On this day: Ray Robinson stops Jake LaMotta in infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Ever since The Bronx Bull took his 0, Sugar swore to wipe that bitterness away with a demolishing vengeance.
He got it – and then some.
Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought six times. The first three came in rapid succession, as they were climbing the rankings in their younger days. The last one came when LaMotta was already a world champion and Ray was coming up in weight after a brilliant career at 147 pounds. They were all amazing fights, but the last installment of their heated rivalry remains as one of the most brutal fights of that already brutal era of boxing.
In their first encounter during their sophomore year (both made their debut in 1941), Robinson gave away more than 10 pounds against LaMotta, who was already a full-blown middleweight. As a young and fast welterweight with a textbook boxing style and a wrecking ball in each hand, Robinson was being avoided by most of his peers at 147, and he had to face LaMotta again four months later. This time, LaMotta came out of the gates storming to overwhelm Robinson, and he notched what would be the first knockdown in Robinson’s 40-bout pro career up to that point to then score a decisive win on the scorecards.
Amazingly, they met again three weeks later, with Robinson getting the W this time. Their fourth battle was in 1945 and it was all Robinson from beginning to end, but that didn’t mean that Sugar had the Bronx Bull all figured out. Their fifth meeting was probably the best of them all. In a tough, back-and-forth fight, Robinson got the nod again to make it 4-1 in their personal feud, in what Ray would later declared as his toughest fight ever.
But that was a mere prelude for the grand finale.
On February 14, 1951, with LaMotta already a world middleweight champion and Robinson having finally officially outgrown the welterweight division, the pair met again in Chicago for what would be the final fight of their legendary rivalry. Drained of his enormous stamina by the effort he made in order to make weight (it was rumored that he had to shed as many as four pounds on the very day of the fight), LaMotta went all out in the early going looking for the elusive stoppage win. He did score a few solid rounds, but the second half belonged to Robinson as he started to pile up some serious punishment on the notably resilient LaMotta.
After a brave final stand in the sixth round in which he bloodied, hurt and pinned Robinson to the ropes during a memorable onslaught, LaMotta was ready for the slaughter. Robinson’s attack to the body started to pay off, and by the eleventh round it was only a matter of time.
The next two rounds were a one-sided pummeling dished out from Robinson to LaMotta, who, true to his nature, refused to go down, absorbing an inordinate amount of punishment. Finally, the referee stepped in to halt the carnage as LaMotta was just holding on to the ropes in order to keep his promise of never surrendering. And no, Jake did not say “you never got me down, Ray”, as our all-time favorite boxing movie would have it later on. You made that up, Mr. DeNiro, and we forgive you.
Robinson became a two-weight champion in that fight, and went on to lose and regain that middleweight belt four times before trying and failing for the light heavyweight belt in a career that spanned 14 more years after that fateful night. LaMotta retired only three years later after an inglorious 5-4-1 final stretch.
By the time Robinson lost his belt to Randy Turpin in his first defense, his record was an unbelievable 129-1-2, with the lone defeat being at the hands of his nemesis. Ever since then, their names have been entangled forever in a history written in six chapters full of blood and courage. And so will they remain, as a reminder that even during a day in which love and friendship are celebrated there is more than enough room for a good ol’ fashioned war in the ring.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.