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Giacobe LaMotta (born July 10, 1921), better known as Jake LaMotta, nicknamed “The Bronx Bull” and “The Raging Bull”, is an Italian-American former world middleweight champion boxer who was famously portrayed by Robert De Niro in the film Raging Bull.
LaMotta was born in New York City, in the borough of the Bronx, near the Pelham Parkway and Morris Park area. He was forced by his father into fighting other children to entertain neighborhood adults, who threw pocket change into the ring. LaMotta’s father collected the money and used it to help pay the rent.
In 1941, at the age of 19, LaMotta turned professional.
LaMotta, who compiled a record of 83 wins, 19 losses and four draws with 30 wins by way of knockout, was the first man to beat Sugar Ray Robinson, knocking him down in the first round of their first fight and then outpointing him over the course of 10 rounds during the second fight of their legendary six-bout rivalry.
On 14 November 1947, LaMotta was knocked out in four rounds by Billy Fox. Suspecting the fight was fixed, the New York State Athletic Commission withheld purses for the fight and suspended LaMotta. The fight with Fox would come back to haunt LaMotta later in life, during a hearing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In his testimony and in his later book, LaMotta admitted to throwing the fight in order to gain favor with the Mafia. All involved agreed the fix was obvious and their staging inept. As LaMotta wrote, “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.”
The thrown fight and a payment of $20,000 to the Mafia got LaMotta his title bout against Marcel Cerdan.
LaMotta won the world title in 1949 in Detroit against Frenchman Marcel Cerdan, who was the world champion. Cerdan, called by many boxing critics the greatest champion ever from France, dislocated his arm in the first round and gave up before the start of the 10th. The official score had LaMotta as winner by a knockout in 10 rounds because the bell had already rung to begin that round when Cerdan announced he was quitting. A rematch was arranged, but while Cerdan was flying back to the United States to fight the rematch, his Air France Lockheed Constellation crashed in the Azores, killing everyone on board. LaMotta met two challengers (Tiberio Mitri and Laurent Dauthuille) and beat them, and then he was challenged by Robinson for their rivalry’s sixth fight. Held on February 14, 1951, Saint Valentine’s Day, the fight became known as boxing’s version of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Robinson won by a technical knockout in the 13th round, when the fight was stopped with LaMotta lying on the ropes.
In the mid-1950s, LaMotta suffered from a boxing injury and took time off to recover. He was always interested in baseball and decided to form the Jake LaMotta All-Star team. They played in Sterling Oval which was located between 165th and 164th Streets between Clay and Teller Avenue in the Bronx. He also held professional fights at that field, and his brother Joey often fought there.
After retirement, LaMotta owned and managed bars, and became a stage actor and stand-up comedian. He appeared in more than 15 films, including The Hustler with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, in which he had a cameo role as a bartender.
LaMotta is recognized as having one of the best chins in boxing. He rolled with punches, minimizing their force and damage when they landed, but he was also able to absorb many blows. In the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, his sixth bout with Robinson, LaMotta suffered numerous sickening blows to the head. Commentators could be heard saying “No man can take this kind of punishment!” But LaMotta did not go down. The fight was stopped by the referee in the 13th round, declaring it a TKO victory for Robinson.
LaMotta was one of the first boxers to adopt the “bully” style of fighting, in that he always stayed close and in punching range of his opponent, by stalking him around the ring, and sacrificed taking punches himself in order to land his own shots. Due to his aggressive, unrelenting style he was known as “The Bronx Bull. He boasted “No son-of-a-bitch ever knocked me off my feet”, but that claim was ended in December 1952 at the hands of Danny Nardico when Nardico caught him with a hard right in the seventh round. LaMotta fell into the ropes and went down. After regaining his footing, he was unable to come out for the next round.
Hollywood executives approached LaMotta with the idea of a movie about his life, based on his 1970 memoir Raging Bull: My Story. The film, Raging Bull, was initially only a minor box office success, but eventually became a huge critical success both for director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, who gained about 60 pounds (27 kg) during the shooting of the film to play the older LaMotta in later scenes.
To accurately portray the younger LaMotta, De Niro trained with LaMotta until LaMotta felt he was ready to box professionally. De Niro lived in Paris for three months, eating at the finest restaurants in order to gain sufficient weight to portray LaMotta after retirement. De Niro won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.
The film depicts a violent and self-destructive LaMotta, who once goes as far as beating his own brother, manager Joey LaMotta, while accusing him of having an affair with his (Jake’s) then wife, Vickie LaMotta. (In real life, this altercation was between LaMotta and his best friend Pete, not his brother Joey. The Joey character in the film is an amalgamation to simplify the narrative.)
In February 1998, LaMotta’s elder son Jake LaMotta, Jr., died of liver cancer.In September 1998, his younger son Joseph LaMotta died in the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.
His nephew, John LaMotta, fought in the heavyweight-novice class of the 2001 Golden Gloves championship tournament.
As of 2007, LaMotta had been married six times and had four daughters, including Christi by his second wife Vikki and Stephanie by his fourth wife Dimitria.
He remains active on the speaking and autograph circuit, and has published several books about his career, his life, and his fights with Robinson.
He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was ranked 52nd on Ring Magazine’s List of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years. The magazine also ranked him as one of the 10 greatest middleweights of all time.