Born in New York City on June 7, 1905, James Braddock first fought for the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) World Light Heavyweight title against Tommy Loughran at Yankee Stadium on July 18, 1929, but lost by unanimous decision. Thereafter, in the early years of the Great Depression, his career took a downturn and, at one stage, he was forced to file for government relief, of $17 a week, to support his family.
However, on June 14, 1934, Braddock stepped in as a subsitute opponent for promising heavyweight John ‘Corn’ Griffin at Madison Square Garden Bowl and, unexpectedly, won by technical knockout in the third round. Two more unforeseen points victories later, against John Henry Lewis on November 16, 1934 and Art Lasky on March 22, 1935, both at Madison Square Garden, Braddock had earned another world title fight.
On June 13, 1935, back at Madison Square Garden Bowl, Braddock faced reigning National Boxing Association (NBA) and NYSAC World Heavyweight champion Max Baer. Braddock, 30, was conceding 17lb in weight and 6″ in reach to Baer, 26, and started the fight as the 10/1 underdog. However, Baer produced a lacklustre, listless performance, at least for the first two-thirds of the fight and, even when he increased his work rate, his efforts came to little.
Braddock, by contrast, stuck to his task and eventually ran out a solid winner, by unanimous decision. His exploits did not go unnoticed by newspaperman Alfred ‘Damon’ Runyon, who dubbed him the ‘Cinderella Man’ on the grounds that his ‘was the old story re-enacted in its elementals with a big pugilist in the leading role.’
Braddock made just one, unsuccessful, defence of his titles against Joe Louis at Comiskey Park, Chicago on June 22, 1935, wjere he was knocked out – for the one and only time in his career – in the eighth round. However, he negotiated a clause whereby, if he lost, he would receive 10% of any future title purses won by Louis, so he was set for life whatever happened.