Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jake LaMotta

Giacobbe "Jake" LaMotta (born July 10, 1921), nicknamed "The Bronx Bull" and "The Raging Bull", was an American professional boxer and former World Middleweight Champion. He was portrayed by Robert De Niro in the 1980 film Raging Bull.

LaMotta, who compiled a record of 83 wins, 19 losses and four draws with 30 KOs, was the first man to beat Sugar Ray Robinson, knocking him down in the first round of their first fight and then outpointing him over the course of 10 rounds during the second fight of their legendary six-bout rivalry.

On November 14, 1947, LaMotta was knocked out in four rounds by Billy Fox. Suspecting the fight was fixed, the New York State Athletic Commission withheld purses for the fight and suspended LaMotta. The fight with Fox would come back to haunt LaMotta later in life, during a hearing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In his testimony and in his later book, LaMotta admitted to throwing the fight in order to gain favor with the Mafia. All involved agreed the fix was obvious and their staging inept. As LaMotta wrote,

The first round, a couple of belts to his head, and I see a glassy look coming over his eyes. Jesus Christ, a couple of jabs and he's going to fall down? I began to panic a little. I was supposed to be throwing a fight to this guy, and it looked like I was going to end up holding him on his feet ... By [the fourth round], if there was anybody in the Garden who didn't know what was happening, he must have been dead drunk."

The thrown fight and a payment of $20,000 to the Mafia got LaMotta his title bout against Marcel Cerdan.

LaMotta is recognized as having one of the best chins in boxing. He rolled with punches, minimizing their force and damage when they landed, but he was also able to absorb many blows. In the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, his sixth bout with Robinson, LaMotta suffered numerous severe blows to the head. Commentators could be heard saying "No man can take this kind of punishment!" But LaMotta did not go down. The fight was stopped by the referee in the 13th round, declaring it a TKO victory for Robinson.

LaMotta was one of the first boxers to adopt the "bully" style of fighting, in that he always stayed close and in punching range of his opponent, by stalking him around the ring, and sacrificed taking punches himself in order to land his own shots. Due to his aggressive, unrelenting style he was known as "The Bronx Bull." He boasted "No son-of-a-bitch ever knocked me off my feet," but that claim was ended in December 1952 at the hands of Danny Nardico when Nardico caught him with a hard right in the seventh round. LaMotta fell into the ropes and went down. After regaining his footing, he was unable to come out for the next round.

Hollywood executives approached LaMotta with the idea of a movie about his life, based on his 1970 memoir Raging Bull: My Story. The film, Raging Bull, was initially only a minor box office success, but eventually became a huge critical success both for director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, who gained about 60 pounds (27 kg) during the shooting of the film to play the older LaMotta in later scenes.

To accurately portray the younger LaMotta, De Niro trained with LaMotta until LaMotta felt he was ready to box professionally. De Niro lived in Paris for three months, eating at the finest restaurants in order to gain sufficient weight to portray LaMotta after retirement. De Niro won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

The film depicts a violent and self-destructive LaMotta, who once goes as far as beating his own brother, manager Joey LaMotta, while accusing him of having an affair with his (Jake's) then wife, Vickie LaMotta. (In real life, this altercation was between LaMotta and his best friend Pete, not his brother Joey. The Joey character in the film is an amalgamation to simplify the narrative.)

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