On This Date in Sports June 22, 1937: Midnight for Cinderella Man

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Midnight comes for the Cinderella Man James Braddock, who is knocked out by Joe Louis in his only title defense for the undisputed heavyweight championship in the eighth round at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Braddock had become the inspiration for millions after stunning Max Baer two years earlier. Just one year before the Baer fight, James Braddock was unable to fight due to a damaged hand and was living in poverty due to an injured hand. His story would later become the inspiration for an award-winning movie.

James Braddock was hardly considered a heavyweight title contender before beating Max Baer; he had lost frequently and had his boxing license suspended due to a chronic hand injury. In 34 fights between 1929-1933, Braddock posted an inauspicious record of 11-20-2.  Unable to find work James Braddock was living on welfare as he had trouble finding work as a longshoreman.

On June 14, 1934, Braddock was given one more shot at boxing as a last-minute replacement for up-and-coming boxer James “Corn” Griffin. Despite having no time to train or prepare, Braddock, who lived in North Bergen, New Jersey, went across the Hudson and knocked Griffin in the third round. After that win, Braddock’s boxing career was revived as he received a title shot against Max Baer after beating John Henry Lewis and Art Lasky.

James Braddock’s unexpected rise from the breadlines to headlines was completed on June 13, 1935, when he won a unanimous decision against Max Baer at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City. A proposed rematch with Baer never came to fruition as Max Baer suffered a loss to Joe Louis on September 24, 1935. A planned title defense against Max Schmelling in 1936 was canceled due to James Braddock’s continued hand issues. Though some suspect there was dissatisfaction with the purse in Braddock’s camp. In addition, there were increasing concerns over whether Schmelling would take the title to Germany and deny American fighters a chance to get it back.

After losing to Joe Louis, James Braddock, the Bulldog of Bergen, fought one more time, defeating Tommy Farr to retire with a record of 51-26-7. Joe Louis became the second African American to hold boxing’s most significant title after beating Braddock; he would hold the title longer than anybody making 26 successful title defenses before retiring in 1948. This included a 1938 title defense against Max Schmeling, where he knocked out the big German in the first round, becoming an American hero as the tension between the United States and Nazi Germany was growing. Tax problems would arise for Louis to return to the ring in 1950, as he made an additional ten fights finishing his career at 66-3.