LaMotta was a rag­ing bull in and out of ring

The boxer a prod­uct of the New York slums who learned his trade on street cor­ners and in re­form school, writes Matt Schudel

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES -

JAKE LaMotta, an iron-jawed boxer who brawled his way to the world mid­dleweight cham­pi­onship in 1949 and whose tem­pes­tu­ous life was com­pellingly por­trayed in an Os­car­win­ning per­for­mance by Robert De Niro in the film Rag­ing Bull, died Septem­ber 19 at a hos­pi­tal near Mi­ami.

He was 95, ac­cord­ing to his fam­ily, al­though some records in­di­cate he may have been a year older. A daugh­ter, Christi LaMotta, an­nounced his death in a Face­book post but did not pro­vide ad­di­tional de­tails.

Even by the stan­dards of box­ing, LaMotta was a rough­hewn spec­i­men, a prod­uct of the New York slums who learned his bru­tal trade on street cor­ners and in re­form school. Brash and glib, ruggedly hand­some and charis­matic in a dark, dan­ger­ous way, he was one of the lead­ing fight­ers of the 1940s and early

’50s, when box­ing was among the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar sports.

He wore a hooded leop­ard-print robe into the ring and fought with a stub­born, in­el­e­gant fury that led him to be called the Bronx Bull. He stalked for­ward in the ring, with “blows bounc­ing off him like ball bear­ings off a bat­tle­ship”, as As­so­ci­ated Press sports writer Whit­ney Martin put it, ab­sorb­ing punches and pain like few fight­ers be­fore or since.

He was a burly, com­pact 5-foot-8 (1.76m) and fought in a low crouch, at­tack­ing his op­po­nent’s body in a swarm­ing, re­lent­less style, launch­ing blunt-force punches that seemed to rise from the can­vas.

“To LaMotta, fight­ing was a per­sonal state­ment,” au­thor and his­to­rian Bert Sugar wrote in his 2006 book Box­ing’s Great­est Fight­ers. “He fought with an anger that seemed as if it would spring forth from the top of his head like a vol­canic erup­tion.”

Even when he lost, with his fea­tures blood­ied and bruised, LaMotta re­tained a mea­sure of pride by re­fus­ing to go down. The Ring mag­a­zine, the lead­ing box­ing pe­ri­od­i­cal, said he had the “tough­est chin” in the sport’s his­tory.

“The truth of the mat­ter?” LaMotta told the Chicago SunTimes in 1996. “The punches never hurt me. My nose was bro­ken six times, my hands six times, a few frac­tured ribs. Fifty stitches over my eyes. But the only place I got hurt was out of the ring.”

For years, LaMotta re­fused to co-op­er­ate with the mob­sters who con­trolled box­ing when he was in his prime. Al­though he was a top-ranked con­tender, he was not granted a chance to fight for the cham­pi­onship un­til af­ter he agreed to play along with the gang­sters.

He de­lib­er­ately lost a fight in 1947 – ben­e­fit­ing the gam­blers who bet against him – and was sus­pended for sev­eral months be­cause his lack­lus­tre ef­fort was so bla­tantly ob­vi­ous.

Two years later, he got his ti­tle shot, de­feat­ing Mar­cel Cer­dan, an Al­ge­rian-born French boxer. Cer­dan in­jured his shoul­der in the first round and gave up at the be­gin­ning of the 10th round, giv­ing LaMotta the cham­pi­onship.

Later in 1949, while fly­ing back to the US to face LaMotta in a re­match, Cer­dan was killed in an air plane crash. LaMotta de­fended his mid­dleweight crown against two other box­ers – and had four other non-ti­tle fights – be­fore en­ter­ing the ring one last time against Sugar Ray Robin­son, his long time ri­val.

Be­tween 1942 and 1945, the two box­ers had met five times.

Af­ter mov­ing to the lightheavy­weight di­vi­sion, he was knocked down in 1952 for the first and only time in his ca­reer. Two years later, he re­tired from box­ing with a record of 83 wins, 19 losses, 4 draws.

Af­ter open­ing a night­club in Mi­ami Beach, LaMotta went to jail in 1957 for en­abling the pros­ti­tu­tion of a mi­nor, when a 14-year-old girl was ar­rested in his bar. He served time on a chain gang and was placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment, where he broke his hands punch­ing a wall.

In 1970, he and two co-writ­ers pub­lished a mem­oir, Rag­ing Bull, which de­scribes his box­ing ca­reer and casts a search­ing light into his soul.

He sent a copy of the book to De Niro, then a young ac­tor, who even­tu­ally in­ter­ested direc­tor Martin Scors­ese in a movie pro­ject. Be­fore film­ing be­gan, De Niro spent a solid year train­ing with LaMotta in the box­ing ring, spar­ring more than 1 000 rounds with each other.

“I swear, with­out ex­ag­ger­a­tion,” LaMotta said in 2005, “when I got done with him he could have fought pro­fes­sion­ally. That’s how ded­i­cated he was.”

In the film, De Niro mim­icked LaMotta’s crouch­ing style in the fight scenes and also cap­tured the sus­pi­cion, anger and vi­o­lence that LaMotta of­ten di­rected to­ward his friends and fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly his wife at the time, Vikki.

LaMotta and Vikki saw the film to­gether be­fore it was re­leased in 1980. “Af­ter the movie, I said, ‘Gee, they made me look bad’,” he re­called in 2001. “‘Was I that bad?’ And she said, ‘You were worse’.”

He was present at the Dorothy Chan­dler Pav­il­ion in Los An­ge­les in 1981 when De Niro won an Academy Award as best ac­tor. LaMotta then went on to a long sec­ond ca­reer as the “Ag­ing Bull”, de­liv­er­ing one­lin­ers, sign­ing au­to­graphs and mak­ing ap­pear­ances be­fore far more peo­ple than ever at­tended his fights.

Gi­a­cobbe LaMotta was born on the Lower East Side of Man­hat­tan and grew up in the Bronx. Box­ing records in­di­cate he was born July

10, 1921, but his fam­ily said he was born a year later.

At 15, LaMotta was sent to re­form school for at­tempted bur­glary. He was relieved that he wasn’t ar­rested on more se­ri­ous charges af­ter he struck a book­maker over the head with a lead pipe, took his money and left him for dead.

LaMotta soon took up box­ing in earnest and had his first pro­fes­sional fight at 19. Seven years later, re­al­is­ing he could not get a chance at the ti­tle with­out work­ing with mob­sters, he agreed to “throw” a fight against a boxer named Billy Fox. The ref­eree halted the bout when LaMotta didn’t at­tempt to block any punches, but his tac­tics were so ob­vi­ous that his box­ing li­cence was tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended.

Like many for­mer box­ers, LaMotta had trou­ble ad­just­ing to life af­ter the ring. He played a bar­tender in the 1961 Paul New­manJackie Glea­son movie about pool sharks, The Hustler, and held jobs as a garbage col­lec­tor, strip-club bouncer and stand-up co­me­dian. He was in­ducted into the In­ter­na­tional Box­ing Hall of Fame in 1990.

LaMotta was mar­ried six times, most mem­o­rably to his sec­ond wife, Bev­erly Hailer, who was bet­ter known as Vikki and was played by Cathy Mo­ri­arty in the film Rag­ing Bull.

They were mar­ried in 1946, when Vikki was 16. At age 51, she ap­peared in a nude pic­to­rial in Play­boy, prompt­ing a pre­dictable joke from LaMotta: “She al­ways com­plained she had noth­ing to wear. I never be­lieved her un­til I saw her in Play­boy.”

She died in 2005. Their two sons both died in 1998. LaMotta had five chil­dren with other wives. Sur­vivors in­clude his fi­ancée, Denise Baker, a for­mer ac­tress who had col­lab­o­rated with him on a cabaret show. A com­plete list of sur­vivors was not im­me­di­ately avail­able. – Wash­ing­ton Post

‘The truth?

The only place I got hurt was out of the ring’

Jake LaMotta cap­tion please

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.