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.”
Smaller in stature and less experienced as a heavyweight, Braddock went into the fight as a 10 to 1 underdog. Braddock fought as a light heavyweight for the majority of his professional career with average success. Then, without any indication things could go wrong, his career and his whole life took a turn for the worse. He fought Hall-of-Fame fighter Tommy Lounghran on July 18, 1929 for the light heavyweight championship, but lost in 15 rounds. Having lost that title fight, then with the stock market crash of 1929, Jim struggled for the next five years trying to support his young family. During that time Braddock lost a decision to Hall-of Fame champ Maxie Rosenbloom, along with losses to top men Leo Lomski, Yale Okun, Babe Hunt, Ernie Schaaf, Al Gainer, Tony Shucco, and a knockout loss to Lou Scozza.
After that 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. Finally Braddock’s luck began to change. In 1934 it started with a 3rd round stoppage of John “Corn” Griffin on the undercard of the Baer-Carnera fight. In his very next fight five months later, he won a 10 round decision over Hall-of-Fame light heavyweight John Henry Lewis and Braddock was back on his feet. With those two wins, Jim was in position for a title shot against heavyweight champion, Max Baer.
Jim Braddock was born James Walter Braddock on June 7, 1905 in New York City. He had an outstanding amateur career as a middleweight and turned pro in 1926. Braddock’s only downside was his fragile hands. He was tough, could take a punch, and continued to fight with fragile hands, until he was eventually banned in several boxing jurisdictions due to the state of his damaged hands.
Max Baer was born Maximillian Adalbert Baer on February 11, 1909 in Omaha, Nebraska. Baer was known to posses the most devastating right hand in heavyweight boxing history. Turning pro in 1929, he won 22 of his first 24 fights, nine by first round knockouts. Baer was in superb condition and considered dangerous in the ring.
In 1930 Max 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 knockout. Baer was later cleared of the charges, but was suspended from boxing in his home state of California for one year. Baer quite boxing altogether for several months because of the negative impact the incident had on his life. When Baer did start to fight again he lost four of his first six fights, in part because of his reluctance to finish off fighters once he had them beat. Then in 1932 Baer fought Ernie Schaaf, who he beat in 10 rounds. Schaaf later fought Primo Carnera, though not long after the fight Schaaf died. The death was attributed to the beating he took in the Baer fight.
Max Baer’s fighting skills were deteriorating, until some other heavyweights intervened. Hall-of-Fame boxer Tommy Loughran talked to Baer about the mistakes he was making in the ring, looping and telegraphing his punches. Jack Dempsey also took a personal interest in Baer, helping him with his technical shortcomings, especially the way he was throwing his punches. It wasn’t long before Max Baer was back to his old self, which in the long run wasn’t necessarily such a good thing. He had his confidence, style, and power back, but he also had a bad habit of being overconfident.
In 1933 Max Baer fought the best fight of his career, knocking out Max Schmeling in 10 rounds. A year later Baer fought Primo Carnera at the Madison Square Garden Bowl 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. Finally James Braddock got his chance for what was to be the fight of his life, a chance to fight the overconfident Max Baer for the heavyweight title.
Max Baer started the fight with a cocky attitude, clowning with Braddock. Baer fought with a half-hearted joking effort to the astonishment of a packed house at the Madison Square Garden Bowl. Braddock couldn’t have been more serious as he went on to win a 15 round decision over Max Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world. After the fight, James J. Braddock was dubbed, “The Cinderella Man” because of his seemingly fairytale like rise from a poor local fighter to the heavyweight champion of the world.
Braddock fought several exhibition fights until losing the heavyweight title two years later to “The Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis. Braddock was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 2001.