Giacobbe “Jake” LaMotta’s battles outside the boxing ring were almost as vicious as his fights that raged in it. The subject of the movie “Raging Bull,” LaMotta died Tuesday at age 95, of complications from pneumonia, at a nursing home near Miami, Florida.
The famed middleweight fought from 1941-1954 and compiled a record of 83-19-4 with 30 knockouts. His method was brutal and punishing, both to him and his opponent.
He was more brawler than boxer and would often take a beating. It was a style he learned growing up in the Bronx as a street kid with a terrible temper. He refined his craft at an upstate New York reform school, where he was sent after committing an attempted burglary as a teenager.
In his 1970 memoir, La Motta wrote, “(I would) charge out of the corner, punch, punch, punch, never give up, take all the punishment the other guy could hand out but stay in there, slug and slug and slug.”
LaMotta turned pro at age 19 in 1941. A mastoid operation on one of his ears led to him being rejected for military service during World War II. At the time, legal sportsbetting in Las Vegas was still four decades away, and both the sport of boxing and betting on it were largely controlled by organized crime. Big-time fight promotors like today’s Top Ranked Boxing or Golden Boy Promotions didn’t exist, leaving it to mob syndicates to gin up interest in contests that were often fixed.
LaMotta learned a little bit about how the system worked when he tried to get a shot at fighting for a middleweight title, but wasn’t having much success. In 1947, he agreed to throw a bout with underdog Billy Fox in exchange for an opportunity at the crown. He started as a huge favorite but when large sums of money started getting placed on Fox, the odds swung to 3-1 against him. He lost in a technical knockout in the fourth round. He would later admit at a US Senate hearing in 1960 that he had thrown the fight to win favor with the mafia.
Seventeen months after intentionally losing to Fox, the “Bronx Bull” became a legitimate champ, and would successfully defend his title twice before eventually losing it to Sugar Ray Robinson, who half a century before Floyd Mayweather was deemed the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time.
These two would fight six times, with LaMotta winning only once. But the fights, including one where Robinson was knocked through the ropes and literally saved by the bell on the count of nine, were considered some of the greatest boxing spectacles ever witnessed for many years to come.
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When his career ended, LaMotta struggled as an actor and working in the bar business. He was a notorious womanizer and was married six times.
Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” hit theaters in 1980. Robert DeNiro would win an Academy Award for his portrayal of the controversial boxer. But LaMotta wasn’t pleased.
“I kind of look bad in it,” he told The New York Times after its release. “Then I realized it was true. That’s the way it was. I was a no-good bastard. It’s not the way I am now, but the way I was then.”
The film regularly tops media lists ranking the best movies in different genres, and in 2007 the American Film Institute voted “Raging Bull” the number one sports movie of all time.