By James Slater: Today, movie legend Robert De Niro was interviewed on BBC radio, and the star of so many great films spoke about the 30th anniversary the timeless masterpiece that is Raging Bull celebrates this year. De Niro, of course, played the scarily-tough Jake LaMotta in the 1980 Oscar-winner, and many critics say De Niro never put in a better performance in front of the cameras.
Interestingly, De Niro’s interviewer spoke of the rumours that say a sequel to the boxing classic may be something that gets made down the road. De Niro said he hasn’t heard anything of the various internet rumours, but that he thinks the idea – of a film that looks at the 25 or so years of Jake’s life after the original movie ends – is a good one.
Anyway, LaMotta, as great as he was, was five times beaten by an even greater fighter; a boxing master known as Sugar Ray Robinson. And it was on this exact day, December 20th in 1946, that the man born Walker Smith Junior won his first world title.
At the legendary Madison Square Garden, the 25-year-old, 73-1-1 Robinson (the sole loss coming against “The Raging Bull,” on points over ten-rounds in February of 1943) met Bell in a rematch of their January 1945 meeting (won on points over ten by Ray) and this time the vacant world welterweight title was on the line.
Despite winning a wide (on two of the three cards) fifteen-round UD over the 39-10-2 23-year-old, Robinson had no easy time in the fight. Decked in the 2nd-round, “Sugar” rallied to win the middle and later rounds against the man who, like he, had shared a ring with the fearsome LaMotta. After being made to wait for his shot at world glory for an unacceptable amount of time (due to refusing to deal with the mob, who then controlled world boxing), Robinson worked hard and finally had his hand raised by referee Eddie Joseph. The 147-pound crown that had been vacated by Marty Servo was now Robinson’s.
As any student of boxing knows well enough, a truly glorious reign followed for the man who had “borrowed” the name Ray Robinson from a New York bartender (the “Sugar” was added later, when a female fan sat at ringside remarked that the fighter who had just won was as sweet as sugar). Not only did Robinson defend his welterweight title on a number of occasions – five in all (fighters such as Robinson took a number of non-title bouts in between their world title duties) – but he also moved up in weight and captured the world middleweight crown.
Facing arch rival LaMotta for the sixth and final time on Saint Valentine’s Day in 1951, Robinson engaged in one of the most spectacular, the most grueling and the most memorably brutal fights in boxing history. Finally halting the unbelievably stubborn “Bronx Bull” in the 13th-round by way of a TKO, not a KO (“you never got me down, Ray,” movie folklore has us believe the beaten LaMotta spat at the victorious Robinson), Sugar was a two-weight king.
Strangely, as we all know, it was Jake who had his life story made into a film, not the greater fighter, Ray. But as all fight fans known, as good as LaMotta was (in the ring, that is!), Robinson was far better.
The original and best Sugar Ray may not have a masterpiece of a movie made about him and his life, but due to his astonishing boxing skill, his bravery, his willingness to face the best and, most of all, the ability he had to make boxing appear as beautiful as it was brutal, his name will forever be remembered.