The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre…Sugar Ray Robinson Slaughters The Bronx Bull, Jake LaMotta

r.robinsonBy Dax Ferguson - The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre brings to mind a blood bath day in the Lincoln Park area on Chicago’s North Side in 1929. Factions of Al Capone’s Italian South Side gang raided a warehouse filled with bootleg whiskey. Two of the men were dressed as police officers and two others worn trench coats, concealing Thompson sub machine guns, commonly called Tommy guns. They were anticipating “rubbing out” Bugs Moran, boss of the Irish North Side gang and his gang. The conflict stemmed from bootleg operations and a couple of Capone’s men had been killed.

The four Capone henchmen brought seven men out of the warehouse and lined them up, facing the wall. The Moran men subjected, believing erroneously that the perpetrators were actually Chicago policemen. The four Capone assassins then mercilessly cut down the unwary seven victims, pumping 20 slugs from one Tommy gun and 50 from another, coupled with a couple shotgun blasts into the unsuspecting Moran men..

This was the most blatant assignation in gangland history and it ultimately marked the downfall of the Capone empire when the FBI got involved with a vengeance. Capone wound up in the penitentiary for tax evasion, the only crome they could get him on.

Fast forward to February 14, 1951, old rivals welterweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta, king of the middleweights, meet in a scheduled 15 rounder for LaMotta’s middleweight crown. These two were no strangers to each other, having met no less than five times previously and every fight was a total war.

Robinson was a sleek 5’11” boxer-puncher who had won the world welterweight title by beating Tommy Bell in 1 15 round decision on December 20, 1946 after being held hostage for five years, being denied a well deserved title shot. Hard to believe that Robbie had already had 75 professional bouts (73-1-1) when he finally fought for the title. That’s a far cry from today when fighters with less than two dozen bouts get opportunities to win one of the meaningless alphabet soup titles.

LaMotta was aptly named, the Bronx Bull, a squat, tough as nails face in your face brawler who knew only one way to fight, simply overwhelm the opponent with non stop aggression. Not a big puncher, Jake won by sheer tenacity with a volume of punches and a cast iron chin, one of the best ever in the history of boxing. Jake won the middleweight title from the great Frenchman Marcel Cerdan when Cerdan had to quit in after the tenth round because of a shoulder injury. A rematch was scheduled but Cerdan unfortunately perished when the plane bringing him back to the United States crashed into the Azores, killing all passengers.

However, Jake’s brief tenure as world champ hadn’t been that impressive, losing a unanimous decision to Frenchman Robert Villemain in a non-title affair in his very next bout. And he had a real scare in a title defense against another classy Frenchman Laurent Dauthuille. Trailing badly on points. Jake pulled out a desperation final round knockout with 13 seconds left in the fight. It was Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year. The notion was that LaMotta was ripe for picking and Robinson was installed as the favorite. That and the fact that Robby had won 4 out of their 5 previous matches.

They first met in October of 1942 at Madison Square Garden in New York. A 145 pound Robinson gave up 12 ½ pounds and won a unanimous decision. In a return match, LaMotta evened the score four months later in Detroit, giving Robinson a schellacking. Robinson was knocked out of the ring, being saved by the bell by a knockout at the count of nine. Robinson was much lighter, scaling 144 ½ to LaMotta’s 160 ½ and saw his 40 fight unbeaten streak abruptly and emphatically ended.

Robinson was not one to let this indignity go unanswered and just twenty-one days later he met LaMotta for the third time and although Robby was down for a nine count in the seventh, he won a lop sided decision. Robinson gave away 15 ½ pounds in this Detroit match.

They met again two years later at Madison Square Garden, Robinson at 148 to 158, winning a unanimous decision, 6-4, 6-3-1 and 7-1-2.

Seven months later, in what Robinson called his toughest fight with LaMotta, he won a close but unanimous disputed decision at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Ray weighed 150 to 159 for Jake. LaMotta came screaming down the pike, winning big in the 9th, 10th and 11th rounds. Many fans felt Jake deserved to win this one.

It is four and a half years before the two will meet again. LaMotta agrees to defend his title against Robinson because he knows the bout is the biggest money for him and also because he feels over 15 rounds he will definitely wear Robinson down and keep his crown. Robinson on the other hand is finding it increasingly difficult if not impossible to make the welterweight limit of 147 pounds. Robinson enters the ring with an incredible 120-1-2 record compared to Jake’s 78-14-3 record. LaMotta also had bragging rights in the fact he had never been knocked off his feet.

The fight is a blistering inferno from the git go as anticipated. LaMotta pursues Robinson all over the ring in the opening stanza, getting off to a fast start. But Robinson gets his bearings and comes back to win the next three rounds. LaMotta’s aggression combined with an excellent left jab and a swarming offensive seem to be taking a toll on Robinson in the middle rounds and the Sugarman is subjected to some heavy artillery from LaMotta. Some are already questioning if Robinson will be able to survive the Bronx Bull’s onslaught as he has taken some heavy punishment from the heavier and stronger man.

Those questions were partially answered when Robinson won the 8th and 9th and then began to frequently land double left hooks and hard rights in the 10th. In the 11th LaMotta cornered Robinson and let loose with a barrage of punches that for the most part Ray avoided by bobbing and weaving and although some got through, he never appeared to be in serious trouble. It was to prove the last hurrah for Jake.

After weathering the storm, Robinson retaliated with barrage after barrage that had the tired and dazed LaMotta out on his feet.

In the 12th, LaMotta, his right eye cut and his stamina totally diminished, was subjected to one of the most positively devastating physical beatings any human being was ever subjected to in the ring or anywhere else for that matter. Robinson opened up with his spectacular array of punches and literally beat Jake from pillar to post. Today this fight would have been stopped a round earlier but Referee Frank Sikora allowed the devastation to continue.

Miraculously, LaMotta was allowed to continue in the 13th round although the outcome would have been totally obvious even to a blind man who could clearly hear the smashing blows landed by Robinson with deadly precision on LaMotta . With Jake’s left eye closed and his face a bloody misshapen mess, Referee Sikora finally mercifully stopped the slaughter at 2:04 of the round.

Robinson proved that he deserved praise as arguably the greatest pound for pound fighter the world had ever known. And Jake demonstrated beyond any doubt that he had just proven to be one of the toughest guys ever to grace a boxing ring.

Years later, Jake responded to a question as to how many times he had fought Sugar Ray Robinson by saying, “I fought him so many times it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes!”

Admittedly, their Valentine’s Day match in 1951 didn’t quite equal the original epic of 1929 in terms of blood and savagery but it sure as hell came close. It was a classic.

Article posted on 15.02.2010

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