29th November 2019
By: Joe Brannigan
Jake La Motta vs Sugar Ray Robinson
14th February 1951
What was on the line?
Middleweight World Title
Why has it been called the Saint Valentine’s day Massacre?
Sports writers coined this phrase in collusion with the murder of seven members of Chicago’s infamous North Side Gang in 1929. On the morning of the murders, all seven men were brought to an old garage in the Lincoln Park area of the city, where they were lined up against a wall by their captors before being shot in the back. Reasons for the murders were stemmed within the violent struggle for organized crime control in the underbelly of 1920s Chicago. Of course, everything was propelled and fuelled by the criminal waves which were catalysed by Prohibition. Although no citizens were ever found guilty of committing the murders, a general historic consensus is that four members of the Egan’s Rats Gang (who worked for Chicago gangster Al Capone) fired the bullets. Interestingly, a number of Chicago Police Department officers are also said to have had a role to play in organizing the massacre in response to the murder of a police officer’s son.
Although no murder was committed in Chicago Stadium 22 years later, there was still a massacre.
In his twilight years, LaMotta often gave interviews concerning his impressive pugilist career. Despite 83 wins throughout US boxing’s heyday, he will always be remembered for 5 losses (and 1 win) at the hands of the great Sugar Ray Robinson. When asked about his six battles he would often quip ‘I fought Sugar Ray so often he gave me diabetes!’. Each fight presents phenomenal skill, heart, technique and strategy of two all time greats in the peak of their Middleweight careers. Which is exactly why they fought 6 times. They were as two sided as any fights can be.
Going into the fight as the reigning Middleweight champion, LaMotta was experiencing some weight difficulties (6lbs over the weight limit the night before the fight) and was experiencing copious personal issues with his home-life. Robinson on the other hand had a string of KOs throughout Middleweight division (including future champion Carl ‘Bobo’ Oslon) and had not lost a fight since 1943 (LaMotta v. Robinson 1). However, LaMotta had never visited the canvas or suffered a KO loss in neither the professional or amateur circuit. Going in, it was anyone’s fight. The rugged brawler or the slick technician.
Over the course of the first 8 rounds, Robinson implemented his usual strategy against the brawler. He focused on making LaMotta chase him down, in a hope of rendering the champion exhausted by the tail end of the fight. Despite sticking and moving consistently, LaMotta was having excellent success with body-head combinations and was able to cut the ring off on his challenger. He suffered numerous stinging blows, from the hands of Robinson, but he was ahead on the scorecards with 2/3 judges. At this stage it looked as though LaMotta would be breaking Robinson’s winning streak yet again.
Over the next few rounds, Robinson began to have more success with his strategy, as LaMotta was clearly tiring fast from chasing the more athletic opponent. His stinging punches were now slowing the champion’s punch rate and accuracy, with some classic combinations in the 10th and 11th rounds. The 12th round concluded with a brutal assault on LaMotta’s body, where he absorbed everything Robinson had. At this stage, the tides had turned into the favour of Robinson, with a points decision in sight.
The 13th round goes down in history as one of the most brutal rounds the sport has ever seen. LaMotta at this stage, had not only lost his energy – he had lost his heart. The round opened with stinging jabs and body shots being landed with consecutive success from Robinson, followed by viscous uppercuts to the champion’s swollen face. As LaMotta offered less and less competition, an exhausted Robinson connected with 17 unanswered punches to the face of the champion before the referee stopped the bout. As Robinson’s hand was raised, a brutalized LaMotta remained at the ropes, completely disorientated but still on his feet. His title may have traded hands, but he ‘never went down’ in the process.
Although he suffered another loss to Robinson, no one can doubt what LaMotta achieved in Chicago Stadium in 1951. The sixth and final fight between the two great champions remains to this day, one of the greatest fights to come from the Middleweight division.
Author – Joe Brannigan