Ten-Count for Jake LaMotta

By Robert Ecksel on September 21, 2017
Ten-Count for Jake LaMotta
"I read the Romans had bread and circuses," said Jake. "We had home relief and boxing."

“If I never see another boob it ain’t gonna bother me. Impervious? I flattened a bum named Impervious in Buffalo…”

Former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta passed away Tuesday in Miami. He was 95.

In a sport full of madmen, Jake LaMotta held pride of place. Fights fans loved him because he was tough. Wiseguys hated him because he was a rat. Culture vultures revered Jake because Martin Scorsese made a movie of his life.

“My life story is now on film,” LaMotta said in an interview several years ago. “The movie is called Raging Bull and I am played by superstar Robert De Niro. I told the producer I’d like to play myself, but he said, ‘Jake, you’re not the type.’”

Not every prizefighter gets to watch the movie of his life. He has to be very special, or very wild and crazy, and LaMotta was all that, and a good deal more.

Jake LaMotta was born on July 10, 1921, to hardscrabble beginnings in the Bronx. “We were so poor that my old man would go outside every Christmas and shoot his gun,” Jake wrote in his autobiography, “then come back and tell us that Santa Claus has committed suicide.”

LaMotta remembered how it was: “I read the Romans had bread and circuses. We had home relief and boxing.”

Difficult, aggressive, combative, always itching for a fight, Jake was a nut job from the start, but this violent man was redeemed, insofar as any man is redeemed, by boxing. But it took a lotta bungled crimes and a lotta busted heads before he finally saw the light: “I was a bum and I lived like a bum in a bum neighborhood.”

Jake may have been a bum, but at least he was a bum who could punch. He went legit on March 31, 1941, at the age of eighteen and had twenty bouts in his first year as a pro: “I had more fights in one year than many of these guys have in their entire careers.”

In 1942 Jake fought and lost to the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson. In 1943 he fought Robinson two times in the same month, losing the rematch before winning the rubber match—becoming the first man to defeat Sugar Ray: “I fought Ray Robinson so many times, it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes.”

That same year, Jake had the first of four fights in seven months with low blow artist Fritzie Zivic. “A fighter goes into the ring with one thing on his mind,” wrote LaMotta, “to beat the shit out of the other guy before he beats the shit out of him.”

In 1947 LaMotta took a dive during a bout with Billy Fox to set up a shot at the middleweight crown, but Jake was so fake that a scandal ensued and he lost his license to fight.

He was subpoenaed to Washington, DC, to testify about going in the soup before Congress. “I never did like Washington,” LaMotta said. “All those over-sized buildings and monuments made me feel like some dumb bug crawling around a pyramid or something.”

A Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee investigating corruption in boxing turned LaMotta into a dark star.

“Senators—who the hell knew from Senators? All I knew was back rooms and stinking catacombs with creeps and mobster wiseguys.”

During his swearing in before the Senate, LaMotta swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God, and he was as good as his word: “You win some, you throw some.”

LaMotta got his shot at the middleweight crown in Detroit on June 16, 1949, against the French-Algerian middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan. Jake took Cerdan apart that night, forcing the champ to quit on his stool after 10.

The Bronx Bull defended his crown twice—including one of the greatest come-from-behind victories of all time against Laurent Dauthille in 1950—before losing the middleweight title back to Robinson the next year.

“Robinson never got me down,” Jake remembered. “If the referee hadn’t stopped the fight, Robinson would’ve collapsed from hitting me.”

Jake LaMotta retired from boxing on June 2, 1954, at the age of 34 with an 83-19 record (30 KOs). Then the fun began.

He opened a nightclub in Miami Beach and for a time was the toast of the town. “My wife, Vikki, never knew I was an alcoholic till one night I came home sober,” recalled LaMotta. “But as I always say, you’re never drunk if you can lay on the floor without holding on.”

Jake’s marriage to Vikki was rocky. “She always complained she didn’t have anything to wear,” Jake observed. “I never believed her until I saw her pictures in Playboy.”

The vice squad set up Jake at his club. They fixed up a real live doll, made her all pretty and nice, and dangled her like jailbait in front of La Motta. His bloodshot eyes and addled brain must have deceived him that night, because he thought she looked 21; funny, she felt 21. Jake introduced her to some men at the bar—and those cats had the time of their lives.

LaMotta was busted, jailed and railroaded through the system for pimping a 14-year-old girl.

After his release from prison, LaMotta attempted reforming. He tried, at least at first, keeping his hands to himself. “I’m jaded,” admitted Jake. “If I never see another boob it ain’t gonna bother me. Impervious? I flattened a bum named Impervious in Buffalo.”

LaMotta also began a sputtering career as an actor, emcee and comedian. Wobbling on stage one night, a mike in one hand, a drink in the other, a cigar between his lips, Jake’s lame retort to handful of hecklers pretty much sums up the spirit of those days: “Ya know, it’s guys like you that are gonna force me to make a comeback.”

Jake’s comeback came in unusual ways. His autobiography, “Raging Bull,” was published in 1970. The movie of the same name came out ten years later and made film history.

When all is said and done, it’s hard to know what to make of Jake LaMotta, so maybe the Bronx Bull deserves the last word.

“You know what a geek is? You throw a geek a raw chicken and he’ll eat it, feathers and all, and everyone outside the cage will laugh and applaud. Was I a champ or a geek? Only God knows what I was.”

Rest in peace, Champ.

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Jake Lamotta KOs Laurent Dauthuille This Day September 13, 1950

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  1. Just Sayin' 07:22am, 09/22/2017

    I think a lot of people were misled by the movie, “Raging Bull,” into believing LaMotta was a fierce puncher. Like a great deal of high volume punchers, LaMotta wasn’t a knockout artist. Tough guy, but nothing like the brutal puncher that he was portrayed to be in the film. Not a big fan of this guy outside the ring, great fighter but a real POS as a human being. I can’t stand how when someone dies, everyone goes to Heaven and everyone was always a great guy or gal. haha. Lets get real here. This guy beat women, beat up his best friend ( because he assumed he was boinking his wife), and nearly beat some old guy to death with a lead pipe.

  2. bikermike 09:23pm, 09/21/2017

    Jake LaMotta and ‘Sugar ’ Ray Robinson were just two of the plethora of talent , trying to ‘get the crown’.....
    Times were bad and things were worse….in that era..!!
    Even top contenders and Champions had to fight ...almost monthly…..especially when TV came in.
    LaMotta and Robinson..and the hundreds of fighters of those times ...had fight much more often…as the gate was all they got a sniff of.  Radio and TV…,,opened a massive market and profit that fighters seldom shared…nor even understood…

    $$Wiseguys got kicked out of baseball…so….come the depression….Boxing was already ripe for ...shall we say…..interests , other than the fighter and fans…??
    In any case,,,LaMotta was one tuff SOB…in the ring…...and he was his own man before ...during and after his ring career.

    Gotta luv the guy

  3. bikermike 09:10pm, 09/21/2017

    Mr Ecksel ...Thank you

  4. Marcel 05:56pm, 09/21/2017

    In a game where money is sacred, throwing fights is not only justifiable, it’s a virtue.

  5. Your Name 02:28pm, 09/21/2017

    What I read was that Cerdan hurt his shoulder in the fight against La Motta and was actually beating him.  I didn’t know that LaMotta only had 30 ko’s in his career.  That’s out of nearly 90 fights. Not a great puncher. I find it hard to believe that a tough guy like Cerdan was “taken apart” since he (Cerdan) was a puncher himself.  If his shoulder hadn’t been really messed up would he have sat down on the stool?  Hard to believe. Also note that Cerdan supposedly hurt the shoulder in the 4th round or so.  I leave it to the writer Mr. Ecksel to correct one way or the other.  I don’t like to see a guy like Cerdan not get a 100% fair shake.  I was friendly, not close friends, with one of Cerdan’s sparring partners a long time ago and like I say I just want to see Cerdan get a fair shake from a great boxing site. BTW the former sparring partner didn’t go to France to train with Cerdan - he was asked but decided to get married during that time period instead.  Sadly Cerdan died in air plane crash on the way back to fight LaMotta. If he was “taken apart” why come back to fight his conqueror?

    Mike from Brooklyn

  6. peter 12:01pm, 09/21/2017

    I wonder if there is a written transcript of his nightclub act. I’d be interested in reading it.

  7. Timothy Agoglia Carey 08:04am, 09/21/2017

    Anyone who can make it to 95 after receipting for an outrageous number of Ray Robinson’s nasty, hurtful punches (some no doubt as hard as the left hook that KOd Fullmer) in five fights no less, is a physical marvel! In the interest of science they need to perform an autopsy and measure the thickness of that skull!

  8. Pete The Sneak 07:36am, 09/21/2017

    Love it! Great write up Robert.

  9. peter 06:07am, 09/21/2017

    This piece was fantastic, and better than anything the NYT could come up with. Loved it!

  10. Walter Wojtowicz 10:21pm, 09/20/2017

    Thanks Robert.

  11. Bob 07:28pm, 09/20/2017

    Fantastic piece, as usual, Mr. Ecksel. Just great.

  12. Dennis Taylor 02:26pm, 09/20/2017

    Great piece, Robert Ecksel. Loved it.