Great Feuds – St Valentine’s Day Massacre (diary entry)


Tuesday night returned us to the careers of Jake “The Bronx Bull” LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson. None of their first five matchups are easy to access, at least the first three were damaged beyond repair, and we have to settle for what many consider to be a legendary sixth contest: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. This would be the last time the two fighters met and would be a key scene in Martin Scorsese’s biopic on LaMotta, “Raging Bull”. However, before we got there I decided to pull up a match apiece for these two great fighters prior to their final confrontation.

lamottaJake LaMotta vs Laurent Dauthuille Undisputed World Middleweight Championship 13.09.1950

When last we left LaMotta he had won the World Middle Championship from the hugely successful slugger Marcel Cerdan who had retired Tony “The Steelman” Zale to win the title previously. LaMotta, known for his hard chin, had taken dive against “Black Jack” Billy Fox in 1947 in order to get a shot at Cerdan or whoever was the champion two years later. LaMotta’s dive was suspected at the time and he was suspended from New York on the grounds that he had an injury. However, the eventual title victory had not been a satisfactory one with Cerdan’s loss undeniably a result of the dislocated shoulder he suffered in the first round when LaMotta had thrown him from a clinch. The champion had fought on valiantly, even winning early rounds one-handed, but he was unable to leave his stool for 10th due to his injury. A rematch had been scheduled but Cerdan had been killed in a plane crash.

LaMotta’s next fight hadn’t been a title defence and he had lost a unanimous decision to Robert Villemain. Villemain had previously been beaten by LaMotta on a split decision earlier that year. He would fight Sugar Ray Robinson for the vacant Pennsylvania Middleweight title the following year, losing to a unanimous decision. LaMotta would win his next three non-title matches, stopping Dick Wagner and Chuck Hunter inside the distance and beat Joe Taylor on a unanimous decision. In July 1950 he would defend his title for the first time against Tiberio Mitri. Mitri was a 50-0 Italian and European Middleweight Champion who go on to knock out former World Middleweight Champion, Randy Turpin in 1954. He defended his European title for the first time against Jean Stock who will see in the next fight with Robinson. LaMotta won a unanimous decision over Mitri who he claimed lacked balance and compared him to Cerdan who thought to be an over-rated fighter.

On 13th September LaMotta defended his title a second time. This time his opponent was the French man Laurent Dauthuille, the “Tarzan of Buzenval”. He had already beaten LaMotta previously in Quebec, Canada by unanimous decision over 10 rounds. The fight had been intense with both men being examined by a doctor in the sixth round due to gashes above their eyes. The rematch was set for the following year by which time LaMotta had the title on the line.

Despite this match being declared Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year, we only access to the final gripping round. For the first 14 rounds it looked like LaMotta was definitely set to lose his title to an out-boxer who used a counter-punching style regularly penetrating his opponent’s defences. By the final round he was ahead on the score-cards and just needed to do what every great out-boxer is told: keep away. LaMotta was a classic swarmer known not for a single knockout punch but for incredible durability and crowding with multiple strikes. Dauthuille, however, thought LaMotta looked spent and decided to claim the belt with a decisive knockout. This appeared to play right into LaMotta’s hands – quite literally – and with 13 seconds to spare he held onto his title by sending the challenger down for the count with a looping right.


Sugar Ray Robinson vs Jean Stock 27.11.1950

Robinson had been the undisputed World Welterweight Champion since 1946. He had successfully defended the title five times and beaten anyone else within that weight division in non-title fights. It had got to the stage where no one wanted to fight him at welterweight. He had beaten Robert Villeman for the Pennsylvania Middleweight Championship in 1950 and defended it once. He was now on a European tour where he would defeat fighters in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and several times in France in his warm-up to take on LaMotta one more time for the World Middleweight Championship. Most of these victories came by stoppages. Known for his wild social life outside of the ring by now, the idea of the tour was to keep him busy but that didn’t stop him from becoming very popular on the European scene. He entered his match with Jean Stock 116–1–2.

Jean Stock was very much the journeyman whose career would end two years after his bout with Robinson. He was a slugger by nature, 25 of his 44 all-time career victories were by knockout. He would lose 18 times and draw four times. Born in 1923 and standing at 5’8” was a natural middleweight but never fought outside of Western Europe.

The fight did not last long. We only had the second round available, where Robinson knocked Stock down three times before the towel was thrown in. We observed a slugger being totally outgunned as his preferred range.

lamotta robinson viJake LaMotta versus Sugar Ray Robinson Undisputed World Middleweight Championship 14.02.1951

These two had fought a total of five times. LaMotta was a consummate swarmer, which should have been a nightmare for out-boxers. This was not the Henry Armstrong style of swarmer who adeptly used the clinch to hide punches and wearing down opponents, this was more the Jack Dempsey/Rocky Marciano style that machine-gunned in countless punches on the inside. He was appropriately named the Bronx Bull for the way he charged in and tore his opponents to shreds. However, Robinson was a hybrid of out-boxer and puncher. Despite his superb footwork, punching accuracy and ring generalship, he possessed some serious knockout power at all ranges. This area usually reserved for the sluggers are the swarmer’s dread. Yet LaMotta also had something firmly in his corner: he had one of the greatest chins in the history of the sport.

The first time had gone to Robinson on points despite giving away 10lbs to LaMotta. The second time had seen LaMotta send Robinson through the ropes and give Sugar the first defeat of his career. The third time they saw LaMotta knock Robinson down again, but this time the unanimous decision went to the boxer-puncher. Another unanimous decision went to Robinson for their fourth meeting with LaMotta only getting one of the 10 rounds. The fifth bout delivered something different. It was a very bloody and desperate affair that Robinson considered to be the toughest fight of his career up to that point. He narrowly edged a 12 round decision, but a good number of people felt that LaMotta had been robbed. Their last meeting had been in the welterweight division in 1945 with Robinson going on to win it the following year and LaMotta, who always struggled to make weight, climbing up to do battle with the middleweights. Despite the fact that Robinson had beaten LaMotta four times out of five, their last bout had created a lot of debate. Robinson’s only defeat had been care of LaMotta and he had never knocked out the Bronx Bull.

Now with Robinson becoming a permanent fixture of the middleweight division and with LaMotta now the reigning champion the two were about to meet for the sixth and final time. LaMotta would sometimes joke that they met so many times they almost got married and that he had had so much of Sugar Ray he should have got diabetes. Further hinting at the weight problems he would incur in retirement, LaMotta struggled to shed four pounds required to defend his division’s title bout. This would be his last shot at a title. His fighting style had seen him take too much punishment. He would only fight for another three years whereas Robinson, with his out-boxing style, would continue to go for 14 more years. By the end of this decade he would do what no boxer had done before or since, win Fighter of the Decade for Ring Magazine twice.

Prior to the fight Robinson was given a deal by the mob in order to stage a trilogy. Each fighter would win one a piece and then the final one would be on the level. Robinson, it has seldom been argued, always refused to throw a fight for the mob. He had been known to carry certain fighters, but would never take a dive. He refused to be any part of this plan as can be seen by the carnage that would follow.

The two adopted very specific contrasting strategies against one another. Both these strategies revolved around LaMotta struggling to make the weight. The Bronx Bull figured he lacked the stamina he possessed six years previously when he was in the welterweight division and, knowing this was the longest scheduled bout the two had done together at 15 rounds, he went in fast and hard. He put his guns squarely on Robinson’s head for a knockout. This opportunity seemed to arrive in round six when Robinson was stunned by a left hook followed by two more punches, sending the challenger into retreat. Bleeding and battered, Robinson recouped and kept to his game plan of throwing body shots in to sap LaMotta’s staying power. This worked. By round 11 LaMotta was visibly tired and almost spent. He gave it all with one last courageous charge, but it wasn’t enough. Robinson was now set to win, but he wanted to make it perfect and achieve what no other fighter had done in LaMotta’s career: score a clean knockout over him.

Round 12 saw LaMotta take a huge amount of punishment from Robinson. He took unanswered punch after unanswered punch without the referee intervening. It has been speculated that he was being permitted this due to his granite jaw reputation. Incredibly, the ring doctor didn’t step in either. By round 13 it was a sheer bloodbath and the ringside official signalled for the referee to intervene and save LaMotta.






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