No Fairy Tale: The Cinderella Man and The Clown Prince

By Norman Marcus on August 22, 2013
No Fairy Tale: The Cinderella Man and The Clown Prince
"Dynamite puncher," said Braddock. "If he hit you right, he'd knock you out in the third row."

“When you’ve been through what I’ve had to face, in the last two years, a Max Baer or a Bengal tiger looks like a house pet…”

After he won the heavyweight title from Primo Carnera in 1934, Max Baer spent the next twelve months taking it easy. He was immensely popular in America and traveled around the country, fighting a series of four-round exhibitions, which were easy paydays.

Max liked to mug and clown for the crowd. Baer would often stick his chin out and let the other guy hit him, and then playfully stumble and stagger around the ring. In 1934 he fought ten four-rounders, to the delight of the crowd. While in Florida, he fought Tony Cancela in Tampa, followed by Jim Maloney in Miami. After that fight, Max and brother Buddy traveled all the way across country by plane to San Francisco, to face Stan Poreda. Why the three thousand mile trip for another exhibition? The bout against Poreda was a benefit for the family of Frankie Campbell. Campbell was the man Baer had killed in the ring in 1930. He was haunted by Frankie’s death for the rest of his life.

Baer was still under contract to Madison Square Garden until June of 1935. The Garden promoters now felt that his next bout should be a rematch between the new champion and Max Schmeling. The German was still a big draw in Europe and America. He had gone back to Germany after his loss to Baer and had rebuilt his reputation. Schmeling knocked out Walter Neusel on August 26, 1934 in Hamburg. He then KO’d Penn State football star Steve Hamas, on March 10, 1935, also in Hamburg. Herr Max then decisioned contender Paolino Uzcudun on July 7, 1935 in Berlin over twelve rounds.

Schmeling was ready for another shot at the title. Baer was offered a $300,000 guarantee to fight Schmeling in Europe by German promoter Walter Rothenburg. London, Rome and even Berlin were mentioned as locations. But it was not Baer’s decision to make. Col. John R. Kilpatrick was the head of the Madison Square Garden Corp. He wanted the fight at the Garden. If Baer fought Schmeling in Europe, there would be no gate money. So a fight was set for the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Queens, New York. Schmeling was out of the picture for now.

The next best opponent according to Kilpatrick was Jimmy Braddock. The Bergan Bulldog was fine with Max. Jimmy was in his late twenties and out of boxing for quite sometime because of a string of defeats in the early 1930s. He had fought Tommy Loughran for the light heavyweight title on July 18, 1929 at Yankee Stadium but lost a unanimous decision. Jimmy had damaged both hands in that fight. He felt he was just fighting for a big payday. He was yesterday’s news. Jimmy had lost all his savings in the stock market crash that same year. He and his family were on welfare and were living in a rented room. He seemed to be an easy opponent for Max.

Jimmy worked as a longshoreman on the docks of New York and New Jersey after he left boxing. Braddock didn’t know it but that job was the best thing that could have happened to him. The bull work of lifting those heavy crates all day had helped rehab his hands. At thirty, Braddock was considered an old man in terms of the fight game. In spite of all that, he had recently returned to the ring. He quickly beat both Corn Griffin and Art Lasky, two top heavyweights. He was again a legitimate contender again and now had a shot at the heavyweight crown. Win or lose he needed the cash. Braddock told the AP a week before the bout, “Whether it goes one round or three rounds or ten rounds, it will be a fight and a fight all the way. When you’ve been through what I’ve had to face, in the last two years, a Max Baer or a Bengal tiger looks like a house pet.”

Baer’s training camp was set up in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Of course Max spent more time joking than sweating. He lay on the beach with his brother Buddy, mugging for the newsreel cameras. The press had convinced him that the fight was already won.

A few weeks before the fight Baer’s manager, Ancil Hoffman, fired trainer Mike Cantwell for some bizarre training methods. For example, Max was told to chop wood with a razor-sharp ax, which often landed just inches from his feet. Cantwell also liked to drop a twenty-pound medicine ball on Baer’s stomach from the top of a ten-foot ladder!

Joe Gould, Braddock’s manager, immediately hired Cantwell on the rebound. Jimmy and Joe spent many hours talking to Mike about Baer’s style. The bitter Mike Cantwell was anxious to even the score. He felt he wasn’t given a square deal by Hoffman. The champ’s flaws and weak points were all discussed and studied. (Later that year Cantwell also reached out to the Louis camp and provided similar information on Baer to Joe’s trainer Jack Blackburn.)

Baer ignored two rules. He didn’t train hard enough for any of his fights and he loved the ladies too much. He once said to brother Buddy, “I don’t buy them furs because I love them. I buy them things to keep them quiet.”

Jimmy Braddock was a 10:1 underdog on June 19 when he stepped into the ring at the Garden Bowl. Braddock had done his homework and studied all the film on Baer’s fights. The night of the bout the crowd was pretty evenly split between the Irish who were rooting for Braddock and the Jews who came out for Baer.

Baer had a very simple style. He was a knockout artist. He never really learned how to box. Max also had no real defense. By 1935 he developed a decent left hook but his game changer was a looping overhand right that could end things at any time. Max would just stalk the other guy. He had an iron chin and could take his opponent’s best shots. He would just wait for an opening to score that KO.

Braddock knew that he just had to stay away from that right hand. He would try to circle to his left all night to minimize Baer’s power. Jimmy was a boxer- puncher who knew how to work the ring in his favor. Braddock could bang with the best of them when he was healthy.

Buddy Baer described the fight action in his autobiography: “Jimmy kept Max at bay for the first three rounds. Scoring solid left jabs to Max’s head.” Max continued to ham it up as if it was an exhibition, again mugging for the crowd and rubber legging it. In round four “Baer slammed Jimmy into the ropes with a left hook…Max shook his head and stared at his left hand. Thereafter he used his left mainly for slapping or feinting.” He thought the wrist was fractured. In round five “he also lost the effective use of his right hand for the rest of the fight when he glanced a blow off Jimmy’s shoulder,” breaking all the metacarpal bones. The next ten rounds were hard to watch. Jimmy was putting in a good performance while Max now couldn’t land with any power. Braddock won by unanimous decision at the end of fifteen rounds.

After the defeat Baer showed his class by telling the New York Times, “I have no alibis to offer. Jimmy won and no better fellow deserves a break. He didn’t hurt me in the fight but my trouble was I didn’t hurt him.” When asked about his lack of punching power that night, Baer just shook his head. Max would not discuss his hands.

Decades later Braddock told author Peter Heller, “I thought I could outpunch him…I could punch pretty good. Stick the left hand and move…” Baer had Braddock’s respect. “Oh yeah he landed. Dynamite puncher. If he hit you right, he’d knock you out in the third row. The guy was a harder puncher than Louis. Louis was a faster puncher and he hit you with more punches, but Baer was a guy who could hurt you. 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. I think that was on his mind.”

The Clown Prince of the Ring made sure he never got that mad again.

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Max Baer vs James Braddock (All Rounds)

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  1. Norm Marcus 12:54pm, 08/25/2013

    Eric: Baer did go down hill physically later in life. But you have to remember that heart disease ran in his family. His father a huge man who could slaughter a steer in a few minutes also fell apart and passed away before his time. The wasting away effects of heart disease is classic. Baer had several minor heart attacks in his late 40s and the big one at 49. Sounds like blocked arteries to me. Today they would do the ballon or a bypass and Max could have lived another 20 years.

    I’ll always remember Baer in hhis prime, standing over Schmeling in Yankee Stadium and snarling at him “that’s for Hitler!” Every Jew there that night was proud.
    Norm Marcus

  2. Eric 08:17am, 08/25/2013

    Baer had absolutely no defensive abilities or much boxing skill at all. Murderous puncher, but he telegraphed those haymakers from a mile away. Perhaps with a little more discipline and training, Baer could’ve left an even bigger impact on boxing. Physical specimen indeed, hard to believe one could maintain that sort of physique with the lifestyle that Baer led. Remember looking at a photo of Carnera and Baer taken years after they both had retired from the squared circle, Carnera might have been still “performing” as a “rassler” and Carnera’s massive physique still looked quite incredible, while Baer’s once splendid body had turned into absolute flab. Baer went downhill fast after he retired. With that wide open style and telegraphing those looping punches, I really couldn’t imagine Baer surviving against the heavyweight elite, of course with that power, he would always have a puncher’s chance.

  3. bikermike 06:05pm, 08/24/2013

    Max definitely advanced the career of Buddy Baer…

  4. bikermike 05:27pm, 08/24/2013

    Braddock had himself so well trained he could easily be described as tuffr’n boiled whale shit…
    Maxie..was ‘trained ’ by screwing several broads a day…in between his workouts…and living in hotels that served a great steak and eggs combo…

    Maxie didn’t drink….unless he was alone ...or with somebody !!

  5. bikermike 05:21pm, 08/24/2013

    had to love Max…..he was a fighter…and he was good for boxing…...Jack Dempsey lost a lot of sleep worrying about Max ......and he should have !!

    Max Baer was a magnificent specimen…...and he lacked focus…but the crowds loved him…...
    This was before TV..just radio…and film…months later

    He was a great guy….even when he called for an ambulance when he had his fatal heart attack….he kidded the operator…

  6. bikermike 05:15pm, 08/24/2013

    norm Marcus….what a great read…...several informed posters had explained to me about Max Baer’s hand/wrist problems…...

    He’d hit so hard…stuff got broken….short version of his poor performance against Joe ...THE BROWN BOMBER.Louis

    Max drank deep and long from the cup of life….and for someone to say that he ‘took it easy’....doesn’t know what it takes to entertain two ladies for four days and nights…....just sayn

  7. Lee 02:49am, 08/24/2013

    Interesting how the announcer was already calling Braddock’s comeback ‘the greatest in ring history,’ before the fight even starts!

  8. Norm Marcus 09:38am, 08/23/2013

    Collector- glad you liked the piece. If you never read my story on the Baer/Louis fight “Fate Takes A Hand”. It’s right up your alley. Look in the archives of my stories way in the back. Very interesting.
    Let me know what you think.

  9. The Fight Film Collector 08:21am, 08/23/2013

    Great piece, Norman.  I’d like to add that despite the loss to Braddock and then to Louis a few months later, Baer went on the have a very successful post-championship career.  In 1936 he had 21(!) fights and exhibitions with only an odd 6 round “exhibition loss” to Willie Davis.  Through 1941 his only losses were to Lou Nova and Tommy Farr.  He decisioned Farr in a rematch though, and was on his way to beating Nova in their first fight when he suffered a mouth cut, choking on his blood for half the fight until the ref stopped it.  Max only lost to the best he knew when it was time to quit.

  10. Jan Swart 02:06am, 08/23/2013

    Technical point: for Braddock to get away from Baer’s right hand, he would move to his own right, not his left, as stated above. Moving left would align him with the punch he was trying to avoid. Good article though. Baer was prortrayed very unfavourably, abd unfairly so, in Cinderella Man.

  11. Lefthook25 10:02pm, 08/22/2013

    I played Art Lasky in the movie Cinderella Man…In my opinion, he was the greatest heavyweight of all time! LOL Anyways, great article!

  12. Magoon 01:49pm, 08/22/2013

    I like that you call Griffin and Lasky “top heavyweights” - that’s what they were. It’s silly that Braddock’s opponents, and Braddock himself, aren’t as well looked on as they should be.

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