Nicknames: Cinderella Man, Bulldog of Bergen, Pride of the Irish, Pride of New Jersey
Years Lived: July 7, 1905 – November 29, 1974 (69 years)
Place Born: New York City, New York
Place Died: New Bergen, New Jersey
Family Origins: Irish
Occupations: Boxer, dock worker, actor, taxi owner, soldier (US Army, WWII) and marine equipment surplus supplier
Family: Joseph Braddock – father, Elizabeth Braddock (née O’Tool) – mother, four brothers, two sisters, Mae Braddock (Fox) – wife, James (Jay) – son, Howard – son and Rosemarie – daughter.
James J. Braddock (as he was called in boxing) is a great man of history because his name in the boxing arena and his influence in the lives of those who experienced the Great Depression surpassed the very essence of people’s hopes. He became a monumental icon that inspired people with confidence to never lose hope, hold onto their dreams and keep their faith. His climb to the top, his disappointing downfalls and returning triumphs mirrored the whole country’s suffering and desire to achieve during the Great Depression. Braddock was the man who ascended from the depths of a downtrodden life to a life of luxury and motivated everyone with misfortune to pull themselves back up onto their feet.
James was born in Hell’s Kitchen on West 48th Street on the island of Manhattan in New York City. Hell’s Kitchen is the area of Manhattan where many of the Irish immigrants lived during the time. In his early youth, James had always wanted to play football for Coach Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. However, his future lied at Madison Square Garden sports arena just down the street from where he grew up and where he would one day become famous.
The Braddocks grew larger with the addition of a few more kids and moved on the other side of the Hudson River to a more family friendly neighborhood in West New York located in Hudson County New Jersey. Like many kids his age, young Jimmy passed his time by playing marbles, baseball and hanging around the old swimming hole on the banks of the Hudson River or under the Hackensack River Bridge. He even daydreamed of being a fireman or a train engineer when he grew up. During his high school years, Jimmy Braddock worked several jobs including messenger boy for Western Union, a printer’s devil, a teamster and an errand boy in a silk mill. During this time, Jimmy found his love for boxing 1.
Jimmy took a couple of years perfecting his art as a notable amateur boxer all over New Jersey. At age 21, he reached the status of a professional fighter, boxing in the light-heavyweight class. He tried to achieve heavyweight division but couldn’t get past the 180 pound mark. However, those in his weight class were no match for his powerful right arm and cunningness in the boxing ring 1.
By his third year as a professional fighter, he held a record of 44-2-2 with 21 total knockouts. In 1928, he surprised everyone by knocking out Tuffy Griffiths, a very successful light-heavyweight. The next year, he pursued the chance to go for the world light-heavyweight title. However, after 15 rounds, he just barely lost to Tommy Loughran by decision. Not only did he lose but he severely fractured his right hand in several places during the fight. This put Braddock into a deep depression and his career suffered greatly.
The date of September 3, 1929 will be ingrained into the minds of those who suffered during the Great Depression. Stocks plummeted and the nation fell into one of the toughest times in its history for the next 15 or so years. While people watched their life savings evaporate, the Braddocks like so many others literally lost everything they owned. Because there was no work to be had, Jim had a difficult time just to win boxing matches in order to feed his wife and three young kids. However, his boxing career would go into a great depression like the rest of the country. He lost his next 16 out of 22 fights and further injured his hand by landing a hard punch. Being at the bottom, Jimmy had to quit fighting and apply for government welfare in order to feed his family.
Without any learning or a talent that went beyond boxing, Braddock looked for work of all kinds. He would walk 3 miles to the docks of Weehawken and Hoboken everyday to find work. If he found it, he unload railroad ties all day. If he couldn’t find work, he would walk another 2 miles to West New York. If he couldn’t find work there either, he’d walk all the way home and try to work for odd jobs like snow shoveling. Sometimes, Jim would walk for 10 to 12 miles every day searching for work to support his family. Everyone still recognized Jim as the man who used to be a prize fighter. Those who used to take delight in his rise to glory simply shook their heads
at Jimmy’s misfortune 2.
Braddock caught his break in 1934 because of a last minute cancellation. Jimmy was to fight John “Corn” Griffin in place of another fighter who couldn’t make it. Braddock was placed as the underdog because he hadn’t fought in so long. However, to the astonishment of everyone, he knocked Griffin out in the third round. News got out that Braddock was back and he was offered more opportunities to fight. In his next fight with John Henry Lewis, Jimmy was again the underdog but again, he pulled through with a win in the tenth round.
After his return to boxing and having more money to spare, Braddock gave back all the welfare money he had received and made regular contributions to different Catholic Worker Houses. Braddock even fed homeless people with his family.
After defeating Art Lasky in March of 1935, James Braddock was viewed as the highest
heavyweight contender to fight Max Baer. Baer was considered by most to be an explosive fighter and possibly one of the hardest hitters in boxing history. On June 13, 1935 at Madison Square Garden, just down the street from where Jimmy had grown up, he faced Max Baer in one of the most famous boxing matches of all time. Braddock was down at 10 to 1 odds but knew that he could beat Baer if he could stay away from his right hook. During 15 rounds of astonishing talent, fortitude and audacity, James J. Braddock defeated Max Baer by decision. He became the newest heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Later, Braddock said in an interview, “You see, Max, he was a nice fellow but he never should have been a fighter. His ability was, if the guy could have got mad, you know, like guys get in a fight, he’d kill you with a punch, because he had killed a couple of guys and I think that was on his mind. But I always said that Max should have been an actor instead of a fighter.”
During the next two years, Braddock boxed in a few exhibition fights. On June 22, 1937, Jimmy defended his title and went 8 rounds with Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis and lost by knock-out. During the fight, Jim never complained and few ever knew that he was receiving medication for arthritis in his left hand. The meds numbed his muscles and he barely lifted his left hand during the fight as a result. Even though Jimmy’s left arm was all but useless, he still packed some very powerful punches with his right. By the end of the fight, Jimmy had to receive 23 stitches and lost one of his teeth. The two heavyweights put on a great show and everyone knew it was Braddock’s best fight. Even Louis said that no one had ever hit as hard as Braddock.
Although Braddock had lost his title to Louis, he wanted to retire with a big fight. On January 21, 1938, he defeated Tommy Farr after 10 rounds. After his amazing come-back, he was seen as an inspiration of hope for millions. Following the fight, Jimmy hung up his boxing gloves for good. Jim had fought in a total of eighty-five boxing matches with fifty-one wins.
Upon retirement, Jimmy and his manager Joe Gould signed up for the US Army in 1942 and returned from Officer Candidate School as Second Lieutenants. Before the war’s end, Jim served on Saipan Island in the south Pacific. After he returned, he assisted in the construction of the Verrazano Bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn at the Narrows in New York City. James also worked as a marine equipment surplus supplier that operated generators and welding equipment. Jimmy and his wife Mae both raised their three children at their house in North Bergen, New Jersey.
On November 29, 1974, James J. Braddock passed away at his home during sleep. His wife Mae went on to live in their home in North Bergen until she moved to Whiting, New Jersey before she passed away in 1985. In 1964, Jimmy was placed in the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame, the Hudson County Hall of Fame in 1991 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001.
His kids went on to have families of their own and many still live in and around the north east. James J. Braddock was viewed as an underdog but through his determination, willpower, belief in family and persistence, he fought his way to the top and astonished many. In 2005, a movie was made in his honor entitled “Cinderella Man” staring Russell Crowe as Braddock and Renée Zellweger as Mae.
1. James J. Braddock Wesite. (2012). James j. braddock – the man. Retrieved from http://www.jamesjbraddock.com/theman/
2. McKay, B. (2009). Lessons in manliness: James j. braddock. The Art of manliness, Retrieved from http://artofmanliness.com/2009/08/25/lessons-in-manliness-james-j-braddock/