Boxer Jake LaMotta, inspiration for 'Raging Bull,' dies at 95

Boxer Jake LaMotta, inspiration for 'Raging Bull,' dies at 95
Posted at 11:55 PM, Sep 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-20 23:55:00-04

(RNN) – Former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta has died at the age of 95, his family told BBC on Wednesday. 

His wife said he died from complications from pneumonia, according to TMZ.

The middleweight champion boxer was the first fighter to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson as well as the inspiration for the move Raging Bull, which starred Robert DeNiro as the title character. The movie was based on a memoir published in 1970 titled Raging Bull: My Story.

LaMotta earned the nickname "Bronx Bull" because of his unrelenting fighting style. He stayed close to opponents – even followed them around the ring – and took a barrage of punches in exchange for wearing them out enough to land key punches that would swing the outcome of a match.

Although costly, the technique worked overwhelmingly in his favor. He retired with a record of 83-19-4 (30 knockouts), and despite taking all that abuse he is famous for almost never falling to the mat. His only documented knockdown came in a 1952 fight with Danny Nardico near the end of his career.

Giacobe LaMotta was born in the Bronx borough of New York on July 10, 1921. From an early age, LaMotta displayed a violent temper, and his father was the first person to attempt to channel that aggressiveness into a fighting spirit. LaMotta was made to engage in street fights with neighborhood kids to earn the family money to help pay rent.

He turned pro in 1941 at age 19, and one year later he was facing Robinson in New York for the first of a legendary six-fight series.

The Bronx native lost the first fight in a unanimous decision to Robinson, but fared much better in the rematch in Detroit. LaMotta sent Robinson sprawling on the ropes in the eighth round, and the bell rang seconds before the match likely would have ended in a knockout. LaMotta took control of the fight for the rest of the way and won the bout on points for his only victory in the series.

Their last fight on Feb. 14, 1951 became known as the sport's version of the Valentine's Day Massacre, and Robinson earned a technical knockout in 13 rounds while LaMotta was clinging to the ropes.

A major black mark on LaMotta's career came in 1947 when it was suspected that he threw a fight to Billy Fox. The New York State Athletic Commission suspended LaMotta and withheld purses for the fight after Fox knocked him out in four rounds.

During an FBI investigation into the influence of organized crime on boxing 13 years later, LaMotta admitted to throwing the fight in exchange for the mafia arranging a middleweight title bout.

"By (the fourth round), if there was anybody in the Garden who didn't know what was happening, he must have been dead drunk," LaMotta wrote in his memoir.

LaMotta admitted to his frustration after years of toiling away on the circuit and defeating highly ranked boxers in a wide range of weight classes. After all that, he was still denied a chance to fight a world champion.

The Fox fight and a sizeable payment to the mafia changed that. LaMotta got his first middleweight title bout against French boxer Marcel Cerdan in 1949.

LaMotta knocked out the defending world champion in 10 rounds and successfully defended his title twice before his final loss to Robinson.

He later moved up to the light heavyweight class and after taking a year off to recover from a serious injury, he retired in 1954.

He served six months on a chain gang in Florida after he was convicted of corrupting the morals of a minor for introducing men to an underage girl at a club he owned in Miami. He maintained his innocence long after the conviction.

LaMotta was married six times and most recently was involved with longtime fiance Denise Baker, who was 30 years his junior. The two were set to marry in December 2012, but LaMotta took ill with pneumonia.

His two sons died within a seven-month span in 1998. Oldest son, Jake LaMotta Jr., died of liver cancer in February, and Joseph LaMotta died in a plane crash in September off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. LaMotta also had four daughters.

LaMotta's marriage to Vicki LaMotta, his second, was the relationship featured in the movie Raging Bull. The couple married when Jake was 24 and Vicki was 16.

The movie did not have a major box office showing because of concerns about its violent content. But it earned high critical acclaim and has since been regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two: Best Editing and Best Actor for DeNiro.

LaMotta helped train DeNiro for the role and said that boxing came so naturally to the actor that he could have easily turned him into a champion professional fighter.

Later in life, LaMotta was active as a speaker, on autograph tours and also appeared in a stage production focused on his boxing career that received cold reviews from the media.

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Copyright 2017 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.