AT THE RING MAGAZINE'S gala 75th Anniversary Dinner, Jake LaMotta was recognized as having the best chin in boxing over the last 75 years. But there was much more to LaMotta than a granite chin.
LaMotta was a clever boxer who executed the nuances of the game with fine precision. While he was able to absorb punches with little problem, he was also adept at rolling with punches to minimize the damage. He liked to play possum in the ring, lulling opponents into a false sense of confidence before unleashing his own attack. And, perhaps above all, he had a tremendous will to win. His aggressive, unrelenting style, earned him the nickname, "The Bronx Bull."
LaMotta, born in the Bronx, New York, began boxing at an early age when his father made him fight other neighborhood kids for the entertainment of adults. A crowd-pleaser even back then, the money that spectators would throw into the ring after Jake fought -- usually pennies, nickels and dimes -- helped pay the rent at home. After spending time in reform school, LaMotta turned to pro boxing in 1941 at the age of 19.
A six-fight series with Sugar Ray Robinson largely defines LaMotta's career. They met for the first time in 1942 in New York and Robinson earned a 10-round decision. The following year they fought twice within a 21-day span in Detroit. Jake took the first fight by decision, victimizing Robinson with his first loss in 41 pro fights -- 121 bouts if you include Robinson's amateur career. Sugar Ray, who fought once in between the three weeks, copped a decision in the next encounter.
The rivalry was resumed in 1945 and Robinson again took a 10-round decision in New York. But in the meantime, LaMotta was also busy fighting a slew of other top-ranked opponents. He beat world-class fighters ranging from welterweight to light heavyweight. Among his victims were Fritzie Zivic, George Kochan, Tommy Bell, Bert Lytell, Jose Basora, Bob Satterfield, Holman Williams and Tony Janiro.
Despite LaMotta's impressive credentials and world ranking, he was denied a shot at the middleweight title. Frustrated and desperate to satisfy the underworld figures who controlled boxing at the time, he agreed to take a dive against Billy Fox in exchange for a title fight. LaMotta's day finally came on June 16, 1949 when he challenged champion Marcel Cerdan and won the title via 10th-round TKO. The two were scheduled to meet in a rematch but the plane carrying Cerdan back to the United States crashed and Cerdan died.
In 1950, LaMotta successfully defended the crown against Tiberio Mitri and Laurent Dauthuille. Trailing on the scorecards, LaMotta staged a miraculous 15th-round knockout of Dauthuille to retain his belt. That set up the sixth and final meeting between LaMotta and Robinson.
The legends met on February 14, 1951, in Chicago Stadium and this time Jake's middleweight crown was at stake. As the fight progressed, Robinson began to build a comfortable lead. Although LaMotta absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment he refused to fall. Finally, in the 13th round, the referee stopped the contest.
LaMotta fought through 1952, was inactive in 1953 and retired after three fights in 1954.
His fame was resurrected in 1981, when Robert DeNiro portrayed him in the Adacemy Award-winning film, Raging Bull.