Jake LaMotta – ‘Raging Bull’ Biography

Jake LaMotta
Date of Birth:July 10, 1922
Place of Birth:Manhattan, New York
Died:Sept 19, 2017 – Miami, Florida
Gym: Gleason’s Gym
Boxing Career: Amateur, Professional, Bar Owner, Comedian, Actor
Nicknames: The Bronx Bull, Raging Bull
Height: 5 Ft 8 inches. 173cm
Reach: 67 inches. 170cm
Stance: Orthodox
Weight Class:Middleweight, Light Heavyweight
Professional Record:Total Fights: 106, Wins: 83, Wins by KO: 30, Losses: 19, Draws: 4, No Contest: 0
Notable Fights:Billy Fox, Marcel Cerdan and six fights vs ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson including the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Jake LaMotta: Overview

Giacobbe “Jake” LaMotta was an American professional boxer, widely known as one of the toughest men to have ever entered a boxing ring. Not particularly a big puncher as his KO records shows LaMotta would nevertheless subject his opponents to vicious beatings, constantly pressuring and enticing his opponents into a brawl where he would unleash brutal body shots. La Motta in modern day terms would be labelled as a ‘swarmer’ or a ‘slugger’. Back in the day he was just known as a bully!

Notorious for his brutal fighting style Jake often took in as much punishment as he dished out and indeed was happy to do so!  Equipped with an incredibly strong jaw and a thick skull, LaMotta would absorb ridiculous (and often unnecessary) amounts of punishment over the course of his career. So much so that he is regarded as having one of the greatest chins in boxing history. Something that was borne out by one of his own boasts: “no son-of-a-bitch ever knocked me off my feet” – which was accurate until sadly that did occur in one of his last fights, against Danny Nardico in 1952.

Jake LaMotta lived a turbulent, captivating and even entertaining life in and out of the ring, yet it is his six-fight rivalry with Sugar Ray Robinson which elevated his career and himself to legendary status and even inspired arguably the greatest boxing movie ever made: The 1980 Martin Scorsese movie, ‘Raging Bull’.

Jake LaMotta: Early Years

LaMotta like so many ‘greats’ of the boxing fraternity was born to Italian parents on the Lower East Side of New York City on the 10th July 1922. His mother was born in the United States to Italian immigrant parentage, whilst his father was an immigrant from Messina, Sicily. The family lived briefly in Philadelphia before returning to New York and settling in the Bronx. A poor family, Jake’s father is said to have forced Jake to fight other boys ostensibly to entertain the neighbourhood adults, who threw pocket change into the ring. Though the real reason is said to be that LaMotta’s father collected the money and used it to help pay the rent. 

Jake LaMotta: Amateur Career

LaMotta ultimately learned to box however whilst in Coxsackie Reformatory for delinquent youths in upstate New York, where he had been sent for the attempted robbery of a jewellery store.

Thereafter, LaMotta engaged in a very very short lived amateur career which ended undefeated but ultimately 100% successful. You can take a look at his record here! Guess when Jake turned professional in 1941 at the age of 19 he had already decided he was was not one for hanging around with small stuff!

Jake LaMotta: Professional Career

Jake LaMotta’s professional career continued equally well. After 15 bouts he had a record of 14–0–1 (3 KOs) before losing a highly controversial split decision to Jimmy Reeves at Reeves’ hometown of Cleveland in the first of a trilogy of fights. Chaos erupted after the decision was announced. Fights broke out around the ring and the crowd ‘booed’ for 20 minutes. Even the arena’s organist’s attempts to calm the crowd by playing the “Star Spangled Banner” failed!

Just one month later, LaMotta and Reeves would fight again in the same arena. LaMotta again losing, though this time in a much less controversial decision. However in what would become a hallmark of LaMotta’s career, Jake would never back down or back off. A third match was arranged and took place on the 19th March 1943, in ‘the motor city’ Detroit, Michigan. Though the first few rounds were close, by the fourth Reeves was struggling. Then in the sixth, LaMotta floored Reeves, who whilst only down for a second, was brutally knocked out when he got to his feet. LaMotta landing a left on Reeves’ chin, which sent him down – face-first! Reeves blinking his eyes and shaking his head as the referee counted him out.

Jake LaMotta vs Sugar Ray Robinson (I-V)

LaMotta’s six fights against Sugar Ray Robinson are the stuff of legend in themselves. LaMotta famously quipping ‘I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times, it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes’.

The first fight took place on the 2nd October 1942 at Madison Square Garden in Sugar Ray’s middleweight debut. LaMotta would knock Robinson down in the first round of the fight but go on to lose in a unanimous 10-round decision.

A 10-round rematch took place on the 5th February, 1943 at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. In a momentous eighth round, LaMotta landed a hard right to Robinson’s head and a brutal left to his body sending Ray literally through the ropes. Robinson was saved by the bell at the count of nine, but LaMotta (who was already leading on the scorecards before knocking Robinson out of the ring) continued to  pummel and outpoint Robinson for the rest of the fight. Robinson just couldn’t keep LaMotta at bay. LaMotta went on to win via unanimous decision, and handed ‘Sugar Ray’ the first defeat of his career which until then had only seen victories in more than a 100 successful fights.

It was a short lived success as incredibly the two met again less than two weeks later on the 26th February 1943, in another 10 round fight at the same stadium. Robinson won an extremely contentious and close victory, admitting after being knocked down for a nine count in round seven:

“He really hurt me with a left in the seventh round. I was a little dazed and decided to stay on the deck.”

Robinson nevertheless went on to win the fight in a unanimous decision, by using his dazzling left jab and jolting uppercuts. LaMotta viewed the decision somewhat differently stating ‘the fight was given to Robinson because he would be inducted into the army the next day’.

On the 23rd February 1945, the duo held their fourth and final ‘10 rounder’ at Madison Square Garden, New York. This time there was nearly a two year gap between their most recent fights, though Robinson would again win by unanimous decision.

LaMotta and Robinson however would meet yet again in a fifth bout over 12 rounds on the 26th September 1945 at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois. Robinson winning by a very controversial split decision, which was severely booed by the 14,755 people in attendance. The details and scoring for which can be found here. Whilst how close the fight actually was given credence by the fighters later: LaMotta stating in his autobiography that the decision was widely criticised by several newspapers and boxing publishers. Robinson saying afterward, “This was the toughest fight I’ve ever had with LaMotta.”

Jake LaMotta and the fixed fight (Billy Fox)

On the 14th November 1947, LaMotta suffered a fourth round TKO to Billy Fox in a fight which was widely known to have been fixed at the time. The New York State Athletic Commission even withholding the fighter’s purses and suspending LaMotta.

The ‘thrown’ fight however and a payment of $20,000 to the Mafia got LaMotta his title bout against World Middleweight Champion, Marcel Cerdan

LaMotta later admitted as such and his reason(s) for doing so, as well as his thoughts on why viewable here. Amusingly also describing how difficult it actually was to lose in his own words here;

“Fox can’t even look good. The first round, a couple of belts to his head, and I see a glassy look coming over his eyes. Jesus Christ, a couple of jabs and he’s going to fall down? I began to panic a little. I was supposed to be throwing a fight to this guy, and it looked like I was going to end up holding him on his feet… By [the fourth round], if there was anybody in the Garden who didn’t know what was happening, he must have been dead drunk”.

Jake LaMotta: First Title (Marcel Cerdan)

LaMotta finally got (and won) the World Middleweight title fight on the 16th June 1949 in Detroit, Michigan, defeating Frenchman Marcel Cerdan. In a bout of some note:

  • Jake knocked Cerdan down in the first round.
  • Cerdan dislocated his arm in the knockdown.
  • Jake damaged his hand in the fifth round.

Two largely wounded one armed warriors then managed to continue until just before the start of round 10. With round 9 seeing Jake despite his damaged hand throw a 104 punches and Cerdan barely able to throw a punch, finally quit. The official record showing LaMotta as winner by knockout in 10 rounds because the bell had already rung to begin the round when Cerdan announced he was quitting. A rematch was arranged, though it was not to be, Cerdan’s plane tragically crashing in the Azores, killing everyone on board whilst en-route to bringing him back for the scheduled fight.

Jake LaMotta: Other Notable Fights

LaMotta made his first title defense against Tiberio Mitri at Madison Square Garden on the 7th July 1950, retaining his title via unanimous decision.

LaMotta’s second defense came on the 13th September 1950, against Laurent Dauthuille who had previously beaten LaMotta by decision before LaMotta became world champion. By the fifteenth round, Dauthuille was ahead on all scorecards (72–68, 74–66, 71–69) and seemed to be about to repeat his victory. In a bout named ‘Fight of the Year’ (1950) by The Ring magazine, LaMotta hit Dauthuille with a brutal barrage of punches, which sent him against the ropes and saw him dramatically counted out with just 13 seconds left of the fight. 

Jake LaMotta: ‘The St Valentine’s Day Massacre’

Jake’s sixth and final fight with Sugar Ray Robinson took place at Chicago Stadium. Scheduled for 15 rounds for the middleweight title and held on the 14th February 1951, the fight became known as boxing’s version of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Notably because in the last few rounds, LaMotta began to take a horrible beating and was soon unable to defend himself. Nevertheless, LaMotta refused to go down! Robinson thereby winning by technical knockout in round 13, when the fight was stopped.

Epic real life footage of one of the most brutal fights in history can be seen here

Whilst LaMotta uttering afterwards the immortal line, “You never put me down, Ray. You never put me down.” is confirmed by numerous sources and also depicted in the following iconic scene from Martin Scorcese’s movie ‘Raging Bull’.

Later in life, LaMotta would comment on his unparalleled rivalry with Robinson.

“Sugar Ray was the greatest fighter who ever lived. He had more than a hundred fights without a loss. I was the first to beat him. We fought six times. You don’t fight six times unless they’re close”

Jake LaMotta: Retirement, Bar Owner and Comedian!

Following the St Valentine’s Day Massacre and a not unsuccessful but largely unremarkable move up to light heavyweight, LaMotta retired from the ring in 1954. He owned and managed a bar at 1120 Collins Ave in Miami Beach, becoming a stage actor and stand-up comedian in the process. In 1958, he was arrested and charged with introducing men to an underage girl at a club he owned in Miami. He was convicted and served six months on a chain gang, though he always maintained his innocence.

LaMotta appeared in more than 15 films, including The Hustler (1961) with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, in which he had a role as a bartender.

Never short of a word or two throughout his boxing career, off screen or on screen, some of those best words can be found here:   

Jake LaMotta’s Greatest Quotes!

Jake LaMotta: Interesting Facts and Notoriety

  • During World War II, he was rejected for military service due to a childhood mastoid operation on one of his ears which affected his hearing.
  • Whilst each of his 6 fights with Ray Robinson was close, LaMotta dropped Robinson to the canvas multiple times in 3 different fights yet Sugar Ray was unable to do the same even once! Notably in the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.
  • LaMotta however won only one of the six bouts.
  • LaMotta amongst other was a teenage hoodlum, who was imprisoned for pimping in 1958, and a self-confessed rapist.
  • LaMotta was married seven times. One of whom Vicky, the female starlet of ‘Raging Bull’ a Playboy model.
  • LaMotta personally tutored Robert De Niro for his Oscar winning performance in ‘Raging Bull’.

Jake LaMotta: Accolades

  • La Motta was ranked 52nd on Ring Magazine’s List of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years. 
  • Ring Magazine ranked him as one of the 10 greatest middleweights of all time. 
  • He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1990.

A concise summary of LaMotta’s career including real life footage and excerpts of an interview with him can be viewed here 

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