On this date in 1949 in Briggs Stadium in Detroit, The Bronx Bull, Jake LaMotta, stopped Marcel Cerdan in Round 9 to capture the World Middleweight Championship. Cerdan had captured the title from the great Tony Zale in 1948, making him a national star in France. While he was champion, he had an affair with Edith Pilaf, probably the most desired woman in the country in those years. He died tragically, in a plane crash, before he was able to rematch with LaMotta.
LaMotta had spent the 1940s getting passed over for a shot at the middleweight championship. At the same time, Sugar Ray Robinson avoided during much of the decade for a shot at the welterweight belt. Locked out of the title scene, the two legends fought each other instead, six different times. As LaMotta later quipped, “I fought Sugar so often, I should have gotten diabetes.” LaMotta gave Robinson the first loss of his career and consistently proved his toughest opponent during Robinson’s glorious prime.
According to LaMottta’s testimony before Congress in 1960, he only got his shot at Cerdan after agreeing to take a dive against light heavyweight Billy Fox in 1947. LaMotta would defend the belt successfully in September 1951 against Laurent Dauthuille, with one of the greatest last-minute knockouts in boxing history. Trailing badly on the cards heading into Round 15, LaMotta pulled out the KO to win.
LaMotta dropped the title to Robinson on February 14, 1952, in the famous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” For much of their final bout, Robinson and LaMotta against fought on extremely competitive terms. Then, late in Round 12, Robinson hurt LaMotta. In Round 13, Robinson trapped LaMotta in the corner and unloaded on him with a barrage of punches, forcing the referee to stop the action. LaMotta famously refused to go down.
LaMotta was the subject of perhaps the finest boxing movie ever made, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, starring Robert De Niro as LaMotta. The old champ is still alive and turns 93 last year, making him one of the last surviving figures from one of boxing’s best golden ages.
Also on this date in 1951, the great Roberto Duran was born in Panama. On his 32 birthday, in 1983, Duran beat Davey Moore for the WBA light middleweight title, after having already won titles at lightweight (where his is among the three best champions of all time) and welterweight.