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Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History

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Lost in the annals of boxing is the sport's true Cinderella story. James J. Braddock, dubbed "Cinderella Man" by Damon Runyon, was a once promising light heavyweight for whom a string of losses in the ring and a broken right hand happened to coincide with the Great Crash of 1929. With one good hand, Braddock was forced to labor on the docks of Hoboken. Only his manager, Joe Gould, still believed in him, finding fights for Braddock to help feed his wife and children. The diminutive, loquacious Jew and the burly, ...

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Overview

Lost in the annals of boxing is the sport's true Cinderella story. James J. Braddock, dubbed "Cinderella Man" by Damon Runyon, was a once promising light heavyweight for whom a string of losses in the ring and a broken right hand happened to coincide with the Great Crash of 1929. With one good hand, Braddock was forced to labor on the docks of Hoboken. Only his manager, Joe Gould, still believed in him, finding fights for Braddock to help feed his wife and children. The diminutive, loquacious Jew and the burly, quiet Irishman made one of boxing's oddest couples, but together they staged the greatest comeback in fighting history. In twelve months Braddock went from the relief rolls to face heavyweight champion Max Baer, the Livermore Butcher Boy, renowned for having allegedly killed two men in the ring. A charismatic, natural talent and in every way Braddock's foil, Baer was a towering opponent, a Jew from the West Coast who was famously brash and made great copy both in and out of the ring. A ten-to-one underdog, Braddock carried the hopes and dreams of the working class on his shoulders. And when boxing was the biggest sport in the world, when the heavyweight champion was the biggest star in the world, his unlikely upset made Braddock the most popular champion boxing had ever seen.
Against the gritty backdrop of the Depression, Cinderella Man brings this dramatic all-American story to life, evoking a time when the sport of boxing resonated with a country trying desperately to get back on its feet. Schaap paints a vivid picture of the fight world in its golden age, populated by men of every class and ethnic background and covered voluminously by writers who elevated sports writing to art. Rich in anecdote and color, steeped in history, and full of human interest, Cinderellla Man is a classic David and Goliath tale that transcends the sport.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In retelling the story of a near-impossible sports comeback in 1935, Schaap intricately chronicles the history of boxing during the Depression. Jimmy Braddock, an Irish-American heavyweight who began his career as a light heavyweight, was determined to win the title until a series of jinxes hit: the stock market crashed, he broke his dominant hand and a succession of losses crushed his spirit. Schaap, host of ESPN's Outside the Lines, goes into captivating detail on the brawny, reserved Braddock, who, at his lowest moments, was reduced to living off government relief and doing grueling work on the Hoboken, N.J., docks. But the story is as much about Max Baer, the lovably clownish and handsome heavyweight Braddock defeated as a 10-to-one underdog. The account is inspiring: no one ever thought Braddock would come back, especially against Baer, who'd previously killed two men in the ring. Braddock succeeded with the help of his manager, the short, fast-talking Joe Gould; the two were "the sport's favorite odd couple." Boxing enthusiasts will be more than satisfied by Schaap's meticulous account, which includes round-by-round details of the fight, as well as profiles of other fighters of the era. Not overly emotional, the story hits a nerve at just the right moments and features many of the same elements that made Seabiscuit a hit. Photos. Agent, Scott Waxman. (May) FYI: Ron Howard's film of the same name, starring Russell Crowe as Braddock and Ren e Zellweger as his wife, opens June 3. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Long before the fictional Rocky, there was James J. Braddock, who rose from the ashes to become a hero of the downtrodden masses of the Great Depression A frequent loser, Braddock was generally discounted as merely an opponent to others on their way up, but he stayed the course to get his title shot and, despite being a huge underdog, won. Schaap, best known as an ESPN anchor/correspondent, brings to life both Braddock and Max Baer, the man he upset in 1935 for the heavyweight title. The two were a study in contrasts, with Braddock the stoic plodder and Baer the Ali-like clown prince, but both men had their demons. Braddock had been a promising light-heavyweight until an embarrassing loss in a title fight, a fragile right hand, and the relative absence of a left hand of any consequence relegated him to relief roles and, apparently, boxing oblivion, while Baer carried with him the memory of one man he pounded to death in the ring and another who died in the next fight after being pummeled by Baer. Schaap skillfully steers the men on their collision course toward a meeting that could have been conceived in Hollywood. This is good history and good drama and will be a valuable addition to all public library boxing collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375435430
  • Publisher: Random House Large Print
  • Publication date: 5/10/2005
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Schaap is the author of the New York Times bestseller Cinderella Man . An ESPN anchor and national correspondent, his work has been published in Sports Illustrated , ESPN the Magazine , Time , Parade , TV Guide , and the New York Times . He has also appeared on ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News. He is the son of the award-winning journalist Dick Schaap.

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Read an Excerpt

1 CORN AND HASH

Queens, New York: June 14, 1934

On the night of June 14, 1934, James J. Braddock walked into the Madison Square Garden Bowl, an enormous outdoor arena in Queens, New York. His pockets were empty. A week earlier he had turned twenty-nine. He was a father of three, a washed-up fighter, and a part-time longshoreman. As feared as his right hand had once been—he was among the most powerful punchers in the light heavyweight division in the late 1920s—he was equally adept at taking a punch. In eighty pro fights, only one opponent had ever knocked him out, and that was a technical knockout. He had never been counted out. Beyond the ring, his toughest opponent had clearly been the Depression—which nearly knocked him out. But here he was, getting back into the fight game after nine months of inactivity. By 1934, Braddock had outgrown the light heavyweight division’s 175-pound weight limit and was fighting as a heavyweight, at about 180 pounds. He was six feet, two inches tall, with a head of thick, curly black hair. Ruggedly handsome, he looked every bit as Irish as his name, and he wore a shamrock on his trunks and was sometimes known as Irish Jim Braddock. He didn’t talk much, but when he did the words were delivered from the side of his mouth in a thick, blue-collar Jersey accent. His smile was always described as crooked. His parents, Joseph and Elizabeth O’Toole Braddock, had been born in England and immigrated to the United States in 1889, but they were both much more Irish than English or American, though there is no evidence that either ever set foot on Irish soil. They were raised in impoverished Irish enclaves in and around Manchester, where the Braddocks and the O’Tooles clung to their Irishness—mostly because the English never let them forget where they came from.
Forty-five years after Joseph Braddock escaped from the poverty and prejudices of northern England and made his way to America, his son James was struggling to clothe and feed his burgeoning family. He owed money to his landlord, the milkman, the gas and electric company, and his manager, to name just a few of his creditors. In the bitter winter of 1933– 1934, he had trudged through the streets of North Bergen, New Jersey, in shoes that were falling apart. Most of the time he was hungry.
Braddock’s decline as a boxer exactly paralleled the nation’s descent into the Depression. After fighting for the light heavyweight championship in the summer of 1929, Braddock met defeat after defeat, first in big arenas, at the hands of top competitors, and then, gradually, at the hands of boxers only a couple of notches above club fighters—tomato cans and ham ’n’ eggers, the dregs of the heavyweight division. He had lost sixteen out of twenty-six fights since the day the market crashed in 1929. Finally, on September 25, 1933, he broke his right hand, his only real weapon, on the jaw of a twenty-year-old heavyweight named Abe Feldman. The hand had been broken twice before, and Braddock thought it was unlikely that it would ever heal properly. If he somehow managed to scrape up enough cash to find a doctor who knew how to set the fracture, it would still take months to mend. By that time, he knew, he would be older and even slower than he already was, which was quite slow. Braddock announced his retirement—but virtually no one noticed.
Braddock was often called plodding. "Slow of foot” doesn’t begin to describe the inadequacy of his speed and footwork. He could punch, he could take a punch, he could even box a little, but James J. Braddock couldn’t move. Nor could he inflict much damage with his left hand.
Incapable of fighting, he sought work on the docks of Hoboken and Weehawken. The man who just five years earlier had come within one punch of winning the world light heavyweight championship was reduced to hauling railroad ties off ships coming from the south and loading them onto flatbed railroad cars. Initially he wasn’t very good at it—not with a lame right hand. But Braddock was strong, and physical labor was something he never shied from. Not when he was training for a fight, and not when he was earning four dollars a day operating a baling hook.
Like tens of millions of Americans who had thrived in the 1920s, Braddock was wiped out by the economic collapse. Much of the money he had earned fighting at famous arenas like Boyle’s Thirty Acres and Madison Square Garden disappeared when the Bank of the United States, in which he had deposited thousands of dollars, failed. He was far from alone. The men standing beside him on the docks in the shapeups, hoping to get picked by the hiring foremen for work, were lawyers and bankers and stockbrokers as well aas laborers. The Depression took nearly everyone down a few pegs—or more. Unlike everyone else on the docks, however, Braddock was unknnnnnowingly building the strength he would need to get himself back in the ring.
Still, the work was irregular. There were days when he would walk the three miles from his apartment in Woodcliff down to the waterfront in Hoboken in vain. He would then turn north and walk another couple of miles to West New York, or farther, to Edgewater. Sometimes there would be work on the docks. Sometimes he would just turn around and head back home. It wasn’t uncommon for him to walk ten or twelve miles in a single day. When there was work to be had, he would keep working until the job was finished. A double shift meant double pay. Fatigue was for sissies.
People who knew Braddock well thought that the nickname that best described him was Plain Jim, coined by John Kieran of the New York Times. Unlike John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey, the most popular heavyweight champions of the early days of gloved boxing, Braddock was as far as it was possible to be from a showman. He liked to go to pubs and have a few beers with the friends he had made growing up in West New York. But it concerned him not at all whether his dinner companions found him amusing. Or whether the sportswriters enjoyed his quips. Or whether the fans got a glimpse of his personality. On those rare occasions when he did speak, his words made an impact.
Braddock was teetering on the verge of anonymity as winter turned into spring in 1934. The talents he had displayed in the late 1920s were fading rapidly from the collective memory of the boxing community. When aficionados discussed the men who might challenge Primo Carnera for the heavyweight championship, the name Jim Braddock never entered the conversation. But Braddock remembered. So did his manager, Joe Gould. Perhaps a few of the men he had punished with his big right hand did too. Everyone else, though, thought of James J. Braddock—when they thought of him at all—as a brokendown, washed-up, one-time contender who just didn’t quite have enough talent or power.
Even so, Gould continued to sell Braddock as a worthy opponent long after most promoters had decided he was through in the fight game. Gould spent hours pleading Braddock’s case, insisting that all the fights he had lost were merely the result of a bad right hand. He reminded everyone who would listen that Jim Braddock was still only twenty-eight years old and that he was, after all, the same young man who had broken the great Pete Latzo’s jaw in four places, knocked out the heralded Tuffy Griffiths, and made mincemeat of Jimmy Slattery. He didn’t mention that those events had taken place in the 1920s, half a decade earlier.
Meanwhile, Braddock’s right hand was slowly healing. As he sweated on the docks, stripped to the waist, his strength was returning. The inner voice that had told him he was finished after the Feldman fight went silent. Now another voice told him that maybe his luck was about to change (for years he had considered himself jinxed). But if someone had made odds on the likelihood that Braddock would eventually capture the heavyweight championship, those odds would have been a million to one, or higher. Dozens of heavyweights were fighting regularly in New York, and virtually all of them were rated higher than Braddock, who was neither a solid veteran nor a talented upand- comer. He was, like so many used-up fighters, damaged goods—literally. Unlike most, he had once had a shot at a title, but he had blown it and had never recovered from the disappointment. His time, it seemed, had passed.
Braddock, however, was not entirely worthless in the ring. His name still meant something to boxing enthusiasts. The boxing commission had twice refused to license him, fearing for his safety, but if it licensed him for this fight he could serve a purpose in the sport, as a human steppingstone for young fighters climbing the ranks—for a fighter like John "Corn” Griffin.

Unlike Jim Braddock, Corn Griffin spent the early years of the Depression gainfully employed, as an enlisted man in the United States Army. A big, bruising Georgian, he fought in the service and eventually caught the eye of a veteran manager named Charles Harvey. By 1934, Griffin was a civilian and Harvey was trying to position him in the heavyweight division. "Griffin,” someone once wrote, "had the face of a loser, with a dented nose and scar tissue around his eyes.” But he could punch.
In the spring of 1934, Griffin arrived in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, to join the training camp of Primo Carnera as a sparring partner. Carnera, at six foot seven the tallest heavyweight champion ever, and at 270 pounds the heaviest ever—at least until George Foreman regained the title in 1994—was an atrocious boxer and a relatively weak puncher. But in an era when many of the top heavyweights weighed no more than 190 pounds, Carnera’s sheer size made him an attraction.
Born on October 26, 1906, in Sequals, Italy, near Venice, Carnera had won the championship in 1933 from Jack Sharkey under a cloud of justifiable suspicion. It was widely assumed that Carnera, who was controlled by the mobster Owney Madden, was the beneficiary of a fix. In later years, after the mob cruelly abandoned him, he became a pro wrestler, something he was much better at than fighting. Carnera was also the sad inspiration for the mob-controlled heavyweight in Budd Schulberg’s classic boxing tale, The Harder They Fall.
When he is remembered at all, Carnera is remembered simply for his physique, which Paul Gallico described in Farewell to Sport: Carnera was the only giant I have ever seen who was well proportioned throughout his body for his height. His legs were massive and he was truly thewed like an oak. His waist was comparatively small and clean, but from it rose a torso like a Spanish hogshead from which sprouted two tremendous arms, the biceps of which stood out like grapefruit. His hands were like Virginia hams, and his fingers were 10 red sausages. His head was large, and he had a good nose and fine, kind eyes. His skin was brown and glistening and he invariably smelled of garlic.
History does not record what Gallico smelled like.
As far as Carnera’s appetite was concerned, his publicity man wrote, "For breakfast, Primo has a quart of orange juice, two quarts of milk, nineteen pieces of toast, fourteen eggs, a loaf of bread, and half a pound of Virginia ham.” Publicity men of the time were prone to hyperbole, but Carnera’s flack might just have been telling the truth.
Carnera’s handlers agreed to have him defend his title for the third time in seven months on June 14 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl. In preparation for the bout, Carnera trained at Pompton Lakes and sparred frequently with Corn Griffin. Because Griffin could actually fight a little, he often made Carnera look foolish—so foolish, in fact, that the writers who camped out at Pompton Lakes began singing Griffin’s fistic praises, as those writers would have put it.
On June 3, Carnera sparred two rounds against Chester Matan, two rounds against Yuster Sirutis, and one round against Corn Griffin. "Carnera encountered his stiffest opposition in the round with Griffin,” Joseph C. Nichols reported in the New York Times. "The latter, a former United States Army boxer, weighed little more than 185 pounds, but tore into the champion as if he were his own size.” "As a sparring partner, he is no mere catcher,” Frank Graham wrote in the New York Sun. "He is a pitcher—and he pitches with both hands. He drives straight into Primo and his fists thud against the champion’s jaw and into his stomach. Carnera fights back hard, but he cannot keep Corn away. The soldier piles him up in a corner, belts him savagely with both hands, and then drives him out.” Jimmy Johnston, the matchmaker at Madison Square Garden, which was promoting the Carnera-Baer fight, was paying close attention to the beatings Griffin was dishing out. He signed Griffin to fight on the undercard, in one of the preliminary bouts that both build up a crowd’s bloodlust and provide value in the event that the main attraction is uninspiring.
"Two years from now,” said Charles Harvey, Griffin’s walrusmustached manager, "Griffin will be the heavyweight champion. When I sent him up here to work with Carnera, I told him to be careful and not get hurt. Now all I am afraid of is that he will hurt Carnera.” Harvey wanted to get Griffin "started in New York with a flourish,” Joe Williams of the World-Telegram said. "The best way to accomplish this was to get some washed-up name fighter and kick his brains out.” But as fight night approached, Johnston was having trouble securing an opponent for Griffin. The reports of his dominance in Pompton Lakes, whether or not they were exaggerated, scared off several would-be opponents and their managers. No one wanted to be the lamb offered up to Griffin for slaughter.
Except Jim Braddock.

On June 12, Joe Gould was waiting in his customary spot outside Jimmy Johnston’s office. Nearly as broke as Braddock, Gould managed to keep up appearances, smoking, dining, and dressing well, although he could not afford to continue to indulge in his favorite pastime, golf. The secretaries at Madison Square Garden—which at the time was situated on Eighth Avenue between 49th Street and 50th Street, two miles north and west of its original location on Madison Square—liked Gould despite themselves. They took messages for him and signed for his packages. Like everyone else, though, they were growing weary of his favorite topic of conversation: James J. Braddock. Everyone knew that Braddock was washed up, but Gould persisted, badgering Johnston, relentlessly seeking fights that would put a little cash in Braddock’s pockets—and his own.
Surrounded by a cluster of publicists, writers, managers, and trainers, Johnston loudly lamented the lack of a suitable opponent for Griffin. He wanted someone good enough to pique the fans’ interest but not good enough to win—though that’s not exactly how he put it.
Gould had slid into the crowd in Johnston’s office. "Why not give Jimmy a chance?” he said, predictably.
"Don’t mention Braddock again,” Johnston said, as everyone laughed at the joke that had already grown old. "I’m sick of hearing his name.” "Just give him a shot,” Gould said. If he wasn’t begging, he wasn’t doing his job.
"Joe, Corn will kill him,” Johnston said. "Ask any one of these guys. They’ve seen Corn in there with Carnera. I don’t want Jimmy’s blood on my hands.” "Listen,” Gould said, his eyes zeroing in on Johnston, "no one’s ever hurt Jimmy, you know that. He’s cute that way. Nobody hits him solid. And he’s stronger now than he’s ever been.” "Okay,” Johnston said, relenting. "You’ve got me, you wore me down. But don’t blame me if Griffin kills that old Irishman. And the purse is two hundred and fifty bucks. Don’t even think about asking for more.” "It’s a deal,” Gould said.
Now all Gould had to do was find Braddock. He had a pretty good idea where he was.
Gould walked out of the Garden and headed south to 42nd Street and then west to the Hudson River. He boarded a New Jersey–bound ferry and a few minutes later landed in Hoboken. Braddock was only a few hundred yards away, laboring on the docks, sweating in the noonday sun.
"Well, champ,” Gould said, after tapping on Braddock’s shoulder. "I’ve got a fight for you.” Braddock, his face and chest red from the sun, his thick, curly hair drooping into his eyes, didn’t say a word. He put down the baling hook in his left hand and peeled off his work gloves. He looked at Gould, waiting for the details.
"But the fight’s Thursday night, on the undercard at the Bowl,” Gould continued. "You’ve only got two days. Can you do it? Are you in shape?” "Am I in shape?” Braddock said, wiping the grime from his brow. "Are you kidding? Look at me.” Braddock, who had turned twenty-nine on June 8, was in fact in the best shape of his life. He’d been walking several miles every day for months. He’d been unloading and hauling railroad ties. But even if his muscles weren’t bigger than ever before, which they were, and even if his conditioning was lacking, which it wasn’t, he would have jumped at the opportunity to get back into the ring.
"I had about two days’ notice that I was going to fight Griffin,” he later said. "Two hours—or an hour—would have been enough.” He needed the money—and he needed to fight. The gas and electric company had threatened to shut off his service again. He had been forced to move his wife and three children to a basement apartment in the building in which they were living because he couldn’t pay the rent on the apartment upstairs. Most humiliating to Braddock, he had gone on the welfare rolls and each month was receiving twenty-four dollars from the Hudson County relief agency.
Johnston had approved a hundred-dollar advance on the purse, which Gould split with Braddock. For the first time in months, Braddock had a few—very few—dollars at his disposal. He handed over the money to his wife, Mae, and she in turn paid the milkman, the utility company, and the landlord.

On Wednesday, the day before the fight, Braddock took the ferry to 42nd Street, walked east to Ninth Avenue, turned left, walked fifteen blocks north to 57th Street, turned right, and entered Stillman’s Gym, where Gould was waiting for him. The plan was to get in one solid workout with a sparring partner—to shake off the rust that had been accumulating for nine months.
New York’s preeminent gym from the 1920s through the 1950s, and consequently the center of the boxing universe at the time, Stillman’s was dubbed the University of Eighth Avenue by A. J. Liebling. It was opened in 1921 by two millionaires who hoped to civilize wayward youths by teaching them the rules of boxing that had been named for the marquis of Queensberry. But Stillman’s was no Boys Town. Instead, it became simply a gym, albeit the gym. It is impossible to say how many spirits were lifted and how many were destroyed in its sweaty squared circles. Gene Tunney, the man who twice defeated Jack Dempsey in heavyweight championship fights, found the smell at Stillman’s so appalling that he said he wouldn’t train there unless the windows were opened. The featherweight champion Johnny Dundee responded by saying, "Fresh air? Why, that stuff is likely to kill us.” Lou Stillman—born Louis Ingber (he changed his name after he bought the gym, to avoid confusion)—kept the windows shut. Tunney stayed away, but not for long. Every heavyweight champion from Jack Dempsey to Joe Louis trained at Stillman’s.
Lou Stillman was successful because he never played favorites—except when he felt like it. "Big or small, champ or bum, I treated ’em all the same way—bad,” he once said. "If you treat them like humans, they’ll eat you alive.” Irish, Italian, black, Jewish, Polish—it didn’t matter to Stillman what you were, as long as you could fight.
Together, Gould and Braddock had spent thousands of hours at Stillman’s—but the Jim Braddock whom Gould saw on June 13, 1934, was a stranger. Working in a ring for the first time since the Feldman fight, he fired off left hands with stunning precision and unexpected force. For years he had fought entirely from starboard. Now he seemed to be ambidextrous. His sparring partner wilted under the assault. He was also moving differently—up on his toes, heels off the ground, resisting the urge to settle into his customary flat-footed stance. No one was going to confuse Jim Braddock with Fred Astaire. Nimble he was not. But his movements could no longer be described as glacial. As a fighter, he had undergone a metamorphosis.
His longtime trainer, Doc Robb, looked at Gould from behind the heavy bag that Braddock was pummeling and shook his head in astonishment. The thought raced through Gould’s mind that perhaps Braddock wasn’t washed up. For years he had been droning on and on about Braddock’s prospects, insisting that he deserved another chance. Every promoter in the business had at one time or another fallen asleep listening to Gould rattle on about the great James J. Braddock. There were times, though, when Gould would hear the words coming out of his mouth and not believe them himself. Joe Gould was no fool. He knew the fight game. He had grown up in it. He knew that no one had ever climbed to the top from the depths where Jim Braddock had toiled since 1929. But he had stayed with Braddock because they were friends and because he had no better prospects.

On the night of the fight, the gates opened at 5 P.M. at the Madison Square Garden Bowl, on the corner of 45th Street and Northern Boulevard in the working-class Long Island City section of Queens. A massive wooden structure erected in 1932, it could seat 72,000. Its life was brief but colorful. In its first year, Max Schmeling lost the world heavyweight championship by decision to the challenger, Jack Sharkey. Only the judges gave the fight to Sharkey. Coining a phrase known to sports fans from Brooklyn to Bangkok, Joe Jacobs, Schmeling’s incensed manager, howled into a radio microphone, "We wuz robbed!” Five times in seven years, the world heavyweight championship changed hands at the Madison Square Garden Bowl. Clearly, it was the arena where champions went to die.
For the Baer-Carnera showdown, 56,000 people filed into the Bowl—a significant turnout, considering just how few people had any disposable income in 1934. Ticket prices ranged from $25, at ringside, to $2.30 for the cheap seats. To attend a fight was an extravagance few could afford. Those who could spare a dime—movie stars, politicians, mobsters, athletes—showed up in droves. Postmaster General James A. Farley, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest advisers and the former chairman of the New York boxing commission, was there. So were former heavyweight champions Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and Jack Sharkey. Barney Ross, Benny Leonard, Tony Canzoneri, and Kid Chocolate—all legends in lighter classifications—were also in attendance.
The New York Times noted that of the two hundred policemen assigned to the task of ensuring public safety inside the arena, three were captains, three were lieutenants, and fifteen were sergeants. None was there working against his will.
In the hours leading up to a heavyweight championship fight, the crowd grows bigger, louder, and at the same time more solemn. The fans sense the danger, which distinguishes a fight crowd from crowds at every other sporting event except auto races. Today, only the most rabid fans pay close attention to the preliminaries. But in the 1930s, when boxing was still more important than every other sport except baseball and maybe college football, most fans watched the undercard fights with at least some interest. The newspapermen covered them closely, if only because the main events usually ended so late that the writers needed the undercards to fill their column inches.
After a few lackluster four- and five-round bouts, James J. Braddock and Corn Griffin prepared to step into the ring. Braddock was wearing old trunks and borrowed shoes. When he climbed through the ropes, the crowd was paying scant attention. Those who knew little about boxing were at the Bowl only to see the championship fight. Those who knew the sport assumed it would be a one-sided affair. If they had been following the goings-on at Carnera’s camp, they knew that Griffin was considered an up- and-comer, and if they had been following boxing since the 1920s, they vaguely remembered Jim Braddock as a light heavyweight hopeful.
Gould, as usual, was chattering. "You feel good, Jim? You feel good?” he kept repeating. It was a tic, not a question.
"Yeah, Joe, I’m ready,” Braddock said out of the side of his mouth. He had built up a sweat shadowboxing in his dressing room, and now, in the warm evening air, the sweat was pouring from him. His upper body was red and splotchy, his legs almost white. He looked out across the Bowl. Tens of thousands of patrons were already in their seats. His last fight, against Feldman, had also been outdoors, in Mount Vernon, New York, but only a few hundred people had been there. At the Bowl, none of those tens of thousands of people were there to see him fight, which was fine with Braddock. He had long ago adjusted his ambition to match his talent. Still, he needed a win, because a win meant another fight, which meant another purse, which meant another meal. Braddock had never felt uncomfortable in the ring—ever—and even nine months of inaction had not changed that.
"Remember, Jimmy,” Doc Robb told Braddock just before the bell, "stay away from his right hand. He can punch.” At the bell, Griffin, well tanned, his hair close-cropped, went straight for Braddock. Within seconds he landed a right squarely on Braddock’s jaw. Braddock staggered. He hadn’t been hit that hard in years. As Griffin dominated him in the first round, Braddock simply tried to get his bearings.
"Come on, Jim,” Gould said between rounds. "You look like you’re sleeping.” Braddock stared straight ahead, refused the water he was offered, pounded his gloves together, and stood up.
In the second round, Griffin went for Braddock again. Braddock stood still, and Griffin followed a left jab with another right to Braddock’s jaw. Braddock went down.
Watching from ringside, Lud Shabazian, the sports editor of the Hudson Dispatch, Braddock’s hometown paper, winced. Shabazian was Braddock’s Boswell, the only writer who had seen virtually all his East Coast fights since 1923. He wasn’t at the Bowl specifically to cover Braddock—he was there to see the title fight—and he was more interested in Braddock as a friend than as a fighter. As Braddock writhed on the canvas, Shabazian felt his friend’s pain. He and his colleagues on press row stayed in their seats, but the sharp report of Griffin’s blow had alerted the crowd that something worthy of attention was now taking place in the ring, and thousands scrambled to their feet. No one would have blamed Braddock if he had closed his eyes, waited for the count of ten, and walked away from the ring forever. He was twenty-nine, a tomato can, better suited to life as a longshoreman. Maybe it was time to quit.
But a voice in Braddock’s head urged him to get up—the same voice that had always urged him to get up when he was down. Too proud, too stubborn, and too broke to be counted out, he gathered himself, waited for the count of nine, picked himself up off the canvas, and waded straight into Griffin. He threw a jab that missed but followed with a short right to the chin. Griffin didn’t see it and went down in a heap. Finally the Georgian got up, but he never recovered.
For the rest of the second round, with Gould screaming wildly and jumping up and down in his corner, Braddock continued to bludgeon Griffin. It had been years since he had fought so effectively. His punches—jabs, uppercuts, overhand rights—were crisper than they had been when he was the upand- comer. His left hand, for years an almost vestigial extremity, was suddenly potent.
Maybe Braddock knew that he was better than ever. Maybe he could sense how far his comeback would take him. Probably not. What he did know, what he could sense, was that Corn Griffin was finished.
At the bell commencing the third round, Braddock went straight out to meet Griffin and jolted him with two more powerful right hands. Griffin was nearly out on his feet, his head still swimming from the punch that had knocked him down in the second round. But he kept fighting. Now Braddock was moving fluidly, throwing punches at a staggering target. Finally, with twenty-three seconds remaining in the round, the referee, Kid McPartland, stopped the fight. Braddock had his first knockout in eighteen months and only his second in more than four years.
Drained, Braddock stood in the middle of the canvas, wait- ing for Gould to throw a sponge full of icewater in his face. Gould took the sponge from the bucket, walked right past Braddock, and threw it in Griffin’s face.
"What did you do that for?” Braddock said.
"Corn’s in worse shape than you are,” Gould said.
Before retreating to Braddock’s dressing room, Gould found Johnston at ringside. "Hey, Jimmy,” he said, his smile widening, "I hope Jimmy didn’t hurt Corn. I know you’ve got high hopes for him.” "Tell Jimmy I’m proud of him,” Johnston said bravely, trying to mask his disappointment.
Back in his dressing room, Braddock popped open a beer, embraced a few friends and relatives, and searched in vain for a shower. When Shabazian walked in, Braddock hugged him too.
"He had me on the deck,” Braddock said as Shabazian scribbled. "He hit me with a right hand behind the ear. He’s a left hooker, and I’ve always had a lot of success with left hookers. I have a fast right hand, and coming in with a left hook, you meet a guy with a right hand, and if you hit him in the right spot, which I done to him, I hit him right on the chin and that was it.” Then, turning to Gould, Braddock said, "I did that on hash, Joe. Wait till you see what I can do on steak.” Copyright © 2005 by Jeremy Schaap. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

1 Corn and hash 1
2 The battle of Nurge's Field 17
3 The meat inspector 37
4 The Livermore butcher boy 47
5 Spooked by the phantom 65
6 The great white way 93
7 The crash and the jinx 105
8 The lord of the jungle 134
9 Star of David 144
10 On the waterfront 158
11 Last one up's a sissy 166
12 Another upset 187
13 King Max 195
14 A shot at Lasky 201
15 The people's choice 206
16 Homicide hall 221
17 A stout heart 245
App. A The heavyweight championship 279
App. B James J. Braddock's ring record 281
App. C Max Baer's ring record 284
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