Jake LaMotta: One Tough Middleweight

BY Sam Gregory ON March 09, 2005
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Jake LaMotta was one of the toughest middleweight boxers in the 20th century. Besides being able to absorb an incredible amount of punishment, Jake was also recognized for his aggressiveness and his remarkable will to win.

Those traits were best exemplified in his six fights with the man most consider the pound-for-pound greatest fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson. It was their six fight series that defined LaMotta’s will to be a top contender and desire to be a champion.

All six fights were close enough to have gone either way. One had Robinson down and out and saved by the bell. According to Jake, another had Robinson winning by a point - only because the judges knew Robinson was going in the army the next day.

LaMotta kept signing for rematches with Sugar Ray because the fights were so close and “It’s what the people wanted to see.” Plus Jake knew Sugar Ray was the best fighter out there. Jake had a point to prove, he wanted people to know he could fight the best.

Jake LaMotta was the first man to beat Sugar Ray Robinson. Not only did Jake blemish Sugar Ray’s record with the first loss to his perfect 40-0 unbeaten streak, he did it at a time in Robinson’s career when Sugar Ray seemed unstoppable.

The first five of the six times the two would meet in the ring were ten-round non-title fights. Sugar Ray won the first ten-round contest held in New York by a unanimous decision. Four months later in Detroit, LaMotta won the re-match by dropping Robinson in the first round, before out-pointing him over ten rounds. That fight posted the first loss on Sugar Ray Robinson’s record; that was in 1943. It would be the last time Sugar Ray would be defeated in a fight for the next eight years. Just three weeks later, Robinson would redeem his loss by getting the win after another ten-round bout with LaMotta.

The six fight series between LaMotta and Robinson took place over nine years. Starting in 1942, it ended with Sugar Ray stopping LaMotta in thirteen rounds for the world middleweight title on February 14, 1951 in the boxing version of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

That fight marked the first of five times Sugar Ray won the middleweight title. Robinson is the first to win the middleweight championship five times, regaining it four times.

Sugar Ray had incredible speed and power. He was a fighter that could land punches with pinpoint accuracy. Just the fact that LaMotta was able to go the distance with Robinson in their first five fights was a major accomplishment in and of itself. LaMotta had taken several severe beatings from Robinson, most of which would have been stopped by today’s standards.

Before Sugar Ray’s loss to LaMotta, he already made a name for himself as a welterweight by chalking up two wins each over Hall of Fame greats Sammy Angott and Fritzie Zivic, along with two wins over future champion Marty Servo. Then, in December of 1946, in his 76th professional fight, Sugar Ray beat Tommy Bell in a 15-round decision for the vacated welterweight championship.

When LaMotta fought Sugar Ray Robinson for the first time it helped Jake’s career take off. Jake didn’t get the title fight that he desperately wanted, but it opened the door to some very high profile fights. Most notably his four fight series with Fritzie Zivic, three of which LaMotta won.

Jake was desperate to get a title fight. Despite his fights with Sugar Ray Robinson and the success he had in the ring with Fritzie Zivic, promoters wouldn’t sign him to what he really proved he deserved: a title fight. On November 14, 1947 LaMotta took a dive in a fight with Billy Fox in exchange for a title shot promised to him by the mob.

Jake felt like he had no choice. It was something he hated doing, but he could see time was running out for him. He was getting older and felt like that was his only alternative.

At the time there was an investigation into boxing and its ties with organized crime. A lot of people were against LaMotta for doing what he did. In the investigation LaMotta explained why he threw the fight. At the time LaMotta was managing himself and explained how he felt like it was now or never.

After the investigation, Jake explained the situation to the press. A lot of people didn’t blame him for doing what he felt like he had no alternative to do.

The committee doing the investigation didn’t suspend LaMotta for what he did. They just made it almost impossible for him to get fights. Jake found that white fighters wouldn’t fight him, so he fought all the black fighters. Eight out of ten of his fights were against black fighters.

Finally, in June of 1949, Jake LaMotta got his title shot against Marcel Cerdan in Detroit.

Cerdan was considered the greatest pound-for-pound fighter that ever came out of Europe. At the time LaMotta felt like he could beat anybody.

Jake stopped Cerdan in ten rounds to win the world middleweight title.

A rematch with Cerdan was cut short when a plane crash claimed the Frenchman’s life on a flight back to the U.S.

LaMotta defended his title two times until he fought Sugar Ray for the last time at the St. Valentines Day Massacre in Chicago in 1951.

Jake LaMotta was one tough middleweight.

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