For serious boxing historians, Valentine’s Day is forever associated with two men: Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta. On this date in 1951, Robinson defeated LaMotta by brutal Round 13 TKO. It was the sixth and final meeting between the two legends.
Robinson won five of the six bouts between the two and that fact tends to obscure the greatness of this rivalry. Robinson is the greatest boxer to ever step into a ring. In his prime, he was nearly unbeatable. But LaMotta was able to give him more problems than most.
Robinson and LaMotta faced off for the first time in October 1942, with Robinson winning by unanimous decision. They faced off again in February 1943 in Detroit. Robinson was 40-0 and LaMotta handed him the first loss of his career and the only one he would take in his first 130 professional bouts.
They fought for a third time two weeks later, again in Detroit, with Robinson winning a hotly contested decision. Robinson won a third decision over LaMotta in February 1945. In September 1945, they faced off for the fifth time–a rough, back-and-forth battle that featured a furious rally by LaMotta in Rounds 9-12, with Robinson managing to hold on to earn a split decision.
During these war years Robinson was the most avoided welterweight in the world and LaMotta the most avoided middleweight. They fought so often simply because top stars in their own division didn’t want anything to do with them.
By the time of their sixth fight in 1951, both men were World Champions. LaMotta had claimed the middleweight crown from Marcel Cerdan in June 1949 and Robinson had claimed the vacant welterweight belt by defeating Tommy Bell in December 1946. Unable to find anybody who could challenge him at 147 pounds, he moved back up in 1951 to face his old rival LaMotta.
While this was the only bout between them to end in stoppage, much of the fight looked like the previous five–LaMotta’s pressure style gave Robinson problems. But Robinson hurt the Bull late in Round 12 and picked up where he had left off following the one-minute break.
In Round 13 he trapped LaMotta and let loose with a blistering assault. Rough and stubborn to the end, LaMotta would not go down, instead slumping against the rope and continuing to absorb punishment until the ref stopped the carnage with just under a minute left in the round.