It’s 1933, for years the mafia bosses in the USA have made a very nice living off the illegal sale of alcohol, that is until now. Now that anyone can buy alcohol at any corner store, the end of prohibition brought with it the need to find a new revenue stream.
It would have to be very lucrative yet easy to abuse. Professional boxing fit the bill perfectly. Seeing as there were only two fighters in any one match it was easy to fix. All they needed to do was convince one of the fighters to throw the fight and bet everything they had on the other side.
In 1947, legendary boxer Jake LaMotta became involved in one of these mafia scams before his fight against Billy Fox. LaMotta threw the fight on purpose, but in return, he didn’t get money. He was after something bigger.
The days leading up to the fight LaMotta was the sure favorite. He was riding a wave of wins having just defeated Fritzie Zivic and a few years earlier in 1943, he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson. In fact, he had won 19 of his last 22 bouts, 9 of those being knockouts.
A few hours before the fight though something strange happened. The odds completely flipped and Fox became the favorite to win. In fact, the odds got so high that day, that bookies stopped taking bets on Fox and three hours before the match you could only wager on LaMotta.
If LaMotta was trying to throw the fight without making it obvious he was doing a lousy job. He never looked like himself during the fight. At the start of the fourth round, he allowed Fox the opportunity to throw two lefts and a right with LaMotta hitting the ropes. For the rest of the round, Fox continued to pummel LaMotta without much resistance. He just had no fight left in him and towards the end of the fourth round, the referee stopped the match.
After Fox’s relatively easy knockout win, suspicions were very high across the boxing world. Fans noticed that LaMotta didn’t act like himself during the match, saying he acted lazy and with no drive or effort to win. The New York State Athletic Commission noticed the same thing.
Just one week after his loss to Fox, LaMotta was suspended by the NYSAC for concealing the fact he had a spleen condition and had been told not to box by his doctors. The NYSAC questioned LaMotta for hours after the fight but he never gave them any information about the real reason he lost.
It took 13 years for the truth to finally be told. In 1960, Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver chaired several hearings in an attempt to expose the mob’s power over professional boxing. LaMotta was his star witness.
At the hearing, LaMotta took the stand and told the truth about his involvement in fixing his 1947 fight against Fox. He told them everything about working with the mob to throwing the fight, including what he wanted in return. Now, most of you are probably thinking LaMotta must have been paid very well to throw the fight when in fact, he paid the mob $20,000. Why would he do that and what would he want in return? A chance at a middleweight title, something that had slipped his grasp for five years. He wanted it more than anything and the mob was his way to get it.
LaMotta’s testimony was powerful as he confessed fully to fixing the sport of boxing and working with the mob. He also wanted to make it clear that he had no choice.
“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.”
So in return for throwing the fight and the $20,000, in 1949 the mafia gave LaMotta a fight against the then-current middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan. LaMotta went on to defeat Cerdan to become the new middleweight champion.
The Senate hearing in 1960 signaled the end of the mob’s involvement with professional boxing. Although fixing the fight was obviously wrong, by coming forward, risking his life, and telling the truth, LaMotta saved the sport of boxing as we know it. He died in 2017 at the age of 95.