When the bell rings, you're in there to win.
-- James J. Braddock,
as quoted by Peter Heller in In This Corner
Madison Square Garden
November 30, 1928
Boxing is a game of half steps and half inches, of timing,
nerve, pain, endurance, and sometimes chance.
Around the center ring of the Garden arena, nineteen
thousand fight fans rose in a spiraling incline -- too far
to notice inches, too removed to notice chance. Most
spectators simply waited for one gladiator to murder
the other, in tonight's case, for the wiry Jim Braddock
to be flattened by Gerald "Tuffy" Griffiths, the "Terror
from out West."
With round one's clang, the bulked-up, corn-fed
Griffiths roared out of his corner like an unstoppable
cyclone. Under the broiling hot lights, Braddock stood
firm and watched him come. Tuffy had blown into
town claiming more than fifty consecutive wins, the last with a stunning first-round knockout. Seven-to-one
Braddock was just another Tuffy KO. A sacrificial
lamb. Everyone knew it -- the promoters, the oddsmakers,
the sportswriters. Everyone knew it except Braddock
himself and Joe Gould, his excitable little
round-faced manager, punching the smoky air in Jim's
Whenever a reporter asked Gould why he thought
his fighter was worth a plug nickel, he'd grab the man's
lapels and bark, "What do you know about Braddock?
What? Were you on that Jersey Hillside when Jimmy
was just a scrawny teenager, forcing his older, bigger,
golden gloves-winning brother to eat punch after
punch? Did you watch him rise through one hundred
amateur bouts to win his own pair of golden gloves
against Frank Zavita -- a giant stovemaker who'd outweighed
him by fifty-three pounds? Were you with me
that day in Joe Jeannette's gym when I offered some
kid, a total nobody, five dollars to get smacked around
by my top-ranked welterweight, never expecting it
would be the kid, Jimmy Braddock, who'd do the
Tonight, like every night, Joe Gould stood in Braddock's
corner, close enough to see the half steps and
half inches. Close enough to know that when Tuffy
Griffiths launched himself across the ring, Jim was
never more ready.
Braddock's sharp, solid jab surprised the charging
Griffiths, sending the confident hulk back on his heels.
The boxers advanced and retreated, hooking, blocking,
and counterpunching, as they slipped and pivoted
across the springy canvas. When Griffiths saw an
opening, he launched again. His shoulders rippled through a flurry of combinations -- jabs, hooks, body
shots. These same fistic flurries had taken out Tony
Marullo in Chicago, Jon Anderson in Detroit, Jim Mahoney
in Sioux City, Jackie Williams in Davenport,
even Mike McTigue, the former world's light heavyweight
Blood flowed and sweat streamed, soaking Jim's
brow, burning his eyes. Blows felt like thunderclaps
and lightning together, exposing Jim's guard, splitting
his head. But Braddock failed to hit the deck as Grif-
fiths'othe r opponents had. Jim stayed on his feet,
weathered the storm.
At ringside, reporters in straw boaters and fedoras
sat chomping cigars, their fingers pounding the stiff
keys of heavy typewriters. Every blow of the first
round's action was recorded, and nobody thought the
New Jersey boxer would last a second round.
But by round two, Braddock had timed his rival's
rushes, and inside of a minute his power punch
detonated -- Jim's golden right cross. Griffiths went
down. The crowd rose up. A deafening din.
On three, the Terror was up again. The count didn't
By now Jim's adrenaline-rich world had turned
hyper-real. Colors exploded, sounds spiked, awareness
was dagger sharp. Time stretched for Jim, as it does for
all good fighters, slowing in the face of violence. Inside
the ropes, the slightest movement of his opponent's
arm swept bigger than an Atlantic wave.
Jim blotted out everything then: the wild screams of
the crowd, the contemptuous stares of the sports writers,
the shooting pain in his injured and taped ankle,
the hysterical yells from his corner. All Braddock knew was this chance to put away the great Griffiths. He
cocked his right again, timed it just right, and let fly.
"One . . . Two . . . Three . . . Four . . ."
Glassy-eyed, Griffiths rose once more, shutting
down the ref 's ten count.
Braddock was ready. He vaulted close and hurled a
nonstop bombardment to his opponent's face. Shoulder
muscles, slick with sweat, were primed and loaded.
Leather slammed forward at breakneck speed, then
came the jab, jab, cross, and Braddock's famous right
connected for the last time, smashing into Griffiths'
chin like an Irish freight train.
The fighter's jaw distended at an impossible angle,
his eyes rolled back. Listing like a torpedoed ship, Griffiths
sank a third time to the canvas. On three, Tuffy
tried to stand with rubber legs. He staggered, and
without another glove on him hit the deck for the last
"And from the great State of New Jersey, by technical
knockout, tonight's light heavyweight winner . . .
The announcer's bellow brought the capacity crowd
to its feet. The hometown boy had done it -- and just a
stone's throw from the Hell's Kitchen tenement where
he'd been born. Sweat dripping from his shock of
black hair, Braddock pumped his fist in the smoky air,
his bulky leather glove threatening to KO the Ga rden's
high, steel-trussed ceiling. With an explosion of insane
screaming, thousands of fight-mad fans cheered the
"Bulldog of Bergen."
Jim took in the hooting, hollering faces -- clerks and tycoons alike sporting double-breasted suits and diamond
tiepins; flappers and floozies with bobbed hair
and fox furs. It was Friday night, the world was throwing
a party, and Jersey Jim's victory was one more reason
Griffiths was Jim's eighteenth knockout since he'd
turned pro in 1926. His twenty-seventh win. And that's
how Braddock wanted to see himself -- as a winner --
not a Catholic-school dropout or punk kid scraper, not
a Western Union messenger, printer's devil, or silk mill
errand boy. Tonight those former lives had sloughed
off Jim like dead skin ...