James J. Braddock

World Heavyweight Champion: 1935-1937

James J. Braddock earned himself the nickname of ‘Cinderella Man’ when he overturned odds of 10-1 against him and beat Max Baer to win the heavyweight crown. His was a classic rags-to-riches story, the kind that has always tempted hungry young men in deprived circumstances to chance their arm in the ring. It was a tale almost of ‘Rocky’ proportions. Braddock was a journeyman boxer who had had his moments in the spotlight, including an unsuccessful challenge for Tommy Loughran’s light-heavyweight title in 1929. By 1934, however, he was on his uppers claiming unemployment relief.

In June of that year, Braddock was drafted in as a late replacement to fight a top contender, Corn Griffin. Braddock was nearly 29, considered well past his best and not expected to give Griffin much trouble. To the amazement of everyone in the boxing world, Braddock knocked Griffin out in the third round.

Braddock had always been a solid puncher, game and durable. Now he had the added advantage of being in the right place at the right time. After grinding out two more points victories against quality opponents, Braddock justifiably earned himself a crack at the world title.

Longest odds

When he stepped into the ring against Max Baer on 13 June 1935, few gave him any chance at all. The bookies confidently offered 1(M against the challenger, probably the longest odds ever offered in a title fight. Yet Braddock caused the greatest upset in the championship’s history, partly due to his own cautious approach and partly to Baer’s predilection for playing to the gallery.

Braddock had trained hard for the fight; Baer hadn’t. The champion, like everyone else, was confident that he could clown around and still win the fight at a canter. It wasn’t much of a spectacle; certainly no toe-to-toe slugging match. Baer didn’t reproduce the kind of demolition job that he had done on Camera 364 days earlier.

Champion leaves it too late

Braddock was cautious, yet did enough to rack up a healthy points lead. Baer belatedly realised what was at stake but left his move too late. Braddock absorbed everything the champion threw at him in the latter stages and was declared a unanimous points winner at the end of the 15-round contest.

Baer was beaten convincingly by rising star Joe Louis three months later and never scaled the heights again. Many purists had found his attitude in the ring hard to take and believed he threw away the title. Baer wasn’t about to change, despite that unexpected defeat by Braddock. The man who once quipped ‘I buy the Ziegfeld girls furs to keep them warm – and quiet!’ finally retired from boxing at 41 and died from a heart attack nine years later, in 1959. The new champion sat on his title for two years before agreeing to a defence. Joe Gould, Braddock’s manager, studied the options carefully before making a match against the sport’s new sensation, Joe Louis. Braddock had just turned 30 when the two met, in Chicago on 22 June 1937. Louis was 23.

Shrewd deal

Gould must have realised that there wouldn’t be many more big paydays for his man, and had at least half an eye on the financial side of the deal. Under the terms of the contract, Braddock would get 10 per cent of Louis’s earnings over the next decade, irrespective of the result of the fight. The fact that Louis not only won the contest but spent the whole of that 10-year period as heavyweight champion made it an inspired piece of negotiation on the part of Gould, who was himself to profit handsomely from his cut of the moneys due to Braddock.

The choice of Louis was by no means obvious. True, the 21-year-old had bludgeoned Max Baer to a four-round defeat in September 1935, just three months after Braddock’s title fight against the same man. He had also beaten two other former champions, Sharkey and Camera. But Louis’s seemingly unstoppable rise to the top received a huge reversal when Max Schmeling knocked him out in 12 rounds. It ought to have earned Schmeling a crack at the title he had lost to Sharkey. Indeed, most pundits are convinced the German would have got the better of Braddock. Politics cost Schmeling the chance of regaining the title, however. The Nazi propaganda machine made much capital from Schmeling’s defeat of Louis. Schmeling was no Nazi apologist, but in the prevailing climate in his home country there was little he could do. He was unfortunate to be tainted by association, and this manifested itself when it came to the next world title fight. In short, Schmeling was overlooked, and the man he had beaten so comprehensively, Joe Louis, was installed as the first challenger to James J. Braddock.

James J. Braddock

Nickname: ‘Cinderella Man’ Born: New York City, New York, USA. June 7 1906

Died: November 29 1974 Height: 6’ 3’ Weight: 197 lbs

World Heavyweight Champion: 1935-1937 Record: Won 45 (26 Kos) Lost 23 Drawn 17 . ‘

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