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June 13th, 1935. “The Cinderella Man” James J. Braddock takes on “The Livermore Larupper” Max Baer for the World Heavyweight Championship, as Baer makes his first title defense since he won the championship from Primo Carnera in astounding fashion, scoring 11 knockdowns throughout the 11 round fight in 1934. At that time, Carnera was the biggest man to have ever held a world heavyweight title.
Braddock was a 10-1 underdog going into the fight. Prior to this bout, Braddock has had tremendous hardships in his life in and out of the ring. Braddock turned professional at 21 years of age as a Light Heavyweight, and had a good run for the first three years, with victories over Jimmy Slattery, Pete Latzo, Joe Sekyra, and notably a huge knockout victory over Tuffy Griffiths.
However, Braddock suffered a setback against NYSAC World Light Heavyweight champion “The Phantom of Philly” Tommy Loughran (regarded as one of the Top 10 Greatest Light Heavyweights) when he lost a close points decision. Braddock sunk into depression and his right hand was broken into several pieces during the fight. Braddock’s life in and out of the ring suffers after that, as Braddock piled up huge amount of losses from 1929 to 1933, compiling a record of 11-20-2 with 2 fight ended as no contests.
To make matters worst for Braddock, he and his young family suffered from poverty during the Great Depression. Ironically, the Great Depression began in the same year that Braddock suffered the loss that marred his career; 1929. Braddock became a dock worker in order to support his family and had to use his left hand for his job most of the time, as his right hand suffered many injuries during his career. However, the need to use more of his left hand helped to build up strength and power on his left would benefit him in his later career. Braddock also had to accept government relief funds due to the hardships of having to support his family in such difficult times.
In 1934, Braddock took a fight with only two days’ notice against John Corn Griffin, a young heavyweight slugger who was a huge prospect at that time. Braddock was meant to be nothing more than a tune up bout for the rising star Griffin. Braddock entered the bout as a 5-1 underdog. To the shock of the boxing world, Braddock sensationally knocks out Griffin in the 3rd round. The win once again propelled Braddock for a chance of a world title fight as Braddock was said to be washed up and past his best, and was not expected to even give Griffin a tough fight much less winning.
This fight was part of the undercard of Max Baer vs Primo Carnera, where Baer pummeled Carnera for 11 rounds to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
Five months later, Braddock was scheduled to fight Light Heavyweight John Henry Lewis, who had once beaten Braddock in a clear points decision victory. Lewis was fighting in New York for the first time and was expected to once again exhibit his boxing skills against an “old” fighter. But once again, Braddock proved his critics wrong, by outboxing and knocking down the younger, slicker fighter and winning a 10 round decision.
In March 1935, hard hitting contender Art Lasky was to face Max Baer for the world title but he needed to beat a name opponent and once again Braddock was chosen and expected to be Lasky’s opportunity to get a world title shot. But Braddock once again turned the tables, outboxing he bigger Lasky to earn a 15 round decision. Braddock-Baer was set. Braddock would win a close but clear decision as he outworked Baer through 15 rounds.
Braddock’s victory over Baer remain one of the most memorable and glorious in the history of world championship fights in the sport of boxing. And Braddock’s story of rising from obscurity to world heavyweight champion earned him the nickname “The Cinderella Man” by sports writer Damon Runyon; an alias that aptly defined his boxing career as well as his life outside the ring.
In 1937, Braddock faced a young Joe Louis as his first title defense. Braddock knocked Louis down early in the fight but was knocked out in the 8th round with a devastating right hook that left him unconscious for minutes. Joe Louis considered Braddock to be the most courageous fighter he’s ever faced. Braddock would retire from boxing after beating Tommy Farr in 1938 via a close split decision.
The amazing life story of James J. Braddock was portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film CInderalla Man (2005), directed by Ron Howard. Check it out! It is one of my favorite boxing films ever.
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