Bill Lang

Australian Heavyweight Champion Bill Lang. Photo via State Library of South Australia

Bill Lang was the second Australian to fight for the world heavyweight championship. Born in Carlton, Victoria, Bill Lang was an Australian Rules Footballer before he became a boxer, playing 54 games for Richmond between 1904 and 1909. During the 1902 Grand Final, Lang was sent from the field for fighting with one of the opposition players.

Lang had his first professional fight in 1905 with veteran “Starlight” Rollins, but the contest with was declared a draw due to both men repeatedly fouling each other. Lang built up a reputation as an average skilled boxer with a solid punch. On 4 March 1907 Lang fought his first big-money bout, losing on a technical knockout to the future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in front of 15,000 fans at Richmond Race Course. The bout was fought in the pouring rain, and Johnson used his defensive prowess to tire Lang out before stopping him in the ninth round.

Two months later Lang fought for the vacant Australian heavyweight title. Bill Squires, the former champion, had left Australia to pursue a shot at the world champion and Lang fought Peter Felix to become the new champion. Felix had Lang down in the sixth round, but Lang came back to knock him out in the tenth and claim the title. Lang was an active champion, defending the title once a month through 1907, winning all of the bouts inside the distance.

When world heavyweight champion Tommy Burns toured Australia to defend against Squires, promoter Hugh D. McIntosh saw the opportunity to make more money by organising a fight between Burns and Lang. On 3 September 1908 in front of 16,000 fans in Melbourne, Lang dropped Burns in the second round of their world heavyweight championship bout before Burns came back to end matters in round six. Burns would lose the title to Johnson three months later.

With Squires back in Australia and recognised as the British Empire heavyweight champion, a match between the two top heavyweights in Australia was a natural. With 12,000 in attendance at Sydney Stadium, Lang stopped Squires in the 17th round to win the Commonwealth title. He knocked Squires out three more times before the end of his career in other meetings for the Australian heavyweight title. On 27 December 1909, Lang knocked out former heavyweight champion Bob Fitzsimmons in another defence of his heavyweight title. Lang lost the Empire title in a rematch with Tommy Burns in 1910, losing on points at Sydney Stadium in 1910.

Afterwards, Lang toured the United States and Europe. His most notable bout was in Great Britain when he was disqualified against Sam Langford for hitting him while he was on his knees. He returned to Australia in 1911, knocking out Squires for the fourth time before losing on a second-round knockout to top American heavyweight Sam McVea. Lang eventually lost his Australian title to Dave Smith on points in 1913 at Sydney Stadium. In retirement, Lang ran boxing classes before making a living as the owner of the Victoria Hotel in Melbourne. Lang died in 1952 at the age of 69.