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Articles of 2005

James J. Braddock: Boxing Shoe Replaces Glass Slipper



When he sat down with Mike Tyson last month after the Washington press conference announcing his June 11 fight against Kevin McBride, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap mentioned that he’d just returned from Reykjavik, Iceland, where he’d interviewed “another former world champion from Brooklyn.”

Tyson wracked his brain, but couldn’t imagine who Schaap could be talking about.

“Bobby Fischer,” the reporter finally told him.

Bobby Fischer?” A look of apparent horror spread over Iron Mike’s tattooed face. “Man, that guy is crazy!”

A globe-trotting anchor and correspondent for the all-sports network, Jeremy Schaap is the son of Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Dick Schaap. One of the most revered figures of our time, Dick Schaap was a renaissance man, a nationally-renowned sportswriter who also wrote film and theatre criticism, and authored over 30 books before he passed away at 67 four years ago. Following in yet another of his father’s many-faceted footsteps, Schaap fils is celebrating the publication of his first book, “Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History” (Houghton Mifflin; 324 pp.; $24) this week.

Jeremy Schaap’s conscious decision to write his first book clearly didn’t come because he had too much time on his hands, but having reached his thirties, he wanted to explore that side of his creative nature. He and his agent Scott Waxman (a college classmate from Cornell who had also worked along Schaap when both were copy boys at the Times) then set about finding a likely subject.

That it would be a boxing-based book came naturally: The subject was as near and dear to Jeremy’s heart as it had been to his father’s. He had done several boxing features for ESPN (and currently serves as a host for the network’s nascent pay-per-view telecasts).

“Boxing people are among the most colorful in sports,” said Schaap. “They’re usually the best quotes, just because they haven’t been coached to withhold themselves the way athletes in team sports have.”

That there was a high-profile movie in the works, starring Russell Crowe as Braddock, didn’t hurt, either.

“We knew the film would spark a natural resurgence of interest in Braddock,” said Schaap. “But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that not only might this be the greatest sports story of all time, but that hardly anything had been written about it: Apart from a casual treatment as part of boxing histories, nothing had been written about Braddock since Lud Shabazian’s 1936 biography (‘Relief to Royalty’). And, amazingly, considering what an intriguing figure he was, very little had been written about Baer since Nat Fleischer’s brief biography ‘Max Baer: The Glamour Boy of the Ring.’”

Simply put, by the early 1930s Braddock was a has-been. He had been a promising light-heavyweight contender in the 1920s, but lost his only title shot, a decision to Tommy Loughran, in 1929. This precipitated a skid in which Braddock lost five times in six fights, but he had earned a fair share of purses, and had invested for his future.

Like those of many of his countrymen, Braddock’s nest egg was wiped out by the Wall Street crash of 1929. He continued to box, but a series of hand injuries hampered his effectiveness in the ring.

“He couldn’t beat anybody,” said Schaap.

He was reduced to fighting for peanuts in backwater venues, and by the time Braddock hung up his gloves and retired from the sport in despair he had won just four of his last eleven fights.

He managed to get longshoreman’s papers and went to work on the Jersey docks, but even there jobs were scarce. More often than not, he would arise early and trudge to the docks, only to return empty-handed. With a wife and three children to feed, he increasingly despaired for his family. Late in 1933 he put his pride aside and applied for a place on the county welfare rolls. At one point he and his wife Mae even had to farm their children out to their grandparents because he could no longer care for them.

During this dark period at least two remarkable things occurred. One was that the time away from the ring gave his hands a chance to heal. The other was that his stint on the docks transformed Braddock from a 175-pounder into a much stronger, well-muscled heavyweight.

Braddock had given no thought to a comeback, and hadn’t been near a gym in months, when his loyal friend and ever-scuffling manager Joe Gould crossed the Hudson bearing news of an offer to fight again. Primo Carnera was scheduled to defend his title against Baer at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Queens two nights later, and an up-and-coming heavyweight named Corn Griffin, whom the boxing powers hoped to groom for the big time, was slated to perform on the undercard, but his scheduled foe had fallen out.

Garden matchmaker Jimmy Johnston needed an Opponent – with a capital ‘O’ – for Griffin, and Braddock could earn $250 for serving as cannon fodder. Because he needed the money – Gould had wangled a $100 advance, which he split with Braddock, out of Johnston – he agreed. On June 14, 1934, Braddock knocked out Griffin in three rounds.

Three fights and 364 days later James J. Braddock was the heavyweight champion of the world – “At a time when the heavyweight champion, was, inarguably, the biggest man in sports,” noted Schaap.

Or, as the tag-line for promotions of the upcoming film puts it: “When America was on its knees, he brought us to our feet.”

The “Cinderella Man” film will be released in June – fortuitously, just a month after the book hits the stands. Schaap hasn’t seen a minute of Ron Howard’s movie, nor has he read the script, which had already been completed by the time he started work on his own project, but because they share the same name, the two will doubtless be intertwined in the mind of the public. Schaap sees this as a win/win situation. It isn’t entirely clear what the movie people think about it.

“If I were casting a film, I think Russell Crowe would be a perfect choice to play Braddock,” said Schaap. “I haven’t seen the movie, but from what I understand Baer (played by Craig Bierko) gets a pretty short shrift. He’s portrayed as almost a buffoon. Yes, he was colorful, and ran against the grain, but there are people to this day who’ll tell you that he packed the hardest right hand of any heavyweight champion in boxing history. And at the time, it was widely assumed that he’d reign as champion for years to come – which made Braddock’s upset all the more remarkable.”

If Braddock’s accomplishment was among the most inspirational sporting achievements of all time, how did it vanish from the public consciousness?

Schaap reckons that Braddock’s “Cinderella” (It was Damon Runyon who bestowed the moniker on Braddock) tale lapsed into obscurity for at least two reasons: The first was that Braddock’s immediate heir was Joe Louis, whose own legend grew to such proportions that it quickly obscured that of his predecessor. And the other is that Braddock’s accomplishments took place in the bleakest period of 20th-Century America: Once it was over, Americans wanted to put the Great Depression, and everything connected with it, behind them.

“But to me the Twenties and thirties were a fascinating era for boxing,” said Schaap. “Far more interesting than the 40s or 50s or 60s. The NFL was in its infancy, the NBA and NHL didn’t exist. Baseball and horse racing were the only other games in town. Boxing champions were celebrities, and the heavyweight champion was the biggest celebrity of all.”

As he researched the Braddock tale, Schaap found himself increasingly drawn to Baer, whose story had also faded into relative obscurity. Although remembered as almost a caricature, when he is remembered at all, Baer was a sporting icon of his day. He fit perfectly into an era when tennis stars were wont to arrive for a championship match still clad in the previous night’s tuxedo and reeking of champagne.

The very epitome of the playboy athlete, Baer cut a swath through Manhattan society that wouldn’t be emulated until Joe Willie Namath hit town thirty years later. He married one movie star, dated countless others, even starred in a major motion picture, and his exploits were a staple of the daily gossip columns in the New York papers.

Behind his bon vivant façade, Baer was an enormously conflicted man, dogged by the memory of a 1930 California ring tragedy in which he killed an opponent named Frankie Campbell. (Born Francisco Camilli, Frankie Campbell was the older brother of future Brooklyn Dodger Dolph Camilli.) San Francisco authorities arrested Baer and briefly attempted to prosecute him for manslaughter. Although he was cleared, he was haunted forevermore, even as the heavyweight champion continued to send money from his purses to Campbell’s widow and orphaned children.

Baer also wore a Star of David on his trunks and engaged in verbal warfare with Hitler, Goebbels and Max Schmeling. Baer’s Hebraic ancestry (he was at best one-quarter Jewish, and that on his father’s side – the one that by Talmudic law does not count) appears to have been an afterthought, there is no question that it became economically beneficial once he transferred his base of operations from the West Coast to New York.

Although boxing historians, including Nat Fleischer, always regarded Baer’s Jewish claims with some cynicism, Schaap seems to bend over backward to give Baer the benefit of the doubt. Electing to ignore what I’ve always considered the final word on the subject (the late Ray Arcel’s observation that “He wasn’t. I know. I saw him in the shower”), Schaap apparently decided that perception was more important than reality: “What is clear is that while Fleischer, Arcel and others did not accept him as one of the chosen people, the Nazis certainly did.”

Indeed, if there’s a criticism to be made of Schaap’s endeavor to retell the stories of Braddock and Baer, it is this occasional tendency – Baer being Jewish makes for a better story, so let him be Jewish – to selectively sculpt the facts to enhance the narrative.

In an almost parenthetical reference, for instance, to Joe Jeannette, in whose North Bergen gym Braddock trained, Schaap notes that “Jeanette, who was black, was constantly passed over for title shots in favor of white men, as was his black contemporary Sam ‘The Boston Tar Baby’ Langford. Even Jack Johnson refused to defend his title against Jeannette or Langford, opting instead for less dangerous opponents.”

This is technically accurate but somewhat misleading. The fact is that Jack Johnson fought Jeannette nine times, the last of them in 1908, the year in which he would win the title at Rushcutter’s Bay. Jeanette won exactly one of those fights – and that on a foul. (Johnson also fought Langford, winning a 15-round decision in John Ruiz’s hometown of Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1906.) As champion, it seems improbable that Johnson ducked Jeannette because he was afraid of him. It is more likely that he didn’t defend his title against him because it made no economic sense. (Were James J. Jeffries and Stanley Ketchel “far less dangerous” than Joe Jeannette?)

But such quibbling is almost insignificant in the face of such a wonderful story. “Cinderella Man” is a mighty tale, and one splendidly told by Jeremy Schaap. Somewhere, Dick Schaap is smiling proudly.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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