Jake LaMotta, ‘Raging Bull’ Boxing Champion, Dies at 95

  • Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film depicted the boxer’s life
  • The Bronx street brawler hit the canvas once in 106 fights

Jake LaMotta, right, in bout against Fritzie Zivic, on Nov. 12, 1943.

Source: New York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Jake LaMotta, the world middleweight boxing champion whose savagery in and out of the ring was portrayed by Robert De Niro in the 1980 film “Raging Bull,” has died. He was 95.

He died Tuesday at a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia, according to the Associated Press, citing his fiancee Denise Baker.

LaMotta, a street brawler from the Bronx known for his tenacity against opponents, rose to prominence as the first boxer to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson, the five-time middleweight champion described by some as the greatest fighter ever. Their ferocious six-bout rivalry during the 1940s and ‘50s resulted in one victory for LaMotta, who earned the tag of the best chin in boxing for hitting the canvas only once in his 106 fights.

Both LaMotta, who was champion for almost two years, and Robinson were victims of Mafia control over the sport and were matched just once in a title fight. LaMotta later admitted he deliberately lost to Billy Fox in 1947 so he could get a shot at the middleweight belt. Fox won in a technical knockout because LaMotta refused to go down -- even for the Mob.

“Raging Bull,” directed by Martin Scorsese, won an Academy Award for best actor with De Niro’s haunting depiction of a troubled boxer who beat his wife in fits of jealousy. It focused on the breakdown of relationships in LaMotta’s life as his paranoia alienated those around him.

Required Viewing

“Raging Bull,” which became required viewing at many film schools, ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest movies when the list was updated in 2007.

Based on LaMotta’s autobiography, “Raging Bull” was adapted for the screen at DeNiro’s initiative. The actor took Method performing to a new level, gaining more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms) to play the washed-up, cash-strapped LaMotta as nightclub owner and inept stand-up comedian. De Niro trained with LaMotta, a consultant on the film, to prepare for the boxing scenes.

Giacobe LaMotta was born July 10, 1922, in New York, according to his website. His father was an immigrant from Messina, Italy, and his mother came from an Italian family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The family lived in tenement slums in Philadelphia and the Bronx, where the young LaMotta learned to steal and fight. His father, a peddler, helped pay the rent by matching his son against other boys in local fights.

‘Bum Neighborhood’

“I was a bum and lived like a bum in a bum neighborhood,” LaMotta said in his 1970 autobiography “Raging Bull: My Story.” He estimated that he had already been in about 1,000 fights by the time he became an amateur boxer. He turned professional at age 19.

In September 1941, he suffered his first loss after 15 fights in a split decision against Jimmy Reeves. The crowd in Cleveland was so outraged at the judges’ scorecards that a riot broke out.

LaMotta’s loss to Fox six years later, when he allowed his opponent to pummel him until the referee stopped the bout in the fourth round, plagued him in later life. In 1960, he admitted in a U.S. Senate hearing on organized crime in boxing that he had thrown the fight.

In June 1949, he won the title against Frenchman Marcel Cerdan, who forfeited the fight with an injured shoulder. A rematch never took place because Cerdan died in a plane crash on route to the U.S. for the return bout.

Five of LaMotta’s six matches against Sugar Ray Robinson lasted the maximum number of rounds. The final one on Feb. 14, 1951, resulted in LaMotta’s loss of the title after the referee stopped the fight as the beaten champion lay on the ropes in Round 13. “Ray, I never went down,” a battered LaMotta told Robinson as he returned to his corner.

Only Knockdown

In December 1952, LaMotta was knocked down for the only time in his career. The fight against Danny Nardico was stopped before the eighth round when La Motta’s corner conceded defeat.

LaMotta won 83 of his professional fights, 30 of them by knockout. He lost 19 and drew ties in four. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Ring magazine ranked him one of the 10 greatest middleweights of all time.

The former champion retired after losing a match in April 1954. He owned a nightclub in Miami, worked as a comedian in New York and appeared in more than a dozen movies, including “The Hustler,” starring Paul Newman.

LaMotta had four daughters. His first son, Jack, died of cancer in 1998. His second son, Joseph, died in the same year at age 49 in a plane crash.

A resident of New York, Florida and Arizona, “The Bronx Bull” planned to marry for a seventh time in January 2013, according to a New York Post report story. His second wife, Vickie, who was portrayed in the film, divorced him in the 1950s and died in 2005.

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