"The Cinderella Man" - the real story is even better than the movie!

10.06.05 - By Ted Luzzi: Like something out of a storybook, "invincible" Max Baer lost the heavyweight championship of the world to the once seemingly washed up Jimmy Braddock on June 13th 1935. It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. How did it all happen? What amazing series of events even got Jim Braddock a title shot? When Max Baer won the title on June 14th, 1934, most experts predicted he would hold the title for years. He was only 25, and possessed a magnifcent physique.

He had such punching power, and he had knocked out Max Schmeling, the former champion, as well as knocking out Primo Carnera to win the title. His iron Fists had battered Frankie Cambell to death in an outdoor fight in San Francisco. Wasn't it really Baer's murderous punches that were responsible for Earnie Shaff dying in his next fight after a Baer right hand had flattened him in the final moments of their fight in Chicago? The only real question seemed to be where Baer stood with heavy hitters of the past, as he appeared to have such an advantage over the current crop.

At the time of Baer's knockout of Carnera for the title, where was Jim Braddock? He was a faceless preliminary fighter with a career that included twenty losses fighting on the same card the night Max won the title. The fact that Jim Braddock managed to gain a title shot a year later is as fantastic as his winning. Braddock’s biggest fight up till that point had been a losing effort for the light heavyweight title six years earlier .Since that time, Braddock had gone steadily downhill as a fighter. Jimmy was not in demand as an opponent. He has so few fights, that he was forced to go on relief to feed his wife and three children.

At twenty nine, with his best years apparently behind him, Braddock was considered a fighter who had a very hard jaw and lots of grit but not much more. Such a fighter was needed to be matched with the new heavyweight sensation Corn Griffin. Griffin was to be showcased as a possible foe for Baer, but the promoter wanted a fighter who would last a few rounds, as Griffin was knocking out everybody fast.

Up until that time, Braddock had been knocked down only once in his career, so the fans would get a bit of a show. In round two of the fight, Griffin connected with flush power punche and down went Braddock on hands and knees. The fans and promoter groaned as they had wanted to see more action and more of the sensational Corn Griffin. Braddock did rise, however, and as Griffin rushed in to finish him off, Braddock countered with a heavy right that snapped Griffins head back and dropped him on the seat of his pants. The round ended with the crowd in an uproar. Round three found Griffin attacking with a rage only to be countered again with a Braddock right hand that put Griffin down and out. A sensational upset with for Braddock!

Jim Braddock was still not considered good enough to merit a main event, but he did get a semi-final match on the Maxie Rosenbloom-Bob Olin 175 pound title fight. His foe was John Henry Lewis, a fighter who would shortly win the light heavyweight title and become the first black world light heavyweight champion. Lewis was a very good fighter and showed it in the first four rounds, landing fast volleys on Braddock’s head and body. In round five, Jimmy landed a first class left hook that slammed Lewis to the mat, and after that, Lewis was not the same fighter, as Braddock was awarded the decision. Jimmy was now a fighter to be taken seriously.

In April 1935, Braddock was now a rated heavyweight fighter. However, there were many rated above him, and the chances of him getting anywhere near Max Baer were very slim. Steve Hamas, Max Schmeling, Art Lasky, and Primo Carnera were considered the top rated fighters for Baer’s crown. Then, like something from Ripley’s believe it or not, in the next thirty days everyone of these contenders was eliminated one way or another! On March 10, Steve Hamas boxed Max Schmeling in Germany. Hamas has beaten the German and Max wanted a rematch.

Schmeling was in top form that night and the fight resulted in disaster for Hamas. Hamas football injured knee buckled early in the match, making him just a target for Schmelings powerhouse rights. Hamas took such a beating that he ended up in the hospital and never fought again. March 15, Primo Carnera fought big Ray Impellitiere in the garden. Primo showed nothing to indicate he would have any better chance against Baer than last time, and as a result of his very poor showing, he was eliminated as a return bout attraction.

March 22 was the Art Lasky vs. Jimmy Braddock fight. Art Lasky was a big strong Jewish heavyweight and highly rated. However, he had to postpone the Braddock fight a number of times because of attacks of Pleurisy. Braddock had by this time developed a fan base due to his terrific underdog comeback story. Depression era fans were inspired to think he could come back from the relief rolls to fight a top contender. Odds makers vote with there head not their heart, however, and had installed Lasky as a heavy favorite, despite the Pleurisy issue.

Possibly, Lasky was weakened by illness or maybe Braddock was just inspired .Either way, Jimmy broke Lasky’s nose in the first round with a crisp right hand. Lasky had breathing problems from then on in the fight. Lasky In the fourth, seventh, and tenth round, Lasky unloaded his best stuff, yet Braddock somehow survived, then as Lasky ran out of steam, he came on to win a fifteen round decision.

Jim Braddock, a heavy underdog, had beat the odds once again. Fans shook their heads with disbelief. How much longer could this possibly go on? Max Schmeling had looked great in clobbering Hamas, and the rematch battle of the two power hitting Max’s, was an exciting idea the promoters wanted. The fight could take place in June, outdoors in New York. The outdoor fight required the good June weather. At the time, Baer had not defended his title in almost a year, and there was pressure on him to fight.

Schmeling, however, had the promoter with the money in Walter Rothenberg. Der Mox wanted the big fight for September and in Germany as that would give him the best purse and hometown advantage. The New York athletic commission wanted a Heavyweight title fight in New York in June and Braddock was the leading available contender.

Needless to say, Schmeling was confident Baer would easily dispose of Braddock, so he was content to wait until September. Baer, however, thought the idea of fighting Braddock for the title was absurd and did not want the fight.

Max maintained the fight was too big a mismatch and would not draw. He offered instead to take Braddock on as a sparing partner, while he got ready for the big Schmeling fight. In fact, Braddock appeared to be out of the title picture. Then, however, came a shocker. Schmelings promoter for the fight was unable to come up with the front money for the September fight and the whole deal fell apart. So, after some wrangling, Baer and his manager reluctantly accepted the Braddock fight for June 13th in the Madison Square Garden Bowl.
Baer and Braddock were both popular fighters and on fight night, both received big cheers from the crown of 30,000 as they entered the outdoor ring. Braddock’s story was inspiring. He had trained for this fight like never before. Physically and mentally he was at his absolute peak. Baer by contrast was flat and had barely gone through the motions for the fight he didn’t want.

Baer wanted to go a few rounds, however, has he had not fought for awhile and he was also concerned about the manner that he would knockout Braddock, as he liked Jimmy and did not want to jeopardize his health. The odds were as high as 15-1 for Baer and the weights were Baer 209 lb and Braddock 191 lb.. Baer was also younger, and taller he had all the advantages. At the bell, Baer sauntered out with a smile.

Braddock, grim faced, attacked, catching the surprised champion with three slamming right hands in a row. Round one for Braddock, as Baer laughed. In the second and third round, Braddock circled away from Baer’s famous right and outworked the overconfident champ. Braddock’s momentum continued in rounds four and five. Baer was just waiting for Jimmy to slow down so he could flatten him. In the sixth, Baer decided the time had come.

He landed big rights that drove through Braddock’s guard. The juiced up crowd was on its feet and blood came from Braddock’s mouth. Max Baer had not trained as he should have, and he was already a bit tired, as his big follow-ups just missed. The seventh round featured more misery for Jimmy, as Baer slammed home big hard punches, which made the crowd roar. Max Baer had forgotten that in Jimmy Braddock, he was facing an inspired fighter, who had a very good jaw and was in terrific shape to take punishment. Despite of all the punishment sustained, Braddock just would not go down. In the eighth, ninth, and tenth rounds, both fighters fought hard.

Baer was winning the punch trades but getting more and more tired. Braddock later described a right Baer hit him with in the ninth - “So hard that if I had electric light bulbs in my toes, they would have lit up!” In the eleventh, a now serious and snarling Baer came out slamming away with hard punches in a do or die effort. A few seconds, Baers best right hand landed. The crowd in the stadium leaped onto their feet to see the knockout.

Baer stepped back to watch Braddock fall, as Schmeling and Primo had fallen. The referee was ready to begin counting. Instead, Braddock spit in the eye of fate, and fought through the haze and retaliated with a volley of counter blows! At that point, Max Baer and most of the fans realized that if Braddock did not fall from that punch, he was not going to fall at all. Max Baer was exhausted, discouraged and lost heart.

He knew then that this was going to be another miracle night for Jimmy Braddock. As the bell rang at the end of the final round, there were no doubts. A great roar went up from the thrilled crowd. It was the end result of a series of events, so unusual and amazing that led to this year’s movie about it that is showing in the theaters.

Article posted on 11.06.2005

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