Six brutal fights, fought over nine years, between two of the greatest fighters ever. Today in 1942, two legendary fighters – real legends, not merely good fighters who were showered with this overused word – met for the first time. Sugar Ray Robinson, for many the finest all-round fighter of all time, and Jake LaMotta, for many the single toughest fighting man of them all, fought a ten-round non-title fight at middleweight.
The world had seen the birth of arguably THE most savage and intense boxing rivalry in history. These two men brought out the best in each other – over the course of 65 gruelling rounds. Robinson won the first fight, this his 160 pound debut, but Sugar was beaten in the return. Also, LaMotta was able to put Robinson down more than once during the rivalry. In the end, Sugar Ray ended up winning the rivalry 5 to 1, and Robinson scored the only stoppage of the series, this when he hit the anvil-chinned defending middleweight king with everything he had in that gruesome 13th and final round on February 14, 1951 – “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
Today, there are hardly any people left alive when it comes to people who were there at these simply epic fights. Sugar Ray passed away in 1989, while LaMotta, who looked for a while as though he might live forever, passed away, at age 95, in 2017. Incredibly, despite the furious amount of leather Sugar Ray landed on him, Jake lived into old age whilst being healthy and in full command of his faculties. Sadly, Robinson was not so lucky, his final years seeing him fight a battle he could not win.
Just a few months before his own death in 2018, the great match-maker Don Chargin was kind enough to speak with this writer. Don looked back on the Robinson-LaMotta rivalry. And Chargin, who passed way at age 90, was there, live and in person to see Robinson and LaMotta fight.
“Jake LaMotta was some fighter,” Chargin said when appraising “The Bronx Bull” shortly after the former champ’s death. “The greatest fighter I ever saw live was Sugar Ray Robinson. For Jake to have had those six truly great fights with Robinson just shows you how great he was himself. You cannot imagine how tough those fights were. To me, Lamotta has to go in the top-10 greatest fighters of anybody’s list – certainly, his chin has to!
“I first saw Robinson in 1948 and he was just incredible. But LaMotta beat him, when he [Robinson] was 40-0. Again, you can’t really understand how vicious those fights were, all six of them. Look at it this way: Jake beat Ray in their second fight (in February of 1943, this four months after Robinson-LaMotta-I) and Robinson wanted to avenge that defeat. They fought just three weeks after their second fight, which was a very rough and tough fight, but Robinson boxed another fight in-between that fight! Ray fought a good contender in California Jackie Wilson (a pts win for Ray), before fighting the rematch with Jake a week afterwards. You just wouldn’t hear of anything like that today.”
Neither will we ever see as savage, as epic, as brutal a boxing rivalry as Robinson Vs. LaMotta today. Not even close.