International Boxing Hall of Fame
James J. Braddock
"The Cinderella Man"
|James J. Braddock|
|Real name||James Walter Braddock|
Pride of the Irish,
Pride of New Jersey, Cinderella Man
|Birth date||June 7, 1905(1905-06-07)|
|Birth place||New York, New York|
|Death date||November 29, 1974 (aged 69)|
|Death place||North Bergen, New Jersey|
|Wins by KO||26|
Fighting under the name James J. Braddock (ostensibly to follow the pattern set by two prior world boxing champions, James J. Corbett and James J. Jeffries), his amazing comeback from a floundering career, which saw him lose several bouts before struggling to support his family by working on the docks during the Great Depression, earned him the nickname "The Cinderella Man" from Damon Runyon. His manager was Joe Gould.
Braddock was born in Hell's Kitchen in New York City on West 48th Street within a couple of blocks of the Madison Square Garden venue where he would later become famous. Braddock turned pro at the age of 21, fighting as a light heavyweight. After three years, Braddock's record was 34-5-7 with 21 knockouts.
In 1928, he pulled off a major upset by knocking out highly-regarded Tuffy Griffiths. The following year he earned a chance to fight for the championship, but he narrowly lost to Tommy Loughran in a fifteen-round decision. Braddock was greatly depressed by the loss and badly fractured his right hand in several places in the process. His career suffered as a result, as did Braddock's disposition.
His record for the next thirty-three fights fell to 11-20-2. With his family in poverty during the Great Depression, Braddock had to give up boxing for a time and worked as a longshoreman. Due to frequent injuries to his right hand, Braddock compensated by using his left hand during his longshoreman work, and it gradually became stronger than his right. He always remembered the humiliation of having to accept government relief money, but was inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, a Christian social justice organization founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933 to help the homeless and hungry. After his boxing comeback, Braddock returned the welfare money he had received and made frequent donations to various Catholic Worker Houses, including feeding homeless guests with his family.
In 1934, Braddock was given a fight with the highly touted John "Corn" Griffin. Although Braddock was intended simply as a stepping stone in Griffin's career, he knocked out the "Ozark Cyclone" in the third round. Braddock then fought John Henry Lewis, a future light heavyweight champion who had previously defeated Braddock. He won in one of the most important fights of his career. After defeating another highly regarded heavyweight contender, Art Lasky, whose nose he broke during the bout on March 22, 1935, Braddock was given a title fight against the World Heavyweight Champion, Max Baer.
Considered little more than a journeyman fighter, Braddock was hand-picked by Baer's handlers because he was seen as an easy payday for the champion. Instead, on June 13, 1935, at Madison Square Garden Bowl, Braddock won the heavyweight championship of the world as the 10-to-1 underdog in one of the most stunning upsets in boxing history. Baer admitted afterwards that he had underestimated Braddock as "a chump."
During the fight, a dogged Braddock took a few heavy hits from the powerful younger champion (30 years vs 26 years for Baer), but Braddock kept coming, wearing down Baer, who seemed perplexed by Braddock's ability to take a punch. In the end, the judges gave Braddock the title with a unanimous decision.
James Braddock suffered from problems with his arthritic hands after injuries throughout his career, and in 1936 his title defense in Madison Square Garden against the German Max Schmeling was cancelled under suspicious circumstances. Braddock argued he would have received only a US$25,000 purse against Schmeling, compared to $250,000 against rising star Joe Louis. It was also likely that Braddock's manager, Joe Gould, did not want a potential German victory to be used as Nazi propaganda.
When ready to fight, the thirty-two-year-old Braddock chose to defend his title against the 23-year-old star Joe Louis. Realizing that Louis would be a heavy favorite and being an astute businessman, Joe Gould negotiated an agreement with Mike Jacobs, head of 20th Century Sporting Club, a competitor to Madison Square Garden, whereby Braddock would receive 10% of the promoter's future gate receipts. At Comiskey Park, in front of fifty thousand fans, Braddock knocked Louis down in the first round of their June 22, 1937 bout, but Louis recovered and dominated the bout, winning by an eighth round stoppage. According to Braddock, Louis threw far more punches than Baer had.
Although Braddock never complained, few knew that during the fight with Louis, Braddock actually received medication for arthritis. Braddock barely lifted his left during the fight because the medicine numbed him like a muscle relaxant. Braddock's only lucky punch happened in an uppercut, simply since he failed to raise his left over his head. His follow up punch missed Louis's chin, and slammed into Louis's chest. The punch cracked around the auditorium. A punch only an inch short of its target kept Braddock from retaining the title. Joe Louis worked Braddock over in the subsequent rounds, added twenty-three stitches, and moving a tooth right through his mouthpiece and into his lip. Joe Louis is on record as saying Braddock was "the most courageous fighter I ever fought." Braddock is purported to have aided Louis with some of his tax problems with the IRS later in life and the two developed an abiding friendship.
Braddock always said he wanted his hand raised in his final fight. His last ring performance was in January 1938, when he fought Welsh boxer Tommy Farr. Braddock, who was already 33, came from behind to win a unanimous decision, breaking and bloodying Farr's nose, cracking two of his ribs, and knocking him down three times. He retired on February 1, 1938.
Following his retirement, Braddock and manager Joe Gould both enlisted into the U.S. Army in 1942, where they eventually became first lieutenants. Before the war ended, Braddock served on the island of Saipan, where he trained enlisted men in hand-to-hand combat. In 1954, he received the James J. Walker Award in recognition of his long and meritorious service to the boxing industry.
Later in life, working as an Operating Engineer in Local 825, he helped to construct the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and also worked as a marine equipment surplus supplier, running generators and welding equipment. Braddock and his wife Mae raised their three children, Jay, Howard and Rosemarie, in a house they bought in North Bergen, New Jersey.
On his passing in 1974 at the age of 69, James J. Braddock was interred in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Tenafly, New Jersey. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001. The James J. Braddock North Hudson County Park in North Bergen is named in his honor.
The 2005 biographical film Cinderella Man tells the story of James J. Braddock. Directed by Ron Howard, and starring Russell Crowe as Braddock with Renée Zellweger as his wife Mae, the movie had an estimated budget of $88 million and grossed $108.5 million world-wide. Paul Giamatti, playing Braddock's manager Joe Gould, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The role of neighbor Sara Wilson was played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who is Braddock's real-life granddaughter (daughter of Braddock's daughter Rosemarie Braddock and husband Kenny DeWitt).
Although the film received many positive reviews (80% were positive according to Rottentomatoes.com), some critics argued that part of Braddock's journey was glamorized too much by director Ron Howard. One example is that throughout the film, Max Baer (Braddock's final opponent at the climax of the movie) is portrayed in a semi-hostile (and inaccurate) manner. The character of Baer in the movie is portrayed as an arrogant villain who shows no remorse after killing men in the ring. In reality, Baer was badly shaken by the one death he caused, giving money to Frankie Campbell's wife, Elsie Camilli and her young son, Frankie Jr. from a boxing exhibition held just prior to his bout with Braddock. Baer's son, actor Max Baer Jr. of The Beverly Hillbillies fame, has stated that he remembered his father having nightmares over the bout.
Max Baer was flamboyant and high spirited, laughing and joking regularly. However, this was more for show than to be malicious. In reality he was regarded by those who knew him best as humble, gentle, and sensitive, once remarking, "The only thing I don't like about boxing is that usually some guy gets hurt, and it's not me."