Tag Archives: Jake LaMotta

Cerdan vs Robinson

The Title Of Greatest Pound For Pound
Fighter Would Have Been At Stake

On September 21,1948 Marcel Cerdan defeated Tony Zale and won the Middleweight Championship of the World. Cerdan had made his American debut just two years earlier with a hard fought win over the very tough Georgie Abrams. With the win over Abrams Cerdan proved he was no paper tiger, and he would cement his reputation as the best middleweight in the world with his decisive victory over Zale. He gave the Man of Steel a terrible beating, dropping him with a left to the jaw at the end of the 11th round. Zale had to be helped back to his corner where his seconds decided he had taken enough punishment and ended the fight.

Zale vs Cerdan

After the Zale fight Marcel returned to Europe where he had a couple of non title fights stopping Dick Turpin and Lucien Krawczyk. He returned to the States to make the first defense of the title against Jake LaMotta on June 6, 1949 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. LaMotta was the top rated middleweight contender and one very tough customer. Never the less, Cerdan was made a two to one betting favorite.

Only fragments of film footage from the fight exists, and these fragments do not include what happened early in the first round of the fight. It was widely reported that LaMotta threw Cerdan to the canvas. Marcel landed on his left shoulder causing an injury serious enough that he was not able to use his left hand for the rest of the fight. Remarkably, Cerdan continued to fight. Sportswriter Red Smith reported:

“In spite of his injury and in spite of a severe beating in the first round … Cerdan won the second round big and the third and fifth by lesser margins. A master at handling his opponent, turning him, tying him up, slipping or blocking his punches, and setting him up, Cerdan could do none of this one-handed. He couldn’t even stick his left out to ward off his foe … it is difficult to believe LaMotta would have a chance with a two-handed Cerdan.”

Cerdan vs LaMotta

Fighting Jake LaMotta with two hands would be enough of a problem for any fighter, just ask Sugar Ray Robinson, so standing up to him with one arm was truly remarkable. Unfortunately for Marcel, he just couldn’t keep it up. Cerdan hung in there until the end of the 9th round when his corner stopped the fight.

Because of the circumstances surrounding the end of the fight a rematch was quickly scheduled for September 28th of the same year. Ironically, the bout had to be postponed when LaMotta suffered a shoulder injury while training for the fight. The bout was rescheduled for December 2, 1949. In the meantime, Marcel returned home to Paris.

Robinson and Cerdan

According to legend, Marcel was booked to travel back to the States via ship, but when he got a call from his paramour, the singer Edith Piaf, asking him to make the trip by plane so he would arrive earlier and they could spend time together before he began serious training, he changed his plans. It has also been rumored that a fortune teller him told him not to fly. If so, Marcel ignored the advice from the seer and on Friday, October 28, 1949 boarded a Lockheed L 749 79 46 Constellation in Paris for the trip to New York City.

After leaving Paris the flight was scheduled to make a stop at Santa Maria, Azores. The flight crew reported into the tower there that they were approaching and traveling at an altitude of 3000 feet.They received their landing instructions and that was the last that was heard from them. The wreckage of the plane was later found on Redondo Mountain, there were no survivors.

Ray Robinson Attending Cerdan’s Funeral

Cerdan’s death was widely mourned and thousands attended his funeral which was held in Morocco where he was laid to rest. Marcel Cerdan was extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and it seemed unbelievable that this larger than life man was no longer alive.

Boxing history was almost certainly changed by this tragedy. Most boxing experts agree Marcel would have regained the title in his rematch with LaMotta. While Jake was a great fighter, Cerdan was just that much better, and there seemed to be little doubt that a Marcel with two good fists would prove too much for the Bronx Bull.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If Cerdan had gone on to regain the crown it would have meant that Sugar Ray Robinson would have faced him and not LaMotta for the title in 1951. This would have been a truly great matchup between two all-time greats. At the time if his death Marcel had a record of 111 wins against only 4 losses. He was only stopped once and that was because of the shoulder injury in the LaMotta fight. If the fight had taken place at the same time as Ray’s bout against LaMotta, Robinson would have entered the ring with a record of 121 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws. Cerdan had defeated 65 opponents via the knock out route while Ray had stopped 77 foes at that point in his career. In spite of these amazing knockout records I don’t see this bout ending in a stoppage. Both of these fighters had rock solid chins along with great defensive skills. Both fell solidly into the category of boxer/puncher. Cerdan had always campaigned as a middleweight while the majority of Ray’s fight at that time had been in the welterweight division where he also held the world title. For the previous few years Robinson had been successfully testing the middleweight waters where he suffered his only loss to Jake LaMotta. A defeat he would avenge.

Marcel Cerdan

I truly believe this is a difficult fight to pick. Cerdan would certainly have to rate as one of, if not the, toughest opponent Robinson would ever face. This had all the makings of a dream match and would have been a major attraction. I could see it breaking records for attendance and gate receipts. It would no doubt have been held in a ballpark.

So, who wins? Well, as with any truly great matchup it is impossible to say with any certainty. I will tell you that Marcel Cerdan had a better chance than LaMotta did of defending the title against Sugar Ray, and it would not have surprised me if he won. It must also be kept in mind how different boxing history may have been if Cerdan had defeated Ray and then gone on to defend the title for a number of years. If that had happened we very well may be calling Marcel Cerdan the pound for pound greatest fighter who ever lived instead of Sugar Ray Robinson. Unfortunately, fate intervened so we will never know.

Rest In Peace Jake LaMotta

The Bronx Bull Passes At 95

by Bobby Franklin

It has often been observed when someone has lived a long life that they have outlived their friends. Sometimes longevity is measured by how many doctors they have buried. In the case of Jake LaMotta who died last week at the age of 95, he managed to outlive his reputation. If Jake wasn’t, he certainly was very close to being a sociopath. He was a vicious guy who struck fear into all who knew him when growing up. Growing up during the rough years when LaMotta was a kid in New York City was tough. It led a lot of young men to a life of crime. Most were very tough and quick with their fists. But with Jake, he carried it further. For example, when robbing a jeweler he knew, he wasn’t satisfied with just scaring the guy and running off with the goods. No, he also had to nearly beat the man to death with a pipe. He also physically abused his wives. Jake truly seemed to take pleasure in causing physical harm to others. He had a sadistic streak in him. This character trait, if I may call it that, was featured in the Martin Scorsese film The Raging Bull. It is an ugly story about a vicious and cruel man.

The movie made LaMotta a household name again long after his boxing days were over. He never disputed his characterization as depicted in the movie. A few years earlier he had written a book with the same title and in it he didn’t hold back about his life. It isn’t that he was proud of what he had done, but he didn’t exactly appear to be ashamed by it either.

I first met Jake at a boxing writer’s dinner in New York City in 1971. I was a kid but remember the time well. I was seated next to a boyhood friend of LaMotta’s by the name of Toppy who also ended up in the Scorsese movie. He asked me if I would like to meet Jake. Well, of course I would. I was fanatical about boxing at the time and getting to meet one of the great champions was something that was very exciting for me.

Robinson vs LaMotta

Jake was moving about the room and made his way to our table. Toppy introduced us and Jake shook my hand. He was smoking a cigar and had a very aggressive personality. He was telling jokes and enjoying the attention. But, what I remember most was how tense Toppy and the other people at the table became. This was a 49 year old LaMotta. He was still relatively young and still a pretty edgy guy. I found out after he left the table the reason everyone was so tense. They were afraid of saying something that would set the former champ off. They al knew him well and knew how unstable he still was. Years later when I saw the movie Goodfellas the Joe Pesci character Tommy immediately reminded me of the LaMotta I met that night in 1971.

Strangely enough, even after the movie Raging Bull came out, somewhere along the line Jake turned from vicious sociopath into a elder statesman of boxing. I have to admit when I would see him years later wearing his cowboy hat he did look like a lovable character. I guess that can happen if you live long enough.

Vicki and Jake

I am not writing this to speak ill of the dead. I honestly believe Jake would not have a problem with this as he was always honest about who he was. I might also add that Jake was not a bully in the sense Mike Tyson was. Jake was crazy but, unlike bullies in the Tyson mold, he had no quit in him. He could not be intimidated physically. Tyson’s will could be broken, not so for LaMotta. I am not sure if that was guts or insanity, but for anyone in boxing it is a trait that is very much admired.

LaMotta is often underappreciated for his boxing skills. His reputation as a slugger is well deserved, but he was also a brilliant tactician. Contrary to popular belief, Jake did not just walk in with his chin sticking out. He was a master at rolling with punches. If you look closely at many of his fights you may at first think he is absorbing some brutal punches. Look a little closer and you will see how he is moving his head as those punches are landing. This head movement lessens the impact of the blows. Jake likened it to the way a baseball player will pull back his glove when catching a ball in order to better absorb the force of the ball.

Jake was also a master at feinting, parrying, and slipping punches. And, it should be noted, he had an excellent left jab. He showed how effective the jab could be when throw from a crouch. Yes, LaMotta was a true artist in the ring.

He was the top middleweight contender for years before getting a title shot. There are a couple of versions of the story why he didn’t get a shot earlier. They are similar. One has it that Jake wouldn’t play ball with the mob. The other has it that the mob wanted nothing to do with him as he was too crazy. At any rate, they finally did business. The deal was Jake would throw a fight against Billy Fox and then later get a title shot. He did throw the fight but not very convincingly. Nineteen months later he finally got his chance at the title, winning the belt from Marcel Cerdan. Jake was past his prime at this point in his career. He would hold on to the title for less than two years before losing it to his old rival Sugar Ray Robinson. He would fight off and on for just a few more years before retiring.

Jake LaMotta will most likely be remembered fondly by many. He certainly should be remembered as a great fighter and one of the top Middleweight Champions of all time. However, we should not forget that being a champion in the ring does not necessarily make you one out of it.

Walk Like A Boxer

by Bobby Franklin

There was a time when you could tell a man was a boxer just by seeing him walking. You might be in a restaurant or hanging out on a street corner when a guy would walk by and you could see in his step that he had spent time in the ring. I’m not talking about a fighter who may have taken too many punches and was “walking on his heels”. I’m talking about the light step that most boxers possessed in the days before they were trained to bulk up using weights and muscle building. A well-trained and conditioned boxer was always thinking about staying loose and limber. Even years after retiring, you would see that same agile way of moving in a former boxer. (I’m not sure former boxer is an appropriate term as it is something that, once you have done it, stays in your blood all of your life.)

“Stay away from the weights” was a line heard often from the old time trainers, “They only make you tight and slow.” Back in the days when boxing was taught as an art and not a strong man contest, speed, accuracy, and staying loose was emphasized. “Speed beats power”, “If you are too tense you will be more susceptible to being knocked out”, “Get up on your toes and move”, “Stick and move”, I can still hear these words echoing in my head from my days in the various boxing gyms I trained in.

Now, many people may think I am just talking about the stick and move boxers, but you will see this in the vast majority of boxers regardless of their style.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey moved like a cat stalking his prey.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey moved like a cat stalking his prey.In the Willard fight he is darting in and out. His body is lean and not muscle bound. He has a boxer’s physique, strong in all the right places without being encumbered by bulging muscles that would only slow him down.

Gregorio Peralta and Jack Dempsey
Gregorio Peralta and Jack Dempsey

When I was young I got to meet Dempsey in NYC. To this day I remember seeing him walking through his restaurant to greet visitors. He was up there in age and suffering from arthritis in his hips, but he still moved as if he were gliding across the floor, ready to move left or right and throw a counterpunch. Jack Dempsey still had it.

Today’s boxers are missing out on so much with the focus being on building up muscle. Weight trainers are brought in and muscle is layered on. While a fighter has to be strong, there are different types of strength. So often now a days, the spectacle that takes place at the weigh in before a match looks more like a pose-off at a body building competition with the fighters tensing and pumping up their muscles while mugging for the cameras. These bulky muscles are not only useless in the ring, but they are actually a hindrance as they make it almost impossible to use proper punching technique. It also results in more arm punches being tossed than shots that come from the hips with the full force of the body behind them. Fighters are also more susceptible to being knocked out because of how tight they are. It is much more difficult to “roll with the punches” when carrying that kind of muscle. Of course, that is pretty much a moot topic seeing that fighters are no longer taught defensive moves such as that.

I recently watched a brief video of Jake LaMotta training for a fight. It showed him climbing the stairs up to Bobby Gleason’s Gym in The Bronx where he was working out. Now Jake is hardly remembered as a dancing master, but you can see how light he is on his feet as he bounds up the steps. After the workout, he is seen outside walking down the street. If you had no idea who he was you would still know he was a boxer by the way he was moving along the sidewalk.

If you had no idea who he was you would still know he was a boxer by the way he was moving along the sidewalk.

Why the difference between those fighters from earlier days and the boxers of today? Well, when you went into a gym years back you would see fighters shadow boxing, moving in front of a mirror practicing their form, stretching and shaking out their arms and legs. They were very focused on staying limber. When they would hit the heavy bag they would “work it”, which meant boxing it. Instead of just standing in front of the bag they would circle it and practice footwork as well as punching. In the older gyms there was usually space around the bag so the fighters would have room to do this. In many gyms today the bags are lined up close to each other. Now, you often see fighters just standing flatfooted in front of the bag, their feet planted while they are winding up with punches that are telegraphed as if they were being sent by Western Union. It’s no wonder that is happening since most of the time they spend working with a trainer is wasted while going through the silly mitt punching routine that reinforces these bad habits.

A good boxer has to know how to use his entire body. He needs the grace of a ballet dancer combined with the reflexive power of a trip hammer. Most importantly, he has to be taught how to think in the ring, not to just go through mindless motions. Think, stay loose, find rhythm, treat the sport like the art form it once was.

Ali Running
Ali Running

When I was a young boxer I hated doing road work, today it is called running. Most of us disliked it back then but knew it was important so we did it. As much as I hated it, whenever I saw a clip of Muhammad Ali out on the road it inspired me to go out and put in a few miles. Why? Because Ali encompassed why it was called “road work”. He would be running with a step as light as Bill Rogers, turning on his toes, running backwards and forwards while throwing punches; all the time staying loose. It was beautiful watching him move. I’ll bet he never lifted a weight in his entire life, but he had the kind of strength a great fighter possesses.

Those days are now long in the past.

Boxing has changed, and it is not for the better.

Boxing has changed, and it is not for the better.You can no longer spot a fighter by the way he walks. That is because they are no longer artists and the sport is no longer an art form. It is sad.