The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

By Daniel Attias on May 4, 2016
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
“Jake LaMotta falls several light years short as qualifying as one of nature’s nobleman.”

Jake was never in the same league as Robinson when it came to boxing but you would have been hard-pressed to find a tougher man…

It was February 14, 1929, on the North Side of Chicago when seven men from crime boss George “Bugs” Moran’s crew were gunned down by a group of men dressed as police officers. Nobody was ever convicted of the heinous crime, though the general consensus was that notorious gangster Al Capone was responsible. The bloody and brutal affair was dubbed “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Exactly twenty-two years later, two men, two fighters of incomparable styles, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta—a man who had his own rumored mob connections—would engage in a fight of such brutality that it too would be labeled “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

There was little in the way of romance when Robinson and LaMotta inflicted their own savagery upon one another inside Chicago Stadium on that Valentine’s Day evening in 1951. The pair had shared the prize ring on numerous occasions prior to this bout but never had the venom the two men possessed been as evident as it was that night.

Boxing can be a brutal affair but look beyond the concussive blows, the cuts and the blood and you often see a resolve that few men possess, a strength of mind uncommon amongst those not cut out for the prize ring, and it’s these attributes that many fans of the sport have come to love and admire.

Jake LaMotta was a perfect example of a man with such a resolve. He wasn’t a flashy boxer, nor did he have the kind of knockout power that endears a fighter to the masses, it was his refusal to back down, his will to fight on when all was seemingly lost that made him the great he was.

LaMotta’s penchant for violence was as famed as his resolve and as much as his aggressive style in the ring was adored; his actions outside the ring were often ridiculed. One such writer described LaMotta’s lack of nobility when he wrote, “Jake falls several light years short as qualifying as one of nature’s nobleman,” but put a man in a boxing ring and watch him beat the odds and you will find many past transgressions instantly forgotten, as was the case with Jake.

Sugar Ray Robinson is commonly referred to as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all time and it’s easy to see why. A mix of speed and power, strength and footwork, Robinson set a benchmark for greatness in a sport with a long and storied history but it was his battles with LaMotta that are often most remembered.

LaMotta often joked in his days after boxing, “I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times, it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes,” but it wasn’t all one-way traffic for the enigmatic “Bronx Bull.”

Robinson won the first battle between the pair in October of 1942 before losing the first bout of his professional career in the rematch at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit, Michigan on February 5th, 1943, in what was described by The New York Times as “a fistic upset unequalled in many years.”

Three more fights between 1943 and 1945 followed with Robinson winning two by unanimous decision and the third being a split decision victory for Ray, but many felt that LaMotta had done enough to gain the victory, none more so than the crowd of over 14,000 on hand. In the end though, referee Johnny Baer and one of the two judges saw enough to give Robinson the decision.

The sixth bout between the two men is perhaps the most memorable, thanks in part to the Hollywood blockbuster, “Raging Bull.” LaMotta’s refusal to go down in the closing stages of the fight has become an iconic film scene, a portrayal of the toughness needed to compete in the highest echelons of boxing. “Hey Ray, I never went down. You never got me down Ray,” says a bloodied and battered Robert De Niro, who played LaMotta in the classic film, but the fight itself was more than a display of grit from Jake, it was also showcased the kind of spectacular boxing you would expect from the man many now consider the greatest of all time, the man who was so sweet they called him “Sugar.”

The Ring magazine was on hand to witness the action on that fateful night in Chicago, a battle that was viciously waged for LaMotta’s middleweight title. The fight report appeared in the March 1951 edition of the magazine. Here’s some of what Ring magazine editor Nat Fleischer had to say on the bout in his column.

“Ray lived up to the expectations of those who had made him an odds-on-favorite to dethrone the Bronx Bull.

“The match had been hailed as promising the outstanding ring battle of recent years, and so it proved, to the thousands who crowded the Chicago Stadium and the millions who viewed it on television. The bout goes down in ring history as a truly great performance by a slugger and a scientific boxer.

“Jake’s bulldog rushes were in evidence for ten of the thirteen rounds, and during that period, though LaMotta was behind on points, in the press rows, he did considerable damage to Ray.

“In fact the officials thought so well of Jake’s work that they had him in the lead at that point.”

It was clear, however, around the tenth round that LaMotta had run out of gas, his blows became ineffective and Ray began his long awaited march toward the middleweight championship of the world.

For three rounds Robinson landed all manner of punches, bloodying his rival, landing power punches with ease and taking little in return. By the thirteenth round the bout had indeed become a massacre, LaMotta landed just five punches compared with an amazing 56 by Robinson. From ringside, Fleischer explained the finish to the bout.

“In the final round, so severe a shellacking did LaMotta receive that shouts of ‘stop it’ rent the air. The referee wasn’t guided by those voices. He took his cue from Dr. Houston, medical adviser to the commission, and halted the slaughter. Such it was in the last stages of the affair. It was a massacre of one of the sturdiest, hardest hitting middleweights the division has had.”

There was no love lost that night between LaMotta and Robinson, as history would show. The fight itself served as a crossroads of sorts for both men, Robinson would go on to solidify his place amongst the kings of the sport with his victory and it signified the beginning of an impressive middleweight reign. Robinson’s name would become forever synonymous with greatness, while LaMotta’s career would wind down to a close after losing his title.

Jake was never in the same league as Robinson when it came to boxing but you would have been hard-pressed to find a tougher man. “You never got me down, Ray,” is perhaps the lasting image of LaMotta’s imprint on the sport and “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” an everlasting ode to his toughness and Robinson’s sublime boxing skills.

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Sugar Ray Robinson v.s Jake LaMotta VI

Raging Bull - "You Never Got Me Down Ray" Scene

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  1. Jethro's Flute 09:43am, 05/09/2016

    The scene in Raging Bull has just one thing wrong with it:

    It’s rubbish.

    In reality, Jake’s mouth was so swollen, he couldn’t speak and my video shows him being rescued by the referee before he fell.

    A boxer that has just had his head bashed in does not slag his opponent.

  2. beaujack 08:44pm, 05/04/2016

    Jim Crue, you are correct in saying that the Robinson who TKO’D LaMotta in 1951 the St. Valentine Massacre fight, was a middleweight by this time in 1951. So maybe this extra weight and LaMotta’s weight draining contributed to the stoppage of Jake LaMotta…Watching this film again and my also seeing Robinson as a welterweight, I have to laugh when some misguided posters pick Floyd Mayweather to beat SRR, the greatest fighter I ever saw ringside…

  3. Jim Crue 03:12pm, 05/04/2016

    Beau Jack, all true. Jake had plenty of time to make weight but struggled. Robinson may not have had him in trouble in their other fights but lets keep in mind that Robinson was a legitimate welterweight and was outweighed by 10 to 14 pounds in their other fights 5 fights.Two great champions. Hard to believe Jake is still alive and feisty.

  4. kb 12:54pm, 05/04/2016


  5. Eric 11:47am, 05/04/2016

    KB….Tanks for the 411. Mr. Vincent was made to play a mobster. The Vincent-Pesci trilogy might rank right up there with the Ali-Frazier bouts. teehee. Billy Batts still has some unfinished bidness with though. So far the score reads, Pesci-2 to Batts-1. I rank “go home and get your shine box,” right up there with, “do you feel lucky,” “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” “I’ll be back,” “you talkin’ to me,” as one of the classic movie lines of all time.

  6. KB 09:32am, 05/04/2016

    Eric, good memory

    “Go home and get your shine box….”, so said ill-fated Billy Batts in Goodfellas (1990). However, Billy Batts is better known to a legion of crime-film fans as the talented actor, musician, and comedian Frank Vincent. Multi-talented Vincent was born in North Adams, Massachusetts, but was raised in the Greenville section of Jersey City, New Jersey…”

    Vincent has the face that everyone would love to beat on. He also stuck the pool stick up Johnny Cake’s butt in the Soprano’s.

  7. beaujack 08:04am, 05/04/2016

    Fine article on this fight, but it must be remembered that Jake LaMotta was so over the MW weight of 160 pounds days before the bout that he frantically went on a crash diet losing about 10 pounds by the time of the weigh-in. LaMotta entered the bout in a weakened condition and I recall
    this info bandied around before the fight. The Robinson braintrust knew of this and devised a plan that SRR would not go all out until the later rounds when the weight drained LaMotta was energy depleted, and then Robinson would go all out which he DID, and stopped the Bronx Bull. The plan worked perfectly as history shows. It must also be remembered that in their previous 4 fights LaMotta was never stopped or even in danger of being stopped…

  8. Eric 06:50am, 05/04/2016

    LaMotta’s name will forever be linked with Ray Robinson. Come to think of it, Joe Pesci’s name will forever be linked with Robert DeNiro. Need to include the guy who played Billy Batts in, “Goodfellas” as well. Seems like Pesci was always trowin’ that guy a beatin. “Now go home and get your shine box.” Poor Billy Batts finally got his revenge in, “Casino.” That beatin’ he trowed Tommy was brutal.

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