Jake LaMotta rarely could be convinced that he lost a fight, though his well-worn face, a writer once observed, appeared to have caught more fastballs than Yogi Berra’s mitt. But the former middleweight boxing champion known as “The Raging Bull” inflicted more beatings than he absorbed.
LaMotta died Tuesday at a Miami-area nursing facility from complications of pneumonia, according to his fiancee, Denise Baker. He was 95.
LaMotta’s violent life and times in and out of the ring were fodder for Robert De Niro’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of him in Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film “Raging Bull.’’
“Rest in peace, champ,’’ De Niro said in a statement.
LaMotta once said that he and De Niro fought 1,000 rounds in preparation for the film. At the time, LaMotta was in his fifties.
Win or lose, LaMotta always seemed to be the aggressor in the ring and, despite the outcome, the brawler became the focal point of the bout.
The Bronx Bull, as he was known in his fighting days, compiled an 83-19-4 record with 30 knockouts, in a career that began in 1941 and ended in 1954. But it was the movie that unflinchingly portrayed him as a violent and abusive husband — he was married six times — that later generations remember.
“I’m no angel,” he said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. According to IMDb.com, he once asked former wife Vicki LaMotta if he was really like De Niro’s portrayal in the movie and she answered, “You were worse.”
LaMotta, born Giacobbe LaMotta on July 10, 1921, on the Lower East Side, was knocked down only once — in a 1952 loss to light-heavyweight Danny Nardico.
LaMotta handed Sugar Ray Robinson his first defeat, but Robinson beat him five times, the last on Feb. 14, 1951, in Chicago Stadium. It was dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre after Robinson stopped the bloodied LaMotta in the 13th round to become the undisputed world middleweight champion.
Robinson seemed enamored of his defeated opponent, as he related in “Sugar Ray,’’ his 1970 autobiography.
“I was the middleweight champion, but I had to share my joy with respect for Jake. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was on the stool in his corner, his leopard-skin robe thrown over him. His handlers were all around him, but he was snarling at them and waving them away. The doctor was checking him, but Jake wanted no part of him. On his way out of the ring, he ignored the hands reaching up to him to help him down the steps.’’
Years later, LaMotta, still as hardheaded as his seemingly invincible chin, basically refused to accept the result and denied that Robinson had pulverized him.
“I guess God blessed me with a hard head because I really didn’t feel punches,’’ he told broadcaster Curt Gowdy in an account related on thesweetscience.com by former boxing writer Bernard Fernandez. “I conditioned myself many years ago that nobody could hurt me. It was self-hypnosis or what you might call it, but I really believed nobody could hurt me. I psyched myself. I did it unconsciously, instinctively. And I believe it.’’
LaMotta admitted to the Kefauver Committee, a U.S. Senate committee investigating organized crime in 1960, that he threw a 1947 fight against Billy Fox, but rationalized that it was for the greater good — his.
“I purposely lost a fight to Billy Fox because they promised me that I would get a shot to fight for the title if I did,” La Motta said in a 1970 interview printed in Peter Heller’s 1973 book “In This Corner: 40 World Champions Tell Their Stories.”
In 1949, LaMotta became the middleweight champion when Frenchman Marcel Cerdan couldn’t continue after the 10th round. LaMotta chastised his opponent for not returning, saying, “Something’s bound to happen to you in a tough fight, cut eye, broken nose or broken hand or something like that. So you could make excuses out of anything, you know, but you gotta keep on going if you’re a champ or you’re a contender.”
After his career, LaMotta owned a nightclub in Miami and also spent time in show business and making commercials and personal appearances
LaMotta, who had six children, lost two sons in 1998. Jake La Motta Jr., 51, died from cancer, and Joe LaMotta, 49, was killed in a plane crash off Nova Scotia.
A funeral in Miami and a memorial service in New York City are being planned, Baker said.
— With AP