Boxer’s inspired story
May 31, 2005
Those of you who follow local news closely know that Max Baer Jr. hasn’t fared so well in his bid to build a casino in Carson City.
Well, I’m not one who likes to spoil the plot of a movie by revealing the ending, but … Baer’s father, Max Sr., doesn’t fare so well in his fight against James Braddock in “Cinderella Man” due to be released at theaters on Friday.
Braddock was dubbed “Cinderella Man” by Damon Runyon because of the rags to riches resurrection of a career that took him all the way to the world championship when he defeated Baer in a 15-round classic on June 13, 1935 in what is regarded as one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, if not one of the biggest in sports history, 30-year-old Braddock stepped into the ring against Baer as a 10-1 underdog.
Associated Press Sports Editor Alan Gould took note of Braddock’s uphill climb to get his title shot on June 13, 1935 (made available through the courtesy of Chic DiFrancia): “Braddock can win, therefore, but with what? Raw courage alone can’t save him from the champion’s withering blasts. … Determination and ambition, born of necessity, don’t furnish the answer to a smashing right-hand wallop to the chin.”
Another Associated Press fight preview from San Francisco gave the following observation: “Two old time soldiers of the heavyweight boxing wars, James J. Jeffries and Tom Sharkey, who couldn’t agree in the ring more than three decades ago, share the same belief today, namely that Max Baer should pulverize James J. Braddock tonight in Madison Square Garden’s Long Island Bowl. Jeffries, former king of the heavies, thinks Baer will win as he pleases. Barrel-chested Sharkey, still a mighty man at close to sixty, doesn’t concede Braddock a chance. ‘Jeffries in his prime would have chased both of those imitations out of the ring the same night,’ said Sailor Tom. ‘If I was ten years younger I’d take on Braddock myself.'”
Some things never change when it comes to sports fans. For one, even 70 years ago, old-timers were loyal to the athletes of their generation. For another, fans always like the underdog. And Braddock has to rank up there with one of the best underdog stories ever.
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Just six years before, Braddock’s prospects looked good until he lost a heart-breaking 15-round decision to Tommy Loughran for the world light heavyweight championship on July 18, 1929. After the Stock Market crashed three months later and hand injuries derailed his ring hopes, Braddock and his young family (wife, Mae, and children James, Howard and Rosemarie) encountered very difficult times. Boxing took a backseat to the everyday challenges of trying to pay bills and putting food on the table, yet Braddock’s devotion to family – and boxing – took him from working as a longshoreman back into the ring.
It took time, and it wasn’t easy. He lost 16 of 22 fights during one stretch before his fortunes took a turn for the better when he sprung a couple of upsets in 1934 – a third-round TKO of John “Corn” Griffin, followed by a 10-round decision over John Henry Lewis. Then came a 15-round triumph against Art Lasky on March 22, 1935 to earn the title shot against Baer.
Lasky believed Braddock would have a chance to win the title. “Braddock can punch and a puncher always has a chance,” Lasky said in an Associated Press interview.
Braddock’s winning formula – left jab, stick and move – was simple and worked to perfection before a crowd of about 30,000 that night in the Madison Square Garden Bowl. Some experts thought it was close and others felt it was no contest. When the cards were tallied, Braddock was declared the winner by unanimous decision.
After fighting a series of exhibitions the rest of 1935 before Braddock signed for a 1936 fight against Max Schmeling, later cancelled when Braddock sustained a hand injury.
Braddock finally defended his title against Joe Louis in Chicago on June 22, 1937. He knocked Louis down in the first round, and by some accounts, gave the best performance of his life, but it wasn’t enough because Louis eventually eventually won by knockout in the eighth round.
Braddock decided to retire after beating Tommy Farr on Jan. 21, 1938 – his 51st victory in 85 fights – though he made a handful of exhibition appearances and refereed two world championship fights in 1939. Later, he was honored with inductions into the Ring Hall of Fame (1964), New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame (1969) and International Boxing Hall of Fame (2001), his story was told in a book written by Jeremy Schapp, and now the movie.
It’s truly a great underdog story about a great man who persevered to make his dream come true.
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.
James J. Braddock
Tale of the tape: 6-foot-2 1/2, 162-199 1/2 pounds
Born: June 7, 1905, New York City
Died: Nov. 29, 1974, North Bergen, N.J.
Movie: Stars Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger and is directed by Ron Howard. Braddock’s granddaughter, Rosemarie DeWitt, plays the role of neighbor Sara Wilson.
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