On June 13, 1935, James J. Braddock (the “Cinderella Man”) defeated heavily-favored Max Baer at Madison Square Garden to win the World Heavyweight title. At the time, it was called “the greatest fistic upset since the defeat of John L. Sullivan by Jim Corbett.” It is still considered by many the biggest upset in boxing history. Hand-picked by Baer’s team and viewed as an easy payday, Braddock entered the fight a 10-1 underdog and withstood an early onslaught from the defending champion before wearing him down to earn a shocking 15-round unanimous decision. The Ring Magazine presented Braddock with this very Heavyweight Championship belt in 1935 to honor the epic victory, one that completed a miraculous career comeback for the local working class fighter from Hell’s Kitchen dubbed the “Cinderella Man” by New York columnist Damon Runyon. With direct Braddock family provenance, this exquisite, hand-woven belt remains exceptionally well-preserved in all-original condition after 81 years. It is one of the earliest championship boxing belts ever offered at auction and certainly ranks as one of the most important pieces in the 125-year history of the sport.
In the late 1920’s, Braddock was on the verge of stardom until a tough 15-round loss to Tommy Loughran for the Light Heavyweight title left him with a badly injured right hand and sent his career spiraling downward. A string of ugly losses combined with the economic turmoil of the Great Depression forced Braddock to put his pro boxing career on hold while he worked the docks to support his family. Braddock used his left hand predominantly in the rugged labor required of a longshoreman and, at his lowest point, felt embarrassed to accept government assistance. Only when new contenders called on Braddock as their tune-up opponent was he able to string enough victories together to put his name back in the picture and eventually earn his Heavyweight title shot against Baer. The real life story of Braddock’s hard luck fall and resilient rise hit the big screen in Ron Howard’s 2005 biopic, The Cinderella Man. Down and out, injured and broke, Braddock never gave up his dream to become Champion and eventually overcame the impossible odds against him to achieve that dream. His offered belt commemorates a tremendous achievement in American history during one of our nation’s darkest times, and it survives as a museum-worthy artifact deserving of not just the Boxing Hall of Fame, but the Smithsonian as well.
The belt stretched 42 inches long, not including its 5" leather buckle straps, and is made of delicate silk colored red, white and blue with green trim on the top and bottom. The reverse is solid green silk and reveals the "EVERLAST" logo. A golden 3" by 5" oval centerpiece with a vintage image of Braddock adorns the front, with a large spread eagle overhead. This centerpiece is linked by chain to two medallions on either side (one with two boxers fighting and the other with two gloves above a laurel wreath), engraved from left to right "WON TITLE JUNE 15, 1935", "WORLD'S HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION", "THE RING BELT", and "DEFEATED MAX BAER 15 ROUNDS." The centerpiece and each medallion are made of a golden colored or gold-plated metal, but we are unsure of what composition exactly. The black leather belt straps and buckle are completely in tact and in perfect working order. Aside from the slightest color fading to the red, white and blue patriotic stripes, the belt is exceptionally well-preserved for its age and prestige. It is clear that this monumental piece has been a treasured family heirloom in the Braddock household for three generations.
Accompanied by a letter of provenance from grandson, James Braddock III.