he founded Hall Green ABC. Chaney has produced a host of national champions since. The amiable Brummie’s calm, cerebral approach held immediate appeal for the young Langford.

“He’s switched on Tom, he knows what he’s talking about,” Langford affirmed. “He’s really intuitive and he’s a calming influence on you in the corner. Having someone like that is massively important. He knows how to talk to me as well – how to get the message across to me. I know if he says I should throw a certain punch it’ll work.”

Chaney believes Langford’s “selfish desire” sets him apart. “He’s a great person to train,” Chaney said. “When you’re talking about his actual boxing ability, he could go far. He’s got a real dream and desire to do well in boxing. His boxing comes before anything – it always has done. He’s got that will to win.”

Chaney described how a teenage Langford would embark upon a six-hour round trip to Hall Green – often commuting from Bideford with his family when they travelled to West Bromwich Albion’s home ties every second weekend.

“He was so self-driven and the first stage was: get to Birmingham – get in and around us and [take] the opportunity for more and more fights and sparring. And he knew that as a kid; he’s been driven from a kid to do it.”

The British middleweight division holds real promise. It contains the likes of Joe Selkirk, Tom Doran, Adam Etches, John Ryder, Anthony Ogogo and Blackwell, alongside more established names such as Lee, Saunders, Macklin and Chris Eubank Jr. It’s a mix that excites both Langford and Chaney.

“There are big fights out there domestically and worldwide but domestically, there are exciting fights just around the corner,” Langford said. “Middleweight’s a stacked division. It makes for good competition; it makes for better performances and if you come through it all then you’re obviously a better fighter.”

Chaney is in agreement with his protégé: “It’s good to be in a division that’s really vibrant because when you do beat ‘em, you get plenty of recognition for it.”