Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a boxing binge. The last couple of months have been pretty good for getting attention for the sport. There was the Mayweather-McGregor mega-fight, the controversial Alvarez-Golovkin and Pacquiao-Horn fights, and other entertaining bouts. All of this led me to be obsessed with boxing as of late, so I began to look into Italian fighters and found a bunch of tough, accomplished people in the sport. Historic names like Willie Pep, Tony Canzoneri, Rocky Marciano are all of Italian descent. One name stood out because of it being in the news about two weeks ago. Jake LaMotta’s passing at the age of 95 was not only big news in the sports world but also pop culture. LaMotta’s troubled life in and outside of the ring inspired the classic Martin Scorsese film, “The Raging Bull”, and a similar film based on his life after boxing called “The Bronx Bull.”
Jake LaMotta grew up in the Bronx where he was forced by his abusive father to fight kids and even adults in the alleys of the neighborhood for money to help pay rent. This fighting is what eventually led him to become one of the toughest boxers to ever step in a ring. LaMotta was known for aggressive, bullying fighting style that made it difficult to beat him. He had a classic rivalry with Sugar Ray Robinson, fighting him six times in his career, and was the first to knock down and defeat Robinson.
There was no shortage of controversy in his life. Questionable judging in fights often led to brawls in the ring and in the crowd. LaMotta would eventually become middleweight champion of the world, thanks to the influence of the Mob. LaMotta purposely lost a fight to a lesser opponent, Billy Fox, in order to receive that title shot. Outside of the ring, LaMotta was known to be just as vicious. He was married 7 times and admitted to beating most of his wives. LaMotta’s hothead mentality caused him to be involved in many fights even after he hung up the gloves. After boxing, he became a nightclub owner and a comedian. The job led him to spend time in jail for allowing underage women in his clubs.
Despite all of the negatives in his life, Jake LaMotta was a popular figure for most of his life. Many seemed to forgive or ignore his violent behavior. He may not have been the greatest middleweight ever, but you’d have a hard time finding many guys you would consider to be tougher and more feared than LaMotta.
In terms of American fighters, LaMotta reminds me of Floyd Mayweather. Not so much in terms of boxing, but popularity even through controversial times. Mayweather has had multiple incidents involving domestic violence and battery. However, we tend to push those incidents to the side because of his accomplishments in the ring. It’s something we see all the time with successful or popular people, their positive actions are celebrated, sometimes too much, whether they deserve it or not, and their negative actions are quickly forgotten, sometimes too soon, whether they deserve it or not.
Regardless of your thoughts on his life, there’s no denying that when Jake LaMotta died September 19, the world lost an interesting figure. LaMotta once famously said “no son-of-a-bitch ever knocked me off my feet,” unfortunately after 95 years, life finally did. Rest in peace.