|JAKE LaMOTTA (left) VS. SUGAR RAY ROBINSON|
The sensational middleweight title bout between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta on February 14, 1951, went down in Chicago boxing lore as “the second St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
When Robinson stepped into the Chicago Stadium ring that night, his record as a professional was a stupendous 122-1. LaMotta was responsible for the “1”; he had defeated Sugar Ray in the second of their eventual five meetings. Now, after six years, their paths crossed again because Robinson had outgrown the welterweight class, of which he was world champion, in two ways—it was difficult for him to stay under the 147-pound weight limit, and it was impossible for him to find worthy challengers.
Both fighters were 29 years old, but that was all they had in common. Robinson was tall, lean, lithe, and even elegant; he was now carrying 154 pounds on his five-foot-11 frame, but his chest was only 36½ inches and his waist 28½. LaMotta was built like a fireplug; though only five-foot-eight, he sported a 42-inch chest and 33-inch waist. After strenuously reducing for several weeks, he came into the fight just half a pound below the middleweight maximum of 160.
The fight drew a crowd of 14,802 and a national television audience of millions. From the opening bell, LaMotta forced the issue. The man later portrayed by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull stalked Robinson, battering him with body blows and forcing him to retreat from lefts to the head. LaMotta dominated for the first eight rounds.
The tide turned in the ninth. Now LaMotta’s spirit was willing, but not his body. All of a sudden he was a stationary target for Robinson’s harassing jabs and punishing shots to the midsection throughout the ninth and 10th rounds. LaMotta flashed back to life in the 11th, briefly backing Robinson into a corner and flailing at him with both hands. When Sugar Ray broke free, he took command for good. “I came out fast and got going after that,” he said.
“LaMotta was finished,” Wilfrid Smith wrote, “but he would not quit. Throughout the 12th round Robinson hit the fading champion with either hand. He jabbed and hooked, and all that saved LaMotta was an ingrained desire to walk toward the man who dealt him punishment.” LaMotta did not land a meaningful punch in the 12th, but he absorbed plenty. Late in the round, Robinson was hammering him so savagely that George Gainford, Robinson’s manager, yelled, “Stop the fight! Stop the fight!” Referee Frank Sikora, however, did not act.
LaMotta had never been knocked down in his career, and against Robinson he retained this distinction by sheer stubbornness. By the 13th round he was completely defenseless. For two minutes Sikora glanced nervously at the Illinois boxing commissioners sitting ringside, as if looking for advice, while Robinson continued to pound LaMotta. Jake was bleeding from the mouth and from the left eye when he staggered back against the ropes with his arms at his sides. Finally, Sikora moved in and stopped the contest. Robinson was awarded a technical knockout. It was later suggested that LaMotta’s reputation for occasional brutality in the ring had led Sikora and the other officials, perhaps unconsciously, to allow him a taste of his own medicine before calling a halt to the carnage.
Despite taking a terrible beating, LaMotta remained defiant. “I didn’t go down, Ray,” he told Robinson before leaving the ring. “You didn’t get me down.”
LaMotta admitted that this had been the toughest of his six fights with Sugar Ray. “I just ran out of gas,” he said. He had lost 17 pounds in the past few weeks, including four pounds the day before the bout, in order to get under the 160-pound limit. The drastic weight loss had sapped his strength, and no fighter could hope to beat Sugar Ray Robinson at less than a hundred percent. After the fight, it took more than two hours for the exhausted LaMotta to summon the energy to get dressed and leave the Stadium. Robinson spent a portion of that time soaking his left hand in a bucket of ice. “No bones broken,” Dr. Vincent Nardiello assured reporters. “He just hit Jake so hard and so often with it that it’s thoroughly bruised.”
Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert