"Yeah, Joe, I'm ready," Braddock said out of the side of his mouth. He had been shadowboxing in his dressing room, and now, in the warm evening air, the sweat was pouring from him. His upper body was red and splotchy, his legs almost white. He looked out across the Bowl. Tens of thousands of patrons were already in their seats, but none of them were there to see Braddock fight, which was fine with him. He had never felt uncomfortable in the ring--ever--and even nine months of inaction had not changed that.
"Remember, Jimmy," Doc Robb told Braddock just before the bell, "stay away from his right hand. He can punch."
At the bell Griffin, well tanned, his hair close-cropped, went straight for Braddock. Within seconds he landed a right squarely on Braddock's jaw. Braddock staggered. He hadn't been hit that hard in years. Griffin dominated him in the first round as Braddock simply tried to get his bearings.
"Come on, Jim!" Gould said between rounds. "You look like you're sleeping."
Braddock stared straight ahead, refused the water he was offered, pounded his gloves together and stood up. In the second round Griffin went for Braddock again. Braddock stood still, and Griffin followed a left jab with another right to Braddock's jaw. Braddock went down. The sharp report of Griffin's blow alerted the crowd that something worthy of attention was taking place, and thousands scrambled to their feet. No one would have blamed Braddock if he had closed his eyes, waited for the count of 10 and walked away from the ring forever. He was 29, a tomato can, better suited to life as a longshoreman. Maybe it was time to quit.
But a voice in Braddock's head urged him to get up--the same voice that had always urged him to get up when he was down. Too proud, too stubborn and too broke to be counted out, he waited for the count of nine, picked himself up off the canvas and waded straight into Griffin. He threw a jab that missed but followed it with a short right to the chin. Griffin didn't see the punch and went down in a heap. Finally the Georgian got up, but he would never recover.
For the rest of the second round, with Gould screaming wildly and jumping up and down in his corner, Braddock bludgeoned Griffin. It had been years since he had fought so effectively. His punches--jabs, uppercuts, overhand rights--were crisper than they had been when he was the up-and-comer. His left hand, for years an almost vestigial extremity, was suddenly potent.
Maybe Braddock knew that he was better than ever. Maybe he could even sense how far his comeback would take him. What he did know, what he could feel, was that Corn Griffin was finished.
At the bell starting the third round Braddock went straight out to meet Griffin and jolted him with two more powerful right hands. Griffin was nearly out on his feet, his head still swimming from the punch that had knocked him down in the second round. But he kept fighting. Now Braddock was moving fluidly, throwing punches at a staggering target. Finally, with 23 seconds remaining in the round, the referee stopped the fight. Braddock had his first knockout in 18 months and only his second in more than four years.
Drained, Braddock stood in the middle of the canvas, waiting for Gould to throw a sponge full of ice water in his face. Gould took the sponge from the bucket, walked right past Braddock and threw it in Griffin's face. "What did you do that for?" Braddock asked.