Jake LaMotta: The Hard Hitting Life and Career of the Raging Bull

Jake LaMotta

Jake LaMotta was a slugger in the ring and a slugger outside it. Find out more about the legendary boxer from the Bronx.

Jake LaMotta was a legendary American professional boxer who won the world middleweight crown. After a successful pro boxing career, Jake LaMotta also went on to have a very successful career in stand up comedy. Jake LaMotta was a very rough fighter who didn’t really have a big punch but attacked his opponents like a savage wolverine in the ring. His aggressive tendencies in the ring helped him earn the nicknames of “The Bronx Bull” and “Raging Bull”. In the ring, Jake LaMotta constantly stalked, brawled and fought against his opponents. He developed a bully’s reputation and boxed in a manner that would give a boxer a label of a “slugger” today. His hard nosed style of fighting resulted in him receiving as much punishment as he dished out on his opponents. Jake LaMotta was renowned for his jaw muscles and a thick skull. He absorbed a ridiculous amount of punishment and kept coming back for more. His chin is considered to be one of the best in boxing history. His rivalry with Sugar Ray Robinson is one of the most famous in boxing history. While the fights were all close and LaMotta knocked Robinson down multiple times, he only won one out of the six bouts. Jake LaMotta’s life was chronicled in the 1980 biopic, Raging Bull. Legendary actor Robert DeNiro played the role of Jake LaMotta. The role of Joey LaMotta, Jake LaMotta’s brother and manager, was played by Joe Pesci. Let’s find out more about this legendary boxer.

Jake LaMotta: Life and Career

When was Jake LaMotta born?

Jake LaMotta was born on the Lower East Side of New York City on July 10, 1922, to Italian parents. Many sources had reported his year of birth as 1921, but his daughter Christi said in a Facebook post immediately following his death that it was in fact 1922. His mother was born in the United States to Italian immigrants, while his father was an immigrant from Messina, Sicily, who came with family including his brother Joseph. The family lived briefly in Philadelphia before returning to New York and settling in the Bronx.

How did Jake LaMotta start boxing?

Jake’s father forced the boy to fight other boys in order to entertain neighborhood adults, who threw pocket change into the ring. LaMotta’s father collected the money and used it to help pay the rent. One of LaMotta’s much younger cousins on his father’s side was Richard LaMotta, who became an entrepreneur and creator of the Chipwich ice cream treat. LaMotta learned to box while in a reformatory in upstate New York, where he’d been sent for attempted robbery. Afterward, he fought undefeated in amateur bouts, turning professional at age 19 in 1941. 

Why was Jake LaMotta rejected for military service?

During World War II, he was rejected for military service; he had had a mastoid operation as a child on one of his ears and it affected his hearing.

Jake LaMotta: Boxing Career

As a middleweight in his first fifteen bouts, LaMotta went 14–0–1 (3 KOs) before losing a highly controversial split decision to Jimmy Reeves in Reeves’ hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Chaos erupted after the decision was announced. Fights broke out around the ring and the crowd continued to boo for 20 minutes. The arena’s organist tried (but failed) to calm down the crowd by playing the “Star Spangled Banner”.

One month later, LaMotta and Reeves fought again in the same arena. LaMotta lost a much less controversial decision. A third match between the two took place on March 19, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. The first five rounds were close, though Reeves was struggling in the fourth. In the sixth round, LaMotta floored Reeves, who was only down for a second. Once the fight resumed, LaMotta landed a left on Reeves’ chin, sending him down face-first. Reeves was blinking his eyes and shaking his head as the referee counted him out.

LaMotta vs. Robinson: First five fights

First Fight

Jake LaMotta fought Sugar Ray Robinson in Robinson’s middleweight debut at Madison Square Garden, New York, October 2, 1942. LaMotta knocked Robinson down in the first round of the fight. Robinson got up and took control over much of the fight, winning via a unanimous 10-round decision.

Second Fight

A 10-round rematch took place February 5, 1943, at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. The eighth round was historic. LaMotta landed a right to Robinson’s head and a left to his body, sending him through the ropes. Robinson was saved by the bell at the count of nine. LaMotta, who was already leading on the scorecards before knocking Robinson out of the ring, pummeled and outpointed him for the rest of the fight. Robinson had trouble keeping LaMotta at bay. LaMotta won via unanimous decision, giving Robinson the first defeat of his career.

Third Fight

The victory was short-lived, as the two met on February 26, 1943, in what was another 10-round fight, once again at Olympia Stadium in Robinson’s former home of Detroit. Robinson was knocked down for a nine-count in Round 7. Robinson later stated, “He really hurt me with a left in the seventh round. I was a little dazed and decided to stay on the deck.” Robinson won the close fight by unanimous decision, using a dazzling left jab and jarring uppercuts. LaMotta said the fight was given to Robinson because he would be inducted into the army the next day.

Fourth Fight

The duo’s final 10 rounder, took place nearly two years after the third, on February 23, 1945, at Madison Square Garden, New York. Robinson won again by a unanimous decision.

Fifth Fight

LaMotta and Robinson had their fifth bout at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois on September 26, 1945. Robinson won by a very controversial split decision, contested over 12 rounds. The decision was severely booed by the 14,755 people in attendance. LaMotta later said in his autobiography that the decision was widely criticized by several newspapers and boxing publishers. Robinson said afterward, “This was the toughest fight I’ve ever had with LaMotta.”

LaMotta vs. Fox

On November 14, 1947, LaMotta was knocked out in the fourth round 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 him later in life, during a case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In his testimony and in his later book, LaMotta admitted to throwing the fight 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 World Middleweight Champion Marcel Cerdan.

In 1960 LaMotta was called to testify before a U.S. Senate sub-committee that was looking into underworld influence on boxing. He testified that he had thrown his bout with Billy Fox so that the mob would arrange a title bout for him.

LaMotta vs. Cerdan

LaMotta won the World Middleweight title on June 16, 1949 in Detroit, Michigan, defeating Frenchman Marcel Cerdan. LaMotta won the first round (in which he knocked Cerdan down), Cerdan the second, and the third was even. At that point it became clear something was wrong. Cerdan dislocated his arm in the first round, apparently damaged in the knockdown, and gave up before the start of the 10th round. LaMotta damaged his left hand in the fifth round, but still landed 104 punches in the ninth round, whereas Cerdan hardly threw a punch. The official score had LaMotta as the winner by a knockout in 10 rounds because the bell had already rung to begin that round when Cerdan announced he was quitting. A rematch was arranged, but while Cerdan was flying back to the United States to fight the rematch, his Air France Lockheed Constellation crashed in the Azores, killing everyone on board.

World Middleweight Champion

LaMotta made his first title defense against Tiberio Mitri on July 7, 1950, at Madison Square Garden, New York. LaMotta retained his title via unanimous decision. LaMotta’s next defense came on September 13, 1950, against Laurent Dauthuille. Dauthuille had previously beaten LaMotta by decision before LaMotta became world champion. By the fifteenth round, Dauthuille was ahead on all scorecards (72–68, 74–66, 71–69) and seemed to be about to repeat a victory against LaMotta. LaMotta hit Dauthuille with a barrage of punches that sent him down against the ropes toward the end of the round. Dauthuille was counted out with 13 seconds left in the fight. This fight was named Fight of the Year for 1950 by The Ring magazine.

Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of boxing


The sixth and final fight between LaMotta and Robinson took place at Chicago Stadium. This fight was scheduled for 15 rounds and was for the middleweight title. Held on February 14, 1951, Saint Valentine’s Day, the fight became known as boxing’s version of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. In the last few rounds, LaMotta began to take a horrible beating and was soon unable to defend himself from Robinson’s powerful blows. But LaMotta refused to go down. Robinson won by a technical knockout in the 13th round, when the fight was stopped. Later in his life, Jake LaMotta said that in the six fights they had in their career, Sugar Ray Robinson never knocked him down while LaMotta knocked him down three times.

Light heavyweight

LaMotta moved up to light heavyweight after losing his world middleweight title. He had poor results at first. He lost his debut against Bob Murphy, lost a split decision to Norman Hayes, and drew with Gene Hairston in his first three bouts. In his next three fights, LaMotta had rematches with Hayes, Hairston, and Murphy, and defeated all of them by unanimous decision.

On December 31, 1952, LaMotta had his next fight against Danny Nardico. He knocked LaMotta down for the only time in his career (not counting his thrown 1947 fight) by a right hand in the seventh round. LaMotta got up and was beaten against a corner by Nardico until the bell rang. LaMotta’s corner stopped the bout before the eighth round began.

When did Jake LaMotta Retire?

Following that fight, LaMotta took time off; when he returned, in early 1954, he knocked out his first two opponents, Johnny Pretzie (TKO 4) and Al McCoy (KO 1), but a controversial split decision loss to Billy Kilgore on April 14, 1954 convinced him to retire.

Jake LaMotta: Post Boxing Career

After retiring from the ring, Jake LaMotta owned and managed a bar at 1120 Collins Avenue Miami Beach. He also became a stage actor and stand-up comedian. 

When was Jake LaMotta arrested?

In 1958 he was arrested and charged with introducing men to an underage girl at a club he owned in Miami. He was convicted and served six months on a chain gang, although he maintained his innocence.

Jake LaMotta: Movie Career

LaMotta appeared in more than 15 films, including The Hustler (1961) with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, in which he had a role as a bartender. He appeared in several episodes of the NBC police comedy Car 54 Where Are You? (1961–63). 

What was the name of Jake LaMotta’s baseball team?

A lifelong baseball fan, he organized the Jake LaMotta All-Star Team in the Bronx. The LaMotta team played in Sterling Oval which was located between 165th and 164th Streets between Clay and Teller Avenue.

Jake LaMotta: Fighting Style

Jake LaMotta is recognized as having had 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 the 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.

What is the name of Jake LaMotta’s memoir?

Raging Bull: My Story is a 1970 memoir by middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. The autobiography revealed Jake LaMotta’s life as a young teenage criminal; reformation in prison; boxing career; struggle with the mafia, which kept the boxing title out of reach; and his jealous obsession with his wife, Vikki. The book details his life, from childhood until the end of his fame.

Who is the movie Raging Bull based on?

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, released in 1980, was initially only a minor box office success, but eventually received overwhelming critical acclaim for both director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, who gained about 60 pounds during the shooting of the film to play the older LaMotta in later scenes.

How did Robert De Niro train for Raging Bull?

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 the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

Jake LaMotta: Marriages and Children

Jake LaMotta’s personal life was about as vicious as his boxing career. He spent some time in a reformatory and married a staggering seven times. He admitted beating his wives and coming close to beating a man to death during a robbery.

In February 1998, LaMotta’s elder son, Jake LaMotta Jr., died of liver cancer. In September 1998, his younger son, Joseph LaMotta, died in the crash of Swissair Flight 111.

His nephew, John LaMotta, fought in the heavyweight-novice class of the 2001 Golden Gloves championship tournament. John later became an actor, and one of his roles was as “Duke”, who ran the bar of that name featured in the television comedy series Frasier. Another nephew, William Lustig, is a well-known director and producer of horror films and the president of Blue Underground, Inc. LaMotta had four daughters, including Christi by his second wife Vikki LaMotta and Stephanie by his fourth wife Dimitria. He married his seventh wife, his longtime fiancée Denise Baker, on January 4, 2013.

LaMotta remained active on the speaking and autograph circuit, and published several books about his career, his life, and his fights with Robinson. 

Is Jake LaMotta in the International Boxing Hall of Fame?

He was a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was ranked 52nd on Ring Magazine’s List of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years. The magazine ranked him as one of the 10 greatest middleweights of all time.

LaMotta appeared in a 50-minute New York stage production, Lady and the Champ, in July 2012. The production focused on LaMotta’s boxing career, and was criticized by The New York Times as poorly executed and a “bizarre debacle”.

Did Jake LaMotta try to make a sequel to Raging Bull?

Jake LaMotta was the subject of a documentary directed and produced by Greg Olliver. The film featured an appearance by Mike Tyson among other notable athletes, actors and Jake’s family and friends. Also in production was a sequel to Raging Bull, although MGM filed suit to halt the project, saying that LaMotta did not have the right to make a sequel. The lawsuit was settled on July 31, 2012, when LaMotta agreed to change the title of the film to The Bronx Bull.

LaMotta: The Bronx Bull starred actor William Forsythe as LaMotta, while Paul Sorvino plays his father. It also features Joe Mantegna, Tom Sizemore, Penelope Ann Miller, Natasha Henstridge, Joey Diaz and Ray Wise.

Jake LaMotta: Best Quotes


I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times, it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes.

Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest, pound-for-pound, ever. He fought most of his career with just one loss, and that was to me. He had 131 fights with one loss.

The three toughest fighters I fought were Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Sugar Ray Robinson.

When I was a kid, I wanted to fight Joe Louis. But I think if I had seen Mike Tyson at that time, I would have said, ‘Nah, I don’t want to fight him.’ He’s deadly. He could have been one of the great heavyweight champions. But he goofed.

I never went to church. The priests couldn’t scare me with all that crap about hell, but somehow I knew, inside of me somehow, I knew that I’d pay for it.

I ask for personal appearance fees because I’ve earned them. I deserve them. My presence at events is what they need, so they ought to pay for it.

I’ve been in jail twice. The first time was at reform school: they got me for carrying burglar’s tools, something like that. The morals charge was a frame-up.

I purposely lost a fight to Billy Fox because they promised me that I would get a shot to fight for the title if I did.

Something’s bound to happen to you in a tough fight: cut eye, broken nose or broken hand or something like that. So you could make excuses out of anything, you know, but you got to keep on going if you’re a champ or you’re a contender.

Forward, always moving forward, from the time I can remember – a kid. I was short, and the big guys would take advantage; I had to turn myself into a body puncher. By that time I was in reform school, they’d have a boxing match every week; they’d bring guys in from outside to fight me.

Subconsciously – I didn’t know it then, I realize it today when I know a little bit more about the mind and the brain – I fought like I didn’t deserve to live.

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.

When did Jake LaMotta die?

Jake LaMotta passed away as a result of pneumonia related complications on September 19th, 2017. He was 95 years old.

So that was a brief look at the life and career of the toughest fighter to ever enter a boxing ring, Jake LaMotta. Throughout his career, he never backed down and always administered as much punishment as he received. The iron chinned boxer fought savagely in the ring and had a tumultuous personal life as well. Despite some of the negative things associated with him, Jake LaMotta will always be remembered as the hardest boxer to knock down.


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