During the 1920s, when baseball was America's "national pastime," boxing was the country's national sensation. A favorite heavyweight could make more money in one night than a baseball star could make in a decade or more.
Against that backdrop, where the heavyweight champion of the world was the most popular athlete in the world, James J. Braddock was getting known. He'd had a tough childhood, born James Walter Braddock, growing up first in West New York (a town in east New Jersey), then in North Bergen, a few miles away.
Like many boys of the time, who wanted to become boxers, Jimmy Braddock practiced his future craft on the school yard. For him, an Irish kid who attended a Catholic school, his early days of success were at St. Joseph's Parochial School in West New York.
Once, when he was fourteen, Braddock thought he'd killed a school mate. He and Elmer Furlong were arguing, then fighting, when Jimmy connected his right hand with Elmer's jaw. Elmer dropped, remaining unconscious for thirty minutes.
Although Elmer recovered, Braddock never forgot what might have been. For the first time he realized what power he possessed. The incident, which took place in 1919, was directly responsible for Braddock leaving school.
Child labor was common in the United States back then. Braddock first worked as a Western Union messenger boy, then as a type setter in a Manhattan print shop. Between 1920 and 1923, he also served as an errand boy in a silk mill and as a teamster.
A fight with his older brother, over a sweater he shouldn't have worn, convinced Jimmy - and everyone else who witnessed the ensuing brawl - that Braddock might have a future as a boxer.
In 1925 and 26, Braddock won New Jersey's light-heavyweight amateur crown. He turned pro when he was twenty-one, teaming up with Joe Gould who became his manager.
By then, Braddock had a job loading ships at the docks of New Jersey. He gave that up, however, after he won eleven fights in a row. All had been knockouts - eight of them in the first round.
In October of 1928, Braddock took out Pete Latzo in the tenth round, breaking his opponent's jaw. The following month, he bested Tuffy Griffith who'd had a record of 36-0 with twenty-two knock-outs. Braddock ended the fight in the second round with a technical knock-out.
At about the time the stock market crashed, in 1929, Jimmy Braddock started losing his matches. His downward spiral paralleled that of the whole country.
The Great Depression had arrived, and misery moved into American life.