Based on Ring Lardner's story, a poor orphan becomes a boxing champion while making a shambles of all his personal relationships.
Midge Kelly (Kirk Douglas) and his brother Connie Kelly (Arthur Kennedy) are thrown off a moving boxcar. They get a ride to Kansas city with a man and proud Grace Diamond (Marilyn Maxwell). Midge gets into a fight and is offered $35 to box four rounds. Tommy Haley (Paul Stewart) offers to manage him, but Midge says no.
Midge and Connie go to a restaurant in Los Angeles but learn they lost their investment. The owner Lew Bryce (Harry Shannon) hires them and warns them to stay away from his daughter Emma (Ruth Roman). At night Midge swims with Emma. Midge wants to wait, but Lew makes him wed Emma.
Midge leaves Emma and finds Tommy in a gym. Tommy has retired, but Midge says they will make money. Tommy agrees to train him, and Midge works hard. He wins his first fight, and Connie suggests he quit. Midge wins in various cities and is ranked number four.
Tommy tells Midge he has to lose to Johnny Dunne, or he'll get no title fight. Midge sees Grace with Johnny Dunne (John Day). Midge knocks out Dunne in the first round. Men grab Connie, and Tommy is knocked out. Three men beat up Midge in the ring. Midge gets good publicity but no fights. Grace invites Midge for a drink and slaps him. Then she kisses him.
Jerry Harris (Lewis Van Rooten) tells Grace that Midge needs money. Grace insists that Midge see Jerry, who writes a check. Midge tells Tommy that he got a title fight and fires him. Connie objects and leaves.
Connie finds Emma and asks her to go with him to his mother in Chicago. Midge wins the title and meets Palmer Harris (Lola Albright). They dance, and she asks to sculpt him. She implies that she married Jerry for money, and Midge kisses her. Midge finds Grace in his apartment and tells her he won't marry her because he has a wife. Midge says he is dumping her and threatens to hurt her if she makes a stink.
Midge is given an award. Emma tells Connie that she is over Midge, and he embraces her. Palmer tells her husband Jerry that she wants to marry Midge, who comes in for a loan. Jerry offers his third to Midge if he gives up Palmer, and he agrees. Midge pays off his loan to Tommy and offers him ten percent to train him for the Dunne fight. Tommy agrees for a third.
Midge arrives in Chicago after his ma died. Connie says that Emma is divorcing Midge to marry him. Midge asks her to wait until he fights Dunne and asks them to come back. They agree.
Midge trains and makes Emma kiss him. Connie tells Midge that Emma left and calls him a grave robber. Midge knocks him down. Midge and Dunne box. Midge's eye is cut; he is badly beat up but refuses to quit. Finally he gets up and knocks out Dunne. Midge talks wildly to Tommy, punches a locker, and collapses. Tommy says that Midge died of a brain hemorrhage. Connie says that Midge was a champion.
This melodrama exposes the brutality of boxing and implies
that those who excel fighting may also be cruel to other people