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THE original Cinderella Man, James J Braddock, rose from status of broke has-been to heavyweight champion of the world by outwitting Max Baer over 15 rounds at the Madison Square Garden Bowl on Long Island in 1935.
After the 2005 movie starring Russell Crowe, Braddock’s legend has outgrown boxing.
He had been a light-heavyweight contender in the ‘20s, but a few years later, with a family to feed, he was reduced to accepting $17 a week state relief when, after he had broken both hands, there was no work for him on the docks.
An offer to box as a substitute against John ‘Corn’ Griffin, who was believed to be the next big thing in the heavyweight division, was too good for Braddock to turn down. He knocked out Griffin in three rounds and two more wins took him to the Baer fight.
“I was determined not to make a fool of myself,” he said, years later, and he trained ferociously hard. Baer, who had a huge reputation as a puncher, didn’t – and paid a heavy price. At the end Braddock was not only still standing, he was ahead on points. When he defended against Joe Louis, Braddock held out for a life-changing deal. Aside from the money he earned from the fight, in which he floored Louis in round one, but was taken apart, cut up and knocked out in the eighth, he was given a 10 per cent cut of Louis’ gross purses for the next ten years.
It earned Braddock around $150,000. He and his wife Mae lived in the house they bought in North Bergen, New Jersey, during his days as champion, for the rest of their lives.