Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 February 2011 14:00
Written by Alexander Zammit
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 06:09
By Daniel Ciminera
James Walter "The Cinderella Man" Braddock (June 7, 1905 – November 29, 1974) was born in Hell's Kitchen in New York City on West 48th Street within a couple of blocks of the Madison Square Gardenvenue where he would later become famous. He stated his life's early ambition was to play football for Knute Rockne at the University of Notre Dame.
Well, with the new year so full of fresh starts and second chances well underway, what better fighter to talk about than Jimmy Braddock. A man who made better use of his second chance than probably any man ever has. Braddock was a first generation American, born to Irish immigrant parents in the summer of 1905 (June the 7th to be precise). He was a simple boy, who lived a typical life of an Irish immigrant in New York. As a youngster he thought he’d grow up to be a fireman, but dreamed of playing college football, but conceded that he did not have the brains for such a path.
Braddock discovered his love of boxing in the early 1920′s whilst working several jobs and began fighting as an amateur. His amateur career was very successful and this is where he earned his stripes before turning professional in 1926 as a Light-Heavyweight against Al Settle in a draw over 4 rounds. Braddock quickly established himself as one of the top fighters in the Light-Heavyweight division by knocking out his next eleven opponents within the first 3 rounds. Instead of then moving onto tougher opposition, Braddock stayed fighting over 4 or 6 rounds in local Jersey fights and the occasional foray into New York City.
Contrary to popular belief nowadays, perhaps the 2005 motion picture “Cinderella Man” based on his life as has something to do with this. However, the fact is, Braddock had lost 5 contests prior to his loss to Tommy Loughran at Yankee Stadium on the 18th of July, 1929. Though he had never been knocked out, and had gained some notable victories over Pete Latzo, Tuffy Griffiths by 2nd round TKO at Madison Square Garden, where he also knocked out Jimmy Slattery against heavy odds in the 9th a few month later.
However, the war he engaged in with Tommy Loughran over 15 rounds was to be part of his downfall. Braddock broke his hand in several places during the fight and lost out to a heartbreaking decision in their July ’29 bout. This, along with the stock market crash later that year, ruined Braddock.
With his personal fortune lost in the stock market, Braddock was forced to fight with his badly broken hand in order to put food on the table for his family. This hampered any progress he otherwise would have been capable of making and his record for his next 33 fights was 11 wins, 20 losses, with 1 draw and 1 no contest before the boxing commission revoked his license after a poor bout with Abe Feldman at a police charity event in which Braddock re-broke his right hand once more. This left Braddock with nothing, and he even found getting menial work a struggle due to the state of his hand and the scarceness of any paid work on offer. Eventually he had to swallow his pride and sign on for public relief in order to support his wife and three young children. (He would later famously pay this relief money back.)
Less than one year later though, in June 1934, James J. Braddock’s long term manager Joe Gould offered him one of the greatest lifelines any fighter, or indeed man, has ever been given. He was to stand in as a late replacement against Heavyweight challenger John “Corn” Griffin on the undercard of Max Baer’s World Title fight with Primo Carnera.
With new found physical strength he would later attribute to his time doing manual labour at the docks, Braddock knocked out Griffin in the 3rd round in a fight nobody, including himself, thought he could get through, never mind win. This win gave Braddock the opportunity to start fighting again and in his next bout, he was placed against John Henry Lewis, who had easily outpointed him 2 years previously. Somehow, Braddock managed to pull off the impossible and take his revenge with a 10 round decision.
Seen as a complete inspiration to millions, Braddock then went onto fight Art Lasky, the main challenger to the heavyweight throne at this time who probably saw Jimmy as an easy warm up fight. Braddock again upset the long odds by beating Lasky by unanimous decision to become the top rated heavyweight to face the champion Max Baer, one of the most ferocious punchers of all time, even killing one opponent, Frankie Campbell, in the 5th round of their 1930 contest in San Francisco.
Once again, nobody gave Braddock a chance at winning this bout. It was billed as an execution, with even Baer himself playing up to the fact that he had killed a man previously and talked of handing Braddock the same fate. He was urged by many to back out of the fight, but, undaunted, Braddock ignored this advice and went into the fight with the same dogged determination with which he had done everything in his life and which had got him to where he was currently standing.
Baer was clearly expecting an easy night against “an old man”, but was sourly disappointed when he was met by the determined Braddock, who during the 15 round contest, exhibited everything which made him a great fighter. His granite chin, his awkward crouching stance, good counter punching and his powerful right hand.
One of Braddock’s nicknames was “The Bulldog of Bergen” and he displayed all of a bulldog’s stubborn determination during his 15 rounds with Baer to win a unanimous decision to become the World Heavyweight Champion. The quiet Irishman really had gone from zero to hero and deserved the name given to him by reporter Damon Runyon, who named Braddock “The Cinderella Man”.
Braddock was to go on to fight Jack McCarthy five times all over the country in exhibition bouts before a bout with Max Schmeling was ordered to be cancelled until Braddock had fought Joe Louis. In 1937, Braddock laced up his gloves once more and stepped into the ring against the younger challenger Louis, and after flooring him in the 1st round, went on to both receive strong pain killing medication to combat arthritis, and lose by stoppage for only the second time in his career.
Although Braddock lost this fight, due to a stipulation in his contract, he received 10% of Joe Louis’ earnings for the next ten years and in the following two years alone, made over 150 thousand dollars from this deal.
While possibly not being one of the “hardest hitting”, “most exciting”, “most affluent”, “longest reigning”, or any other title a fighter may be bestowed with, his heart-warming tale and bulldog-like determination to overcome the odds in all aspects of his life make him a most note-worthy boxer in pugilistic history and one as inspirational today as it was during the depression.