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Jake LaMotta and The Mob

Jake LaMotta hated The Mob. He hated the fact that they ran boxing. He hated the fact that to get anywhere in the sport you had to deal with them on their terms. In fact, Jake LaMotta had already told his brother Joey—who had approached him at the start of his professional career, telling him that he should meet these guys who could help him out, nudge nudge, wink wink—that he wanted nothing to do with The Mob on any level.

Jake LaMotta hated The Mob.

Yet, on the 14th of November, 1947, Jake LaMotta stepped into the ring with Billy Fox, and what happened over the next four rounds has gone down in infamy as the night the fix was in, as Jake LaMotta got “knocked out” by Billy Fox. So, what happened? Why did Jake LaMotta have a sudden change of heart? Well, as in keeping with most of the life and times of The Bronx Bull, not everything was as clear-cut as it seemed.

Jake LaMotta and Billy Fox in the fixed fight

The Story Of The Fix

Jake LaMotta had been—as he said himself—The Uncrowned Middleweight World Champion for the past five years, but no matter what he did, or who he beat, he couldn’t get a shot at the title. He was passed over time and again for boxers who were nowhere near on his level, but who were Mob owned.

The Mob didn’t want Jake LaMotta taking a title they had successfully controlled for decades. At least, not without him giving them something in return.

The Mob approached LaMotta with a simple arrangement. Face their boy Billy Fox, take a tumble in the fourth, and they’d give him a crack at The Champ, which was Marcel Cerdan by the time The Mob came through on their part of the deal some two years later and at a cost of an extra $20,000 out of LaMotta’s own pocket.

It seemed easy enough, but during the first round, Jake LaMotta realized that he might have a problem on his hands with his opponent, Billy Fox. LaMotta wanted to make it at least look good, so threw some punches at Fox who had all the boxing ability of a wet noodle. He couldn’t defend himself against a soft breeze, let alone against someone with the power of Jake LaMotta and even though Jake pulled his punches—connecting with nowhere near the ferocity he had displayed in every other fight he’d had—Billy Fox was almost out on his feet by the time the bell rang to signal the end of round one.

As LaMotta wrote in his brilliant autobiography, ‘Raging Bull’;

The first round, a couple of belts to his head, and I see a glassy look coming over his eyes. Jesus Christ, a couple of jabs and he’s going to fall down? I began to panic a little. I was supposed to be throwing a fight to this guy, and it looked like I was going to end up holding him on his feet.”

It is universally agreed that from the second round onwards, Jake LaMotta did everything in his power not to lay a glove on Fox. He even went as far as to leave himself exposed so that Fox could pepper him with punches before the ref stopped the proceedings in the fourth.

There was one problem, however; it was obvious to everyone what had just gone down, with LaMotta himself later admitting;

…if there was anybody in the Garden who didn’t know what was happening, he must have been dead drunk.”

The Fall Out

Everyone knew that Jake LaMotta had thrown the Billy Fox fight. The evidence was overwhelming. The bookies had stopped taking bets on Fox before the bout when a massive influx of money had been laid on him to win in the fourth, pushing his odds down so low that there was zero point in backing him. Inside the ring, it was clear as day that Jake LaMotta had no interest in winning the contest and was obviously going out of his way to lay down for his opponent. Everyone knew Fox was Mob managed so it didn’t take a mathematical genius to put two plus two together and come up with four.

The problem was that nobody could prove it.

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, Jake LaMotta would eventually get his shot at the title and he’d win it after Marcel Cerdan refused to answer the bell at the start of round 10. It would be a moment that Jake LaMotta called the greatest and simultaneously the worst that could have ever happened to him. Which is a whole other article unto itself and one I will be covering somewhere down the road.

Then in 1960, when Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver was heading multiple hearings to expose the mob’s hold on professional boxing, Jake LaMotta came clean.

Make these city boys see. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t cowardice. It wasn’t even money, It was the only way. The only way to get my shot. What was mine. I’d earned it. Nobody would give me a chance. Five years as the uncrowned champion. I deserved that shot. I did what needed to be done.”

Was It Worth It?

After his confession, Jake LaMotta became a pariah within the boxing world, but did he deserve to be? In this writer’s opinion, no, not by a long shot. LaMotta wasn’t the first and sure as hell won’t be the last person to step between the ropes and take a dive, but unlike nearly everyone else who does, or has done, it, his reasons weren’t about money. It was so he could get the title shot that he rightly deserved and had been held back from him for so long.

There are certain members of the boxing community that think that LaMotta could’ve become World Champion without throwing the Fox fight and getting into bed with The Mob, but they’re wrong. The Mob had approached Jake LaMotta—admittedly, via his brother—when he was first starting out and he had turned them down flat. And nobody turns The Mob down without some form of consequence.

LaMotta’s punishment for trying to go it alone was that The Mob would never have let him challenge the World Champion while they had the sport in their iron fist and that was proven time and again when he was passed over—even though he was the obvious choice—so that The Mob could keep the belt on one of their boys, or at least on someone who knew how to play the game.

So in the end, Jake LaMotta played ball. He gave them what they wanted in a fixed fight, then had to cough up an extra $20,000 just so he could step in the ring with Marcel Cerdan, but when he did nobody from The Mob to Jesus Christ himself could’ve stopped The Raging Bull from becoming The Middleweight Champion Of The World.

Jake LaMotta did what Jake LaMotta had to do to win that belt, and he should never be judged for that.

Written by Neil Gray

The Grandmaster of Asian Cinema.

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