9. Jake LaMotta vs. Fritzie Zivic – June 10, 1943 to Jan. 14, 1944
LaMotta and Zivic rank highly on any list of tough, rugged fighters, so it was no surprise that their four-fight series was fiercely competitive and crammed with controversy.
The first fight was held in Zivic’s hometown of Pittsburgh and though LaMotta entered the bout 34-6-2 (and 1-2 against Sugar Ray Robinson), the 21-year-old “Bronx Bull” was viewed as a middleweight on the rise because of two wins over the slick Jimmy Edgar and a strong 10-round win over the 46-3-2 “California” Jackie Wilson, among others. Meanwhile Zivic, the youngest of five fighting brothers, was a 30-year-old former welterweight champion engaging in his 170th pro fight. LaMotta had won nine of his last 10 fights – including his lone victory over Robinson – while Zivic had lost four of his last seven.
Zivic, who had won 12 straight fights in Pittsburgh since losing a 10-rounder to Charley Burley in July 1939, appeared poised to notch his 13th against LaMotta as he gored “The Bronx Bull” over both eyes and boxed brilliantly. He had plenty of motivation because he bet $1,000 on himself to win $2,500.
“I won the fight because he underestimated me, he tried too hard,” Zivic said years later. “He’s walking in, showing off. He figured six, seven rounds he’ll knock me out, and he couldn’t even hit me.”
But LaMotta’s last-round surge apparently allowed him to capture a split decision that caused the crowd to boo for 20 straight minutes. Even LaMotta was surprised that he prevailed. Despite the “win,” LaMotta felt he needed to redeem himself so he asked the promoter to schedule the rematch for 15 rounds, a move Zivic thought was a ploy to give LaMotta more time to wear him down.
LaMotta’s plan didn’t work, for Zivic won a split decision at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field just 32 days after their first encounter. But like the first fight, most thought the wrong man prevailed because LaMotta won the early and late rounds while Zivic dominated the middle section.
The rubber match was staged in November 1943 at Madison Square Garden and it more than matched the excitement of the first two contests. Zivic broke his hand in round one but gained a mathematical foothold when LaMotta lost the second and fourth rounds on fouls. LaMotta again dominated the late rounds but for the third straight fight the cards were split. This time, LaMotta, the hometown fighter but not necessarily the crowd favorite, prevailed.
The fourth and final fight was staged in January 1944 at the Olympia in Detroit – neutral ground geographically but huge LaMotta turf sentimentally. Like Zivic and Pittsburgh, LaMotta and the Olympia were inexorably linked as, to this point, he had won five of six bouts there and would go on to be 16-1-1 at that venue. Zivic was one of those 16 wins as LaMotta cruised to a decisive 10-round decision. LaMotta might have won three of the four fights, but sometimes the record books lack the proper context.