By: Sean Crose
Legendary middleweight champion Jake LaMotta has died, leaving a long and memorable legacy upon exiting this world at 95 years of age. Growing up tough in the Bronx (his father reportedly forced him to fight other children so the family could have extra income) LaMotta grew to become one of the most iconic fighters of an iconic era (the 40s through the 50s). One simply doesn’t beat a 40-Ray Robinson without getting some much deserved credit after all. Yet the man known far and wide as “The Raging Bull” (he was also called “The Bronx Bull”) will be remembered for a variety of reasons as time moves on.
First and foremost, there’s the fact that LaMotta could fight. Really fight. Don’t let that single victory against Robinson sway your opinion. LaMotta fought many of the top fighters of his era aside from Robinson, such as Fritzie Zivic and Marcel Cerdan, who he lifted the middleweight title from (Cerdan was unable to meet LaMotta for a rematch because he tragically died in a plane crash before he could face his victor a second time).
What was most memorable about LaMotta in the ring, however, was the brutal style the man chose for himself. Never a slickster or power puncher, the guy would literally take a ton of punishment in order to pull out the win. Not that LaMotta was just some unpolished bruiser. The fighter had skill, as well, enough to keep some of the assaults he took from his opposition from doing more damage than they actually could have. Ultimately, however, LaMotta was the picture of aggression and sheer determination when he was in the ring. He once credited his style with being borne of frustration, as LaMotta reputedly wouldn’t allow himself to have sex before a fight. Whether this assertion was true or not is ultimately irrelevant, however, in the face of the fighter’s incredible bravado.
Yet LaMotta will also be remembered for having a large degree of shadinesss thrown into to his story – at least during the earlier parts of it. He had spent time in a reform school, after all. He also wasn’t much of a role model as an adult, throwing a fight for the mob, going through six marriages and having a history of spousal abuse. To LaMotta’s credit, though, the fighter grew remorseful with age, admitting he had been “a no-good bastard” in his younger years. Bad behavior, it should be noted, doesn’t always bring about remorse, nor does it often bring about a public admission of guilt.
Which, of course, leads to the famed Martin Scorcese film which was – on the most basic level, at least – based on LaMotta’s own life. Buoyed by Robert DeNiro’s classic performance (in which he literally went from fighting shape to overweight in the course of making the film), “Raging Bull” the movie is an intense study of jealousy, brutality and one man’s slow self awareness. And, as far as public consciousness goes, it elevated it’s subject from a famed boxer to memorable figure in the culture at large…something LaMotta remained until his death in Miami on Tuesday, and will most likely remain for years to come.