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Baer, left, got his comeuppance vs. 'Cinderella Man' Braddock

'Cinderella Man' Braddock,
a 10-1 betting underdog,
stuns Baer and the boxing world

 
On June 13th, 1935, James J Braddock beat Max Baer in a 15-round decision for the heavyweight championship of the world. Reaction to the outcome of the fight by the media and in most boxing circles was described as, “The greatest fistic upset since the defeat of John L Sullivan by Jim Corbett.”
 
The smaller less experienced Jim Braddock went into the fight that day as a 10 to 1 underdog. At that point in Braddock’s career he fought the majority of his fights as a light heavyweight with average success. Then, without any indication things could go wrong, his career and his whole life took a turn for the worst. Braddock lost a 15 round decision in a bid for the light heavyweight title against Hall-of-Fame fighter Tommy Loughran on July 18th, 1929. Losing the title fight along with the stock market crash of 1929 added to the every day struggle Braddock dealt with raising his family. In the five years following the stock market crash of 29’ Braddock struggled in the ring with losses to hall-of-famer Maxie Rosenbloom along with top contenders Leo Lomski, Yale Okun, Babe Hunt, Ernie Schaaf, Al Gainer, Tony Shucco and a knockout loss to Lou Scozza.
 
After his run of bad luck Jim turned to the public relief system, occasionally finding work on the docks at the ship yards in his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1934 Braddock’s luck finally began to change; it started with a 3rd round stoppage of John “Corn” Griffin on the undercard of the Baer-Carnera fight. In his next fight five months later he won a 10 round decision over future hall-of-fame light heavyweight John Henry Lewis. With those two wins Jim Braddock was now in a position for a title shot against heavyweight champion Max Baer.
 
Max Baer was known to posses the most devastating right hand in heavyweight boxing history. Having turned pro in 1929 Baer won 22 of his first 24 fights, 9 by way of a first round knockout. In 1930 Baer was charged with manslaughter when, after knocking out a fighter by the name of Frankie Campbell, that fighter later died as a result of the beating he took leading to the knockout. Baer was later cleared of the charges but was suspended from boxing in his home state of California for one year. In August of 1932 Baer fought Ernie Schaaf, who he beat in a 10 round decision. Schaaf fought Primo Carnera in February of 1933 and was KOed in 13 rounds, not long after the fight Schaaf died. The death was attributed to the beating he took in the Baer fight.
 
In 1934 Primo Carnera was heavyweight champion of the world; June 14th Max Baer challenged the Italian giant for the title. Baer was outweighed in the fight by over 50 pounds. The bout was staged in the Madison Square Garden Bowl. The fight between Max Baer and Primo Carnera was dubbed the “Comedy Battle” because there were so many knock downs and tumbles. In front of a crowd of 50,000 fans, Baer knocked Carnera down 11 times in 11 rounds to win the heavyweight championship.
  
At the time there was a shortage of heavyweights for Baer to fight so Jim Braddock with the help of his manager Joe Gould, was able to position himself in line for a title shot with the champion. As a way of promoting the fight there was talk that the boxing commission was trying to discourage Braddock from taking the fight, given the reputation of Baer’s devastating punching power plus the fact that some credited the death of 2 fighters to Baer. The way it was reported in the papers the boxing commission was giving Braddock fair warning of what could happen if Baer was to connect with a devastating right hand.
Braddock never took the warnings seriously but they did make for big last minute headlines to help hype up the fight.
 
In early spring of 1935 the papers were reporting on how well Braddock’s training had been going. In May, five weeks before the fight, Braddock weighed in at 220 pounds, having gained nearly 40 pounds since he fought Art Lasky six weeks earlier.
During the last few weeks of Braddock’s training camp the former trainer of Max Baer, Mike Cantwell who earlier had a falling out with Baer decided to join the Braddock camp where he provided inside information on the champ. Braddock was eager to gain any information that might give him an edge in the fight.
 
Cantwell encouraged Braddock to focus his attention to work on Baer’s midsection. “Carry the fight to Baer’s body” he told the challenger.
Cantwell became the camp expert on how to fight Baer and was being sought out by the writers even more than the challenger himself.
 
As fight day grew closer Gould decided the way to defeat Baer was to focus on wearing Baer down with body punches and not go for the knockout. The strategy was to be prepared to go the full 15 rounds. Gould figured Baer would go for the early knockout and not be prepared to go the distance.
Going with that strategy, Gould assembled several of the biggest and toughest sparing partners he could find for Braddock.
 
The day of the fight Braddock weighed in at 191.75 pounds, Baer weighed 209.5 pounds.
The evening of the fight 30,000 fans filed in to the Madison Square Garden Bowl expecting a lopsided victory for the champ.
 
There were movie stars and politicians, gangsters and athletes. The paper reported, “It was a crowd that presented a cross-section of American life.”
 
At just after 10PM June 13th, the fighters with their seconds walked to the center of the ring to receive final instructions from referee Johnny McAvoy. After the ref had his say he asked both men if they had any questions, they touched gloves and went to their corners.
 
Jim Braddock knew he was in for a long night if he didn’t keep his head and box his opponent smartly, to engage in a slugfest with Baer is the last thing he needed to do; take his time, walk him down and work the body was the game plain.
At the opening bell Braddock went straight for the champ landing a left hook to the jaw and a right to the body. Baer wasn’t fazed\ at all as he answered with a hard body shot that rocked Braddock; Jim told himself he wasn’t hurt but it gave him an idea of what he was in for if he didn’t stick to his game plain. The two men traded shots testing each other for the rest of the round.
 
Back in Braddock’s corner after the first round Gould yelled at his fighter, “That’s the heavyweight champ? He’s a bum! This is gonna be an easy night Jim, we can take this guy!” Braddock knew better, that body shot got Jims attention and respect. He knew if he didn’t stick to the game plain and got within range of that right hand the fight could be over fast.
 
In Baer’s corner his mind already began drifting, gazing out over the crowd for a familiar face; Max loved to make eye contact with the ladies in the crowd. Hoffman said with a calm tone of voice, “Max this is no joke, you need to fight this guy, don’t let him walk you down, this is your fight, it’s your title, now go out there and take this guy!”
 
As the fight progressed Braddock stuck to the plain; he used his jab, cut off the ring when Baer sidestepped and eventually had the champ moving backwards. The short bursts of punches became fewer and fewer and soon all the punches exchanged between the two ended with clinches. As quickly as the referee pushed the two apart Baer would grab his opponent and clinch; it became apparent the champion was becoming tired by the middle rounds and Braddock was building up points on the score cards.
 
In the last rounds of the fight Baer was exhausted, he knew he was behind on the score cards and needed a knockout. The knockout never came, both men fought hard until the last bell ended the fight. At the sound of the final bell Gould climbed under the ropes and lifted his fighter on his shoulders. The crowd was frantic as Al Frazin, the ring announcer grabbed the mike that was dangling from the lights and announced the result of the fight; his voice was drowned out by the cheers from the crowd. A new heavyweight world champion was crowd. Jim Braddock was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
 
 

 

More columns
by Sam Gregory:

Graziano & Zale are forever linked by trilogy

Classy and cocky, an undersized Conn was KO'd by a desperate Louis

Stylish Loughran evolved into Hall of Fame light heavyweight

Fitzsimmons-Corbett, the original 'Fight of the Century'

 

CLICK HERE to contact Sam Gregory

 

 

 

 

 

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Sam Gregory has been a professional boxing writer since 2002 for publications such as BoxingTalk.com, Boxing Digest, EastsideBoxing.com The Cyberboxing Zone, StraightJab.com, boxingnews24.com and TheSweetScience.com. He has covered numerous fights and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the sport.

As a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Gregory specializes in boxing history, and contributes regularly to that organization's quarterly publication. He is the author of numerous biographical articles about legendary fighters, classic match-ups, memorable boxing trilogies and other subjects.


CLICK HERE to contact Sam Gregory



 


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