65 years ago on New Year’s Eve of all nights for a prize fight, light-heavyweight contender Danny Nardico accomplished something that no other man had done at the time, and no other man ever would: the 25 year old knocked down and stopped the seemingly unstoppable Jake LaMotta. Nardico, who was sporting a hard-earned 42-8-4 pro ledger, faced a fading but still tough LaMotta, 81-17-14, in what would be one of the former middleweight king’s final fights.
LaMotta, aged 30, met Nardico in Florida whilst fighting at a weight that was too high for him, yet all the same it was shocking seeing Jake – a warrior many historians say all these years later had THE best chin in all of boxing – going down, and then being pummelled after he bravely clambered back up.
The fight, a rough and tough slugfest that saw the younger, fresher man get the better of things, in the middle rounds of the non-title fight especially, was captured on film and can be viewed today on YouTube. Tiring badly by the seventh-round, LaMotta was taking heavy punishment. Then, towards the end of the session it happened: a right hand sent LaMotta down, badly stunned. Using the ropes to hoist himself upright, Jake then took some wicked shots. Attempting to fight back and hold on in equal measure, LaMotta held the top rope with his right hand and fired some punches with his left.
But Nardico, born in Ohio but fighting out of Tampa, Florida, had a badly wounded man in front of him and he knew it; Jake’s formidable reputation be damned. Nardico hit LaMotta flush and often, violently snapping the ex-champ’s head back. Somehow, using all his experience, ruggedness and sheer desire, LaMotta held on to see out the round. But he had had enough and his corner pulled him out. It’s down in the books as a corner retirement loss for Jake, but who knows, had he come out for the eighth, LaMotta may well have been knocked out or rescued by the referee.
It was easily the biggest win of Nardico’s career, a career that never saw him challenge for a world title. In his very next fight after stopping “The Bronx Bull,” Nardico fought Joey Maxim in a fight to decide the next challenger for world light-heavyweight king Archie Moore; Nardico lost via unanimous decision.
Nardico, who passed a way at the age of 85 in 2010, never won the crown but with the win over LaMotta he put his name firmly into the record books. Nardico’s final record reads: 50-13-4(35), he was stopped just four times.