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On This Date in Sports June 13, 1935: Cinderella Man

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

James Braddock, who was down and out one year earlier, stuns the world by beating Max Baer in a unanimous decision for the heavyweight championship. Baer was regarded the hardest puncher in boxing but could not damage Braddock, who scored early and was able to wear down the champion and get the win at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City, Queens.

Max Baer was the most intimidating man in boxing. On August 8, 1930, in San Francisco, he knocked out Frankie Campbell in San Francisco. Campbell, who was severely injured in the fight, died two weeks later from the injuries. Ernie Schaaf, who defeated Baer in 1930, also suffered severe injuries during the rematch in 1932 and later died. On June 14, 1934, at Madison Square Garden Bowl, Max Baer won the heavyweight title beating Primo Carnera mercilessly in an 11th round knockout to improve to 40-7 on his career.

On the undercard of Baer’s beatdown of Carnera was a surprise return to the ring of James Braddock, whose career all but seemed over nine months earlier when a broken hand sidelined him. James Braddock, nicknamed the Bulldog of Bergen, showed early promise in his career but struggled due to various ailments due to arthritis in his hands. His career all but seemed over at the end of 1933 when he could suffer a broken hand in a charity match. Over the next winter, James Braddock and his family struggled as he had to go on government assistance. Eventually, Braddock found work as a dockworker. While working on the docks, Braddock made his left hand stronger while his right hand recovered.

When he finally returned to the ring the night Baer mauled Carnera, James Braddock, held a lifetime record of 46-25-7, with an 11-20-2 record over a 33-fight stretch. Braddock was expected to be nothing more than a tune-up opponent for John “Corn” Griffin, an up-and-coming heavyweight contender. Feeling better than he has in years, Braddock scored a stunning third-round knockout, resurrecting his boxing career. He would beat John Henry Lewis and Art Lasky in his next two fights to earn a shot at Max Baer and the heavyweight title.

The fight was to take place at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City, Queens. The outdoor stadium was an outdoor arena in Queens, designed to host large events in the summer to accommodate up to 72,000 fans. The MSG Bowl had a bad reputation among boxers, as it was said to be the “Graveyard of Champions” as the venue often saw a title change hand.

Heading into the fight, Max Baer was a heavy favorite and looked ahead to a later fight scheduled against Joe Louis and took a relaxed approach during training. Braddock, meanwhile, trained for the fight like his life depended on it as he remembered the hard times he suffered. When the fight began, the crowd was clear behind James Braddock, whose comeback earned him the nickname “Cinderella Man.” Max Baer, not taking, Braddock seriously clowned around in the early part of the fight to play to the crowd, but as the fight went on, it was clear James Braddock was there to make history. He was the aggressor wearing down Baer throughout the fight, who paid the price for not taking his opponent seriously. At the end of 15 rounds, the fight went to the judges’ scorecards, with Braddock declared the winner by a unanimous decision.

James Braddock would again struggle with hand injuries after his win and did not fight again for two years. When Braddock finally stepped in the ring on June 22, 1937, the magic of his run to the title was gone, as Joe Louis at Comiskey Park knocked him out.

The results of the fight between Braddock and Baer would be made into a major motion picture, “Cinderella Man” in 2005. The movie portrayed the struggles of James Braddock during the Great Depression but unfairly tarnished the reputation of Max Baer, who was made into the film’s villain.