فصل 12

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فصل 12

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Chapter twelve

The Big Day

“Keep your head down and give me a combination-left, right, left.”

Jim was teaching Jay and Howard how to box. Jay threw out a right fist and lifted his chin. Jim reached forward and gently hit his son’s chin. “Don’t take your eyes off your opponent,” he said.

“That’s enough, now,” said Mae from the kitchen sink.

Jim looked at his boys proudly. “There’s more than one fighter in the Braddock family.”

As the two boys continued to box, they knocked over a chair. Mae turned. “I said that’s enough!” she cried. “No boxing in the house!” She pointed at her two sons. “You are going to stay in school. Then college. You are going to have professions. You are not going to have your heads broken in the boxing ring. Is that clear?”

The boys froze. Before they could reply, Mae ran out of the apartment. As she stood outside, she could still hear Sporty Lewis’s words in her head: Max Baer has killed two men in the ring.

She didn’t turn when she heard Jim’s steps. “When you boxed before, sometimes I hoped that you would get hurt. Just enough so you couldn’t fight again… I always knew a day would come when a fight could kill you. And now it’s here.” She looked her husband in the eye. “Why? Why fight him?”

“This is what I know how to do,” said Jim simply.

Mae waited for Jim to take her in his arms, to say that he had changed his mind, but he didn’t. Part of him wished that he could, but it was impossible. She didn’t understand how it felt for men like Jim or Mike Wilson-strong, hardworking men who were told that they were useless. There were thousands of people like this now, and they found hope in the fighter they called the Cinderella Man. Jim had to fight, for them.

Mae’s fear turned to anger. “I supported you until now,” she said. “But not for this, Jim. I just can’t…” Her voice went cold. “You find a way out of this fight. Break your hand again, if you have to. But if you leave this apartment to fight Max Baer, I won’t support you.”

As the day of the fight grew closer, Max Baer helped reporters fill their sports pages. His latest demand was that there must be an ambulance outside Madison Square Garden, ready to rush Jim to a local hospital after Baer hit him.

Jim just continued training. Joe Jeannette chose good partners for him to work with in the ring. Each one helped Jim improve one skill-one partner helped him work on his hand speed; another partner allowed him to practice dodging big punches; another helped him move around the ring quickly.

Jim, Joe, and Jeannette also watched film of Baer’s fights for hours every day. “Watch him,” said Jeannette, pointing. “His punches are strong, but you can see them coming.”

With just a few weeks to go, Braddock’s training became even harder. Joe and Jeannette started changing his boxing partners more and more often, so Jim fought a fresh fighter every round. One of the newspaper sports pages included something that Joe had said: “Braddock is going to be really prepared for this fight, if he lives through training!”

Joe laughed when he read that, until his wife reminded him that Mae Braddock would read it, too.

Finally, the big day arrived. When Joe Gould arrived at the gym that morning, Jim was sitting alone, with a jacket tight around his chest.

“What’s wrong with him?” the manager asked Joe Jeannette.

Jeannette shook his head. “He’s fitter than ever, but he’s old. His ribs aren’t strong since the Lasky fight.”

Gould already knew about the problem with Jim’s ribs, but he thought there was something else wrong. Gould knew that Jim’s wife wasn’t happy about his profession, and about this fight especially. But whatever the problem was, there was no time to solve it now. The fight was just hours away.

“The reporters will be here soon,” he told Jim. “Take off that jacket or Baer will see that you have a rib problem.”

Jim climbed into the training ring as a crowd of sports writers rushed into the room. He worked hard, but he still wanted to train more after the last reporter had gone.

Joe Jeannette refused. “Go home and get some rest. You’ll be working hard enough in the ring tonight.”

So Jim went home. He returned to a house that was empty except for Mae. She stood silently, looking at the newspaper:


Without a word, she turned and walked away.

As the morning became afternoon, Jim lay in bed, unable to sleep. A taxi came for him at four o’clock.

Mae followed Jim outside, where a small crowd of neighbors was waiting: “Come home with that title!” “Knock him out!”

Jim kissed his three children. Then his eyes met Mae’s. “I can’t win if you don’t support me,” he said.

“Then don’t go, Jimmy.”

Time seemed to stretch, with each of them waiting for the other to say something. Then Mae turned and pulled the children close to her. Jim watched as she pushed her way back through the crowd. Then he climbed into the waiting taxi.

The taxi drove past the tall buildings of Manhattan, then crossed the East River. Jim was silent, running the films of Baer’s fights through his head, remembering Jeannette’s advice-anything to help him forget the look on Mae’s face as he left.

They reached the Madison Square Garden Bowl and Jim looked out at the waiting crowd. He could see that these people had known hard times. But there was something else, too, a bright look in their eyes-hope.

Jim saw his own face in the glass of the car window. He had beaten Tuffy Griffiths so confidently, but that man was gone forever. He had passed his hat hopelessly around the boxing club, but that man, was gone, too. No, he was looking now at the face of every man who had ever been beaten down by hard times but refused to stop fighting.

That’s when Jim knew. No matter what happened tonight, he wouldn’t give up. He would die trying.

It was a hot day and getting hotter. Jim sat in his dressing room waiting to go out and be weighed.

“Come on, champion,” said Joe Gould when there was a knock on the door.

“Wait a minute,” said Jim. “The last time I looked, I was the challenger, not the champion.”

“I know what I said,” replied Joe.

On his way to the weighing room, Max Baer had seen an old trainer who had worked with him years before. There were angry words and Baer hit out at the man. Cameras recorded the attack.

When there was peace in the room again, officials and reporters watched the two boxers being weighed. It was very hot in the crowded room.

Max Baer went first, stepping up with his fists above his head and an ugly smile on his face.

“Ninety-five and a half kilograms,” the judge announced.

Then it was Jim’s turn. “Eighty-six and a half kilograms.”

Max Baer was waiting for him when he stepped down. “How does the story go?” said Baer, loud enough for all the reporters to hear. “The clock strikes midnight, and then Cinderella loses her skirt!”

People laughed and more photos were taken, but Jim didn’t care. He would have the chance to reply later, in the ring. He went back to his dressing room to get ready for the fight.

Max Baer returned to his dressing room. His trainer was waiting with something for the champion to watch-a film of Braddock’s fight against Art Lasky.

“Look, right there!” said the trainer, as Lasky hit Braddock in the ribs, clearly hurting him. “Braddock’s ribs are weak. If you can hit them with a few good jabs, you’ll really hurt him.”

“I don’t need to,” answered Baer. “I can knock this loser down any time. I just need to give the crowd a good show before I kill him.”

Baer’s manager, Ancil Hoffman, came into the room.

“Did you get it?” asked the champion.

Hoffman nodded. “The ambulance is waiting outside. There’s a doctor there, too.”

Max looked in the mirror. “That’s all I can do for him. Now Braddock’s soon his own.”

Mae spent the rest of the day at her sister’s house. As the children played, she and Alice sat and talked, but they didn’t discuss the real reason for Mae’s visit.

As the afternoon shadows grew longer, Mae became quieter. At five o’clock, she stood. “No radio, Alice,” she said. “I’ll be back soon.”

Mae walked through the empty streets of Newark until she came to the family’s church. Father Rorick stood at the door. There were crowds inside.

“Father?” Mae asked, confused by the crowd. “I came to say a few words in church for Jim.”

“All these people are doing the same,” said the priest. “They think Jim’s fighting for them.”

Mae looked at the crowd again. All of these people were beaten down by hard times. They admired her husband. If he could fight and win, maybe they could…

“Yes, I understand now,” said Mae. She turned and hurried down the street. She could hear radios through open windows and doors. Everybody was getting ready to listen to the fight- at the docks, in homes and bars, in Sam the butcher’s. Beyond Newark, too - across the country-people wanted the Cinderella Man to win. They wanted him to become the prince, the king, the champion.

Joe Gould was taping Jim’s hands in the dressing room. They could hear the sound of the crowd beyond. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and a small, familiar shape stood there-it was Mae.

“Excuse me for a minute,” said Joe. He left, closing the door behind him.

Finally, Mae spoke. “You can’t win if I don’t support you.”

“I keep telling you that,” said Jim.

Mae handed him a brown paper bag. “I thought it was going to rain, so I used the money in the rainy-day jar.” Jim opened the bag and stared at the new pair of boxing shoes inside.

“Maybe I understand.” Mae’s eyes shone. The two kissed and, smiling through her tears, Mae said, “I always support you, Jimmy. Just you remember who you are! You’re everybody’s hope and your kids’ hero and you’re the champion of my heart, James J. Braddock!”

It was almost fight time. “See you at home, okay?” Mae whispered, as she moved to the door. “Please, Jimmy…”

Jim nodded. “See you at home.”

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