After prohibition ended in 1933, the mob needed to find a new source of consistent revenue. You see, the mafia made a living off illegal alcohol sales in the U.S. for years. Now that people could buy whatever they needed at any corner store, the mob’s alcohol stream ran dry. It needed to find another lucrative business to abuse. Enter professional boxing. It was the perfect sport to fix because there are only two fighters in the ring at once. Get to one, convince him to lose, and boom, you’re set. Bet the house on the other side and count your winnings after the fight. Legendary boxer Jake LaMotta got caught up in a mob deal ahead of his 1947 fight against Billy Fox. LaMotta purposefully threw the fight, but his payment from the Mafia didn’t come in the form of money. He wanted something bigger.
Jake LaMotta is stunned by Billy Fox in 1947 fight
LaMotta entered the 1947 bout with Billy Fox as the favorite. He just defeated Fritzie Zivic and Sugar Ray Robinson in 1943. He came into the fight winning 19 of his last 22 bouts, including nine knockouts.
Just hours before the fight, the odds drastically changed and Fox became the betting favorite. The odds soared so much that day that bookies stopped taking action on Fox. Three hours before the match, books were only taking wagers on LaMotta.
LaMotta never looked like himself during the fight. He let Fox in close for two lefts and a right to start the fourth round, and LaMotta hit the ropes. Fox destroyed LaMotta throughout the rest of the round without much pushback. LaMotta had no fight in him, and the referee stopped the match later in the fourth round.
LaMotta confessed to fixing the fight years later
Suspicions were high across the boxing world following Fox’s easy knockout victory over LaMotta in 1947. LaMotta never looked so lackadaisical in the ring before, and fans noticed. New York’s State Athletic Commission noticed as well.
The NYSAC suspended LaMotta indefinitely a week after his loss to Fox for concealing vital facts about his physical condition. LaMotta had a spleen condition and was told by doctors not to box, but he competed anyway. He was questioned for three hours after the fight, but LaMotta didn’t reveal the true reason why he lost.
However, in 1960 LaMotta finally told the entire story. Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver led multiple hearings to expose the mob’s stranglehold on professional boxing, and LaMotta was his key witness.
LaMotta took the stand and admitted his involvement in fixing the 1947 fight against Billy Fox. He admitted working with the mob, but it wasn’t for the money. In fact, LaMotta said he even paid the mafia a sum of $20,000 in addition to throwing the fight. What did he get in return? A shot at a middleweight title, something that eluded him for five years. He yearned for a chance to finally win a championship, and the mob was his ticket in.
The mob gave LaMotta his title fight and he won
The truth was LaMotta was fighting in a state of purgatory for years. He was one of the best middleweights in the world, but he never got the chance to fight for a title. The mob offered that chance to LaMotta.
He confessed in court to cheating the sport of boxing, but he said he had no other choice. LaMotta’s powerful testimony is still a part of his legacy today.
“Make these city boys see. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t cowardice. It wasn’t even money,” LaMotta said in court. “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.”
LaMotta sweetened the deal with the mob by coughing up $20,000. In return, the mafia gave him a fight against middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan in 1949. LaMotta defeated the champ and earned the title of middleweight champion.
LaMotta’s testimony signaled the beginning of the end of the mob interfering with professional boxing matches. He risked his life to tell the truth, and it saved the sport as we know it. LaMotta lived until the age of 95, and he will forever be a champion.