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Feb 14, 1951: A sugary slugfest
- Updated: February 14, 2017
On February 14, 1951, Sugar Ray Robinson defeated long-time rival Jake LaMotta in the 13th round of a scheduled 15-round bout to win the undisputed world middleweight belt.
Both combatants were to meet six times in the ring in nine years with LaMotta winning a single bout in 1943.
Their final bout was on Valentine’s Day in 1951 at the Chicago Stadium with 14,802 people in gleeful attendance. It came to be labeled ‘The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre’. This is in homage and apparent reference to the ultra-savage defeat LaMotta was subjected to.
Going into the fight, Robinson now widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound pugilist ever to make his way into the ring, was the firm favorite with artsy footwork and lightning-fast hands.
His opponent, on the other hand, was seen as a street brawler capable of absorbing a truly astonishing amount of punishment and cheerfully asking for more.
The battle fully lived up to its hype. From the starting gong, LaMotta took the lead, giving his opponent no rest and throwing punches like someone was going to steal his two arms the next morning.
It took everything Robinson had to ceaselessly dance away and avoid getting pounded into submission.
Robinson’s strategy was simple: to let his opponent work like a stevedore on a summer day, then when he inevitably tired, to send him to dreamland. It worked, sort of. LaMotta, on the other hand, apparently had a simpler strategy: attack, attack and attack.
By the 9th round, LaMotta was in severe trouble as his fresher opponent peppered him with punches seemingly from nowhere.
Soon, his nose was broken, ribs mercilessly fractured and eyes puffed nearly shut.
Still he plodded on like a steamroller. By the 12th round, all LaMotta could do was try not to scream in pain like a soprano as Robinson mercilessly pounded his exposed ribs and other extremities.
Worse was to come in the 13th round as a now totally spent LaMotta could not even summon the energy to defend himself as Robinson brutally punished every part of his body at will.
The now sickened ref finally bestirred himself, stopped the massacre and awarded victory to Sugar Robinson.
“If the referee had held up another 30 more seconds, Sugar Ray would have collapsed from hitting me,” said LaMotta later.
“He’s the toughest guy I ever fought, I never knew anyone who was more aggressive and rough as he,” said Robinson of his near-indestructible opponent.