Chicago Stadium, February 14, 1951: Sugar Ray Robinson-Jake LaMotta VI, for the middleweight championship of the world.
It was 70 years ago today when fierce rivals Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta met in their sixth and final fight, excuse me, war. The two men had to dig incredibly deep in each battle, yet the finale was the most punishing of the series. In fact, some historians say the fight dubbed “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” deserves to go down as the greatest, most savage middleweight title fight of them all.
Robinson had won fight-one, with Jake coming back to win the return, in doing so taking the uncrowned welterweight king’s unbeaten record. Sugar Ray came back and won three close and hard fights with “The Bronx Bull.” The two greats were now 4-1, with Robinson holding the lead. All five fights, sorry, wars, had gone the distance. Now, with LaMotta defending the middleweight crown against his nemesis, the two stars put it all on the line once more.
Robinson was an incredible 120-1-2, his sole loss coming against LaMotta. Jake was 78-14-3, and, as all fans know, he had never been stopped. Robinson was a few months shy of his 30th birthday, and the best to ever do it was at or around his peak. LaMotta was 28 and as tough as ever. Fans settled in, knowing they would be treated to another great fight between two men who had such different fighting styles and personalities.
LaMotta had struggled to make the 160-pound limit, and Robinson knew about it. The challenger made the defending champ work in the early and middle rounds, this in an an attempt to make LaMotta’s gas tank empty. The approach worked, if at a cost. After eight rounds, two judges had LaMotta ahead. Then Sugar Ray came on in terrific fashion. Unloading his best shots, Robinson showed his greatness. The fight became a one-sided beating, with LaMotta staying in there only because of his legendary chin.
Sugar Ray was fast; he was smooth, he was deadly accurate (not that LaMotta was a hard man to nail, certainly not by this stage of the fight). But the proud champion refused to give in, to yield, to stop coming forward. LaMotta, a possessor of one of the most frighteningly hard heads in all of boxing, was on the verge of exhaustion. The fight had been waged at a fierce pace, and now, his energy levels plummeting, in large part due to the strain of making weight, Jake was having to channel his inner demons in an effort to keep going.
Jake was a complex individual, suffering from paranoia and jealousy, and now he was taking perverse pride in taking the sickening beating. Perhaps LaMotta felt it was a beating he deserved. Whatever the case, Jake refused to give in; he refused to fall. His head now being violently slammed in all directions, a bloodied LaMotta took the most unrelenting beating seen in any round of boxing this side of Ali-Frazier III, round-14. Even hardened fight historians were sick to their stomachs due to the carnage on display in the thirteenth round.
Robinson landed too many flush headshots to count, with LaMotta wilting yet not going over. Did Jake really utter the words, ‘You never got me down, Ray?’ It doesn’t matter. LaMotta never did taste the canvas, with Robinson instead getting his victory via a referee-enforced TKO. The sight of LaMotta pinned on the ropes, both arms outstretched across the cables, gave off an image that made some think of a crucifixion.
Robinson was now a two-weight king, and he had seen the last of his most relentless and demanding ring rival. We may never see a fight as brutal, as damaging, as demanding ever again.
Happy Valentine’s Day.