The boxing world lost one of its all-time greats this week.
Jake LaMotta passed away at 95 years old on Tuesday due to complications of pneumonia. His passing represents a major loss for the boxing community, given his legendary toughness and ferocity in the ring.
LaMotta is best-known to non-boxing fans for the 1980 biopic “Raging Bull,” directed by Martin Scorsese; LaMotta was portrayed by Robert De Niro. The film centers around LaMotta’s personal demons and boxing career. The picture went on to win the Best Actor Academy Award for De Niro, as well as the Oscar for Best Film Editing.
“The Bronx Bull,” as LaMotta was nicknamed, was boxing’s middleweight champion from 1949 to 1951. He fought from 1941 to 1954, and in that span he went 83-19-4 with 30 knockouts. As a result, in 1990 he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
LaMotta represented a breed of boxers that is becoming rarer in the sport as the years progress. As a “bully” fighter, he was a mix of swarmer and slugger. With that style, he constantly stayed close to his opponent and delivered as many big hits as possible. This also left him susceptible, but he was not afraid to take those same sorts of blows himself.
Even as an offensive-minded fighter who took several blows to the head per fight, LaMotta fought on a much more frequent basis than fighters today. In the first three years of his pro career, he had 47 matches and won 38 of them, despite sometimes only having a couple of weeks to prepare for his next bout. To put this in modern-day perspective, Floyd Mayweather only fought on 21 occasions in his first three years as a pro boxer.
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LaMotta’s greatest rivalry was against fellow boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson. The two went head-to-head six times; and while LaMotta went 1-5 in those bouts, he continued to accept those challenges each and every time. Their final meeting came in a middleweight title match that was dubbed the “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” because of the beating LaMotta took. Eventually, the fight was called in the 13th round and Robinson won via a technical knockout, but LaMotta kept battling and never went down — not even when he appeared to be injured and unable to defend himself.
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Two decades ago, LaMotta told the Chicago Sun-Times he dealt with many injuries in his career, but they never slowed him down.
“The truth of the matter?” he said. “The punches never hurt me. My nose was broken six times, my hands six times, a few fractured ribs. Fifty stitches over my eyes. But the only place I got hurt was out of the ring.”
LaMotta’s career was not without controversy.
In 106 career fights, LaMotta was knocked down only once. After that, he took a year off — then came back to fight three more times in 1954.
LaMotta’s career was not without controversy, of course. He had ties to the Mafia and threw a fight against Billy Fox in 1947. Following the match, he initially claimed he was dealing with a ruptured spleen — and was suspended for seven months and fined $1,000 for concealing an injury; but he confessed to his actions in 1960, six years after his career ended.
For some people, those mob ties may forever tarnish his reputation. Regardless, he had enormous ability as a fighter and leaves a massive shadow over his sport today.