Jake LaMotta, former middleweight champion and subject of the 1980 movie “Raging Bull,” has died at the age of 95.
LaMotta died because of complications from pneumonia and was in a nursing home in Miami, his wife, Denise Baker, told ABC. LaMotta’s wife said the family is in the planning stages of his memorial and funeral.
“He was a great man, sensitive, and had eyes that danced right up to the end. I love him; God rest his soul,” Baker told ABC. “And he never went down!”
Known for his battles with Sugar Ray Robinson and his portrayal by Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull,” LaMotta held the middleweight title from 1949 to 1951 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
“Rest in Peace, Champ,” De Niro said in a statement.
LaMotta went 83-19-4 with 30 knockouts in a career that lasted from 1941 to 1954. He fought multiple times in a month several times, earning a reputation as a brawler and the nickname “Bronx Bull.”
On Oct. 2, 1942, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, LaMotta faced Robinson for the first of their six ferocious fights. Robinson, fighting as a welterweight, was 35-0 with 27 knockouts at the time. He bloodied LaMotta and won a 10-round unanimous decision.
After the fight, Robinson said, “I never fought a fighter as strong as he is.”
The following year, LaMotta and Robinson fought twice in the same month at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. On Feb. 5, 1943, LaMotta handed Robinson his first defeat, with a 10-round unanimous decision that included the Bronx Bull knocking Robinson through the ropes in the eighth round. Three weeks later, Robinson would take the rematch, winning a unanimous decision despite being floored in the seventh round.
Robinson would defeat LaMotta twice in 1945, including a 12-round split decision.
LaMotta had compiled a 64-11-3 record by late 1947 but hadn’t gotten a shot at the championship. Organized crime controlled much of boxing at the time, so to get a title fight, LaMotta agreed to take a dive against his next opponent, Billy Fox, and paid the mob $20,000.
He accepted the beating from the 42-1 Fox but never went down during their Nov. 14, 1947, fight at Madison Square Garden. Fox won when the fight was stopped in the fourth round.
The outcome raised immediate suspicions. Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote that the fight was “almost too bold-faced a fake to be a fake.” New York Attorney General Frank Hogan opened an investigation.
LaMotta claimed he had suffered an injury to his spleen during training but went ahead with the fight anyway. The New York State Athletic Commission suspended LaMotta until June and fined him $1,000, not for throwing the fight but for concealing an injury.
In 1949, the mob came through with a title fight. On June 16, at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium, LaMotta took on champion Marcel Cerdan from France. In the first round, Cerdan suffered a shoulder injury when LaMotta threw him to the ring floor. Fighting with only one hand, Cerdan absorbed punches until he was unable to come out for the 10th round, making LaMotta the middleweight champ. A scheduled rematch never happened after Cerdan was killed in a plane crash flying to the United States to train for the fight.
On Sept. 13, 1950, LaMotta staged one of boxing’s great comebacks while defending his title against French boxer Laurent Dauthuille, who had defeated LaMotta the previous year, before the Bronx Bull had won his championship.
For most of the fight, Dauthuille was able to keep out of LaMotta’s range while piling up points. By the 15th round, Dauthuille was ahead on all of the judges’ cards and just had to finish the fight to take the belt. But in the final minute, LaMotta opened up a barrage of punches to Dauthuille’s body and head, finishing the challenger by almost knocking him through the ropes. Dauthuille was counted out with 13 seconds left in the round.
LaMotta’s middleweight belt was on the line Feb. 14, 1951, against Robinson, who was now the welterweight champ. Unlike in their previous fights, Robinson was able to add weight for the fight, coming in 5 pounds under the 160-pound middleweight limit.
The clash became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. LaMotta couldn’t avoid Robinson’s hail of punches throughout the one-sided contest. With LaMotta bloodied and barely able to see, the fight was stopped in the 13th round. Still, LaMotta didn’t fall.
In December 1952, LaMotta moved to light heavyweight to take on Danny Nardico in Coral Gables, Florida. In the seventh round, Nardico, a former Marine, landed a series of devastating punches that sent LaMotta to the canvas. It would be the first and only time in his career that LaMotta was knocked down, and his corner stopped the fight after the round.
He would retire from boxing two years later.
Born on July 10, 1922, on New York City’s Lower East Side and raised in the Bronx, LaMotta learned to fight at an early age when his father forced him to brawl with other children for the amusement of neighborhood adults. The elder LaMotta paid part of their rent with the coins tossed into the ring.
LaMotta was sent to reform school as a teenager for committing petty crimes. There he learned to box. He would go pro as a boxer in 1941 at the age of 19 and avoided military service because of an ear injury, and the United States entered World War II that December.
After boxing, LaMotta opened several bars, including one in Miami Beach. In 1957 he was sentenced to six months in a Florida jail after he was convicted of aiding and abetting a 14-year-old girl in prostitution. He continued to maintain his innocence.
In 1960, LaMotta appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, which was investigating organized crime’s grip on boxing. There he admitted he had thrown the Fox fight in a confession that made LaMotta a boxing pariah for several years.
LaMotta’s autobiography, “Raging Bull,” was published in 1970. Ten years later, director Martin Scorsese adapted it into a film, with De Niro starring as LaMotta. De Niro would win an Academy Award for best actor, and the movie collected one other Oscar (best film editing) and eight total nominations, including for best picture.
The film propelled LaMotta back into the public eye. After viewing the movie, LaMotta said, “When I saw the film, I was upset. I kind of look bad in it. Then I realized it was true. That’s the way it was. I was a no-good bastard. I realize it now. It’s not the way I am now, but the way I was then.”
Jake LaMotta was a champ,” Scorsese said. “He was, as they say, larger than life. He lived a tough life, with a lot to over come, but that’s exactly what he did. I’m glad to have had the chance to know him.”
In 2015, a second movie based on LaMotta’s life, “The Bronx Bull,” was released starring William Forsythe in the title role.
LaMotta devoted much of his life after boxing to acting, appearing on television and in several low-budget movies. He also did stand-up comedy and had an off-Broadway biographical show called “Lady and the Champ.” LaMotta was married seven times.
In 1997, as part of its 75th anniversary, Ring Magazine named LaMotta as having the best boxing chin. Robinson was named greatest fighter.