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CINDERELLA MAN

A Brief History
The Jazz Age of the 1920s was a golden time for America, as the nation celebrated peace and booming prosperity on the heels of World War I. It was also a Golden Era for boxing, the brutal yet beautifully balletic sport that had captured the public imagination with its raw, primal struggles for transcendence in the ring. In the melting pot society of the early 20th century, disparate immigrant groups drew pride from their "native” sons who boxed; communities with strong Old World roots found a focus, an expression of their heritage, each time a fighter wearing their national colors or symbol climbed into the ring. It was during this era that James J. Braddock, a New Jersey-based amateur known for his fierce right hand, turned pro. Like many working-class kids, Braddock saw boxing as his ticket to a decent life. It was the only thing he was ever good at—and for a while he was very, very good.

His career shone with promise in the early years, when he was dubbed "the Bulldog of Bergen” for an unflinching tenacity that seemed to carry him through fights with far larger opponents. But, after sustaining irreparable damage to his badly broken right hand, his career began to slide downhill. In 1929, he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of light heavyweight champ Tommy Loughran, who beat him in a heartrending 15-round decision that touched off a seemingly endless string of bad luck and ugly losses. Braddock was never the same again.

Nor was the nation. That same year, the stock market crashed, wiping out 40 percent of the paper values of common stock. As the shockwave spread, American families from all walks of life and every economic class lost their savings, their businesses, their homes and their farms. By 1932, nearly one in four Americans was unemployed.

The nation was reeling in shock, as throngs of once working families began showing up at Salvation Army shelters. Food lines, work lines and Public Relief lines—something many Americans never thought they would see in their own country—became a commonplace sight.

The poorest of the poor were forced to live in "Hoovervilles,” grim cardboard-shack shantytowns that sprang up on the edges of most major cities (named with bitter irony for U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who, prior to losing the 1932 election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had failed to put into place any federal aid programs for struggling families). Thousands upon thousands of others roamed the country, searching for any job no matter how hard, demeaning or dangerous. For the first time since the nation's pilgrim beginnings, many Americans faced the very real and haunting prospect of hunger and malnutrition. Suicide rates among men who had lost their jobs soared.

Like so many bankers, butchers, farmers and factory workers, Jim Braddock watched as his life, too, began to fall apart. When the local boxing commission forced him to retire by revoking his license, Braddock searched valiantly for any available jobs, but there weren't many. He took hard-labor jobs in the shipyards, hauling sacks, or anything else he could get.

Yet he was making so little that at one point, Braddock was trying to feed a family of five on just $24 a month. It seemed like a losing battle. When the family could no longer afford the basics—milk, gas, electricity—Braddock applied for Relief. It was a terrible blow to his pride, a secret shame that many who had always worked for their families were experiencing across the country.

But then in 1934, just as Roosevelt's New Deal began to kick into high gear, Braddock's luck began to shift as well. Unexpectedly, he was given the chance to fight John "Corn” Griffin in a bout Braddock was, by all accounts, pretty much guaranteed to lose. Instead, he managed to dance and jab his way to a win no one could quite believe—thanks in part to a newly strengthened left hand as a result of his stints working<

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