James Braddock: The Cinderella Man

The profession of sports is such that players can go out of form any day. Even with the best training and skills, it is not always possible for them to perform, and this can go on for a long period of time, if the player is not lucky. At this point of time, most athletes retire, even if he is at the peak of his career, or has his entire career left for him. They may even get injuries that can end their career. But, one athlete made sure that he did not quit. His circumstances played a huge part in making him want to continue fighting, but he did fight, and earned himself the nickname, Cinderella Man.

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James Braddock: The Cinderella Man

This man was James Walter Braddock, an American boxer, and the world heavyweight champion from 1935 to 1937. Born in 1905, Braddock started boxing at the age of 21 as a light heavyweight, after working a series of jobs, such as, a messenger boy for Western Union, a printer’s devil, a teamster and an errand boy in a silk mill, until he discovered his passion for the thrill and power within the ring. He was noted as a boxer with a powerful right hand and solid chin, but more importantly for his superb comeback from a career that had gone downhill.

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In 1928, after having honed his skill as a successful amateur boxer in New Jersey, he entered the professional circuit of boxing. In his very first year, he overwhelmed everyone as he knocked out one opponent after another. He then decided to move to the heavyweight class. Even though his body weight hardly made him capable to qualify for it, it was his strong right hand that made him a powerful opponent, even for those who weighed much more, and he was on his way.

In July 1929, Braddock entered the ring to face Tommy Loughran for the sought after light heavyweight championship. But, Loughran had studied his style, and kept dodging all night, never being able land a clean punch. Finally, the fight ended with Loughran clinching the victory in a 15-round decision. But, this was only the beginning of his plummeting career. The same year, in the month of September, the stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression. Braddock, like millions of other Americans, lost everything as the banks went under.

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With jobs off the market, Braddock struggled to put food on the table for his family of three kids, and wife. However, his career had already started to deteriorate. He lost 16 out of 22 fights, and to make things worse, he smashed his right hand – his strong suit. This happened during a fight as he was landing a punch.

He waited at the harbor docks for jobs, and meanwhile, tried to continue fighting with a broken arm, without letting anyone know about his injury. But his fights deteriorated. But, at one point of time, when his family could not even afford electricity during the cold winter months, he was compelled to hand his gloves and apply for government relief. In order to support his family, he had to swallow his pride, because no one wanted a boxer with a smashed hand.

James Braddock: The Cinderella Man
The Real Cinderella Man – James Braddock

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But, by stroke of luck, and due to his perseverance, things changed for him. He was almost out of shape now, and he had to get his licence restored with the help of his former manager. In 1934, a sport opened up for him to fight, as a result of a last minute cancellation. This fight was against John Griffin. It was an under-card fight for the heavyweight championship match between Max Bae and Primo Carnera. To the shock of everyone present, Braddock upset Griffin.

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James Braddock – The True Champion

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He soon got another opportunity to fight, this time against John Henry Lewis, and going against all predictions, Braddock grabbed a ten round victory. In 1935, he went on to beat Art Lasky, and was now considered as one of the top contenders for the heavyweight contest against Baer. At that time, Baer had the reputation of being a dynamite puncher and the hardest hitter. The evening of 13th July, 1935, at Madison Square Garden, Ney York, was a big evening. All eyes were on the ring, waiting to see if Braddock would be smashed by Baer, or cause another great upset.

Braddock was the obvious underdog in this fight. He was prepared, though, having studied Baer’s style of boxing. He was armed with the knowledge that if he could stay away from his opponent’s right hand that was likely to hammer him, he would have a chance. And, that was exactly what he did throughout the fight. With immense determination and courage, Braddock won the heavyweight championship. And, thus started his new phase of fame and victory.

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James Braddock – Showing his grace inside the ring

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He fought several exhibition fights in over the next couple of years. In 1937, his streak ended, when Joe Louis, with more punches than Baer, won the championship. Throughout his fight, he kept receiving medication for arthritis. This helped numb him like a muscle relaxant. He always managed to throw uppercuts, because he could not lift his left hand over his head. Even though he lost that match, everyone enjoyed watching it, and it is considered Braddock’s best fight. From 1937 to 1939, due to a deal struck by his manager, he received a massive $150,000, which was a lot of money at that time.

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Russell Crowe as James Braddock in The Cinderella Man

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Braddock hung his gloves in 1938, but before that, he beat Tommy Farr after 10 rounds. Thus, the man ended his boxing career while still at the top. After his retirement, he enlisted in the US Army in 1943. In 1974, Braddock died in his sleep, peacefully. He has received several accolades posthumously, and his rags-to-riches story is one that is much more than any award or official honour can acknowledge. His greatest achievement was not the series of championships or the wealth he earned. His greatest success was how he never continued to fight. With grit and power, he helped turned the wheel of his life.

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