Inducted on November 1, 1981
The LaMotta name was a famous name in boxing circles. There were two of them identified with the ring. The first one was Phil LaMotta, a product of Newark’s “Little Italy” in the First Ward, who old-time fight fans remembered owned a terrific left hook punch loaded with dynamite that devastated most of the opposition that stepped into the squared circle with him back in the 30’s. The other LaMotta was Jake, a former world’s middleweight champion, who came along in later years from the Bronx, N.Y. He is a cousin of Phil, who is the subject of our feature story today.
Phil was destined to be a “polisher” most of his adult life. As a simon-pure pugilist he ‘polished’ off 43 of the opponents via the knockout route. The other 17 were decision victories for him. All this activity took place between 1930 and 1934.
Now 54-years-young, Phil is still “polishing.” He is the owner of the LaMotta Floor Waxing Co., a janitorial firm, which keeps him very busy these days. He operates out of his Clifton home at 1084 Broad street.
When Phil decided to turn to boxing, he had two things going for him. First, he was serious about the sport. Second, he had a good friend ready to teach him the fine points of the fight game in Ernie Ratner, the “Silver Lake Windmill,” who was a well respected ring artist in his own right. The pair would meet regularly at Joe Grande’s gym on Bloomfield Avenue, near the Branch Brook Park in Newark, and the two would put on the gloves, Gene and Ray Peleco also trained with them. After several weeks of tutoring and training with Ratner, Phil decided he was ready to make his debut as a simon-pure 112-pounder. The initial encounter took place in the Ocean View A.A. in Long Branch. The Newarker won this bout with ease.
Encouraged by his showing in the first fight, LaMotta was determined to aim for the top. He traveled all over the metropolitan area, facing some of the stiffest competition in the ring. On the way to the top, Phil developed a sensational left hook punch that enabled him to ring up 43 knockouts ‘against some of the best in the business. By 1934 the kayo artist from the First Ward decided he had won enough wrist watches and trophies. He decided to desert the amateur ranks and go for some of the “green loot.”
LaMotta’s terrific left hook mowed down all opponents. In the first 18 months as a pro Phil continued his winning ways tallying 14 knockouts in 24 victories, while losing only four bouts. His opponents numbered many of the leading flyweights and bantamweights in the business. Among them were George Villa, brother of Pancho ViHa, former world’s flyweight champ from the Phillipines; Joey Mason, Joey Eulo, “Schoolboy” Bernie Friedkin, Willie Cubics, Felix Ignacio, Frankie Litt, Eddie Ealz’ and Johnny Ferrio.
It was during his professional career that LaMotta earned the reputation as the “flyweight with the heavyweight punch,” When Vince Dundee of Belleville’s Silver Lake section was training for the defense of his world’s middleweight crown against Ben Jeby in New York’s Madison Square Garden he turned to LaMotta as his favorite sparring partner to give him the necessary speed in the ring against Jeby. LaMotta was always a great crowd pleaser with his all-around ring ability and as a result the many fight promoters around the state were continuously bidding for his services. He appeared in several main bouts and fought in such clubs as the Laurel Garden, Dreamland Park Arena, Bank Street Arena, Gus Troxler’s on Plane Street and Branford PI., Empire Theater, Elzabeth and Lakewood Armories and St. Nicholas and Madison Square Garden in NYC.
“My biggest idol in those good old days was Ernie Ratner,” LaMotta recalled the other day. “He taught me everything I knew about the boxing sport. He always made sure I kept in condition. Many times I appeared on the same card with him. And he is still one of my closest friends today. God love him.”
LaMotta decided to hang up his gloves for good in 1936. Shortly after, he married his lovely wife the former Anna Giuliano. They have a son Lew, a detective with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and a daughter, Mrs. Sandra Retti. There also are two grandchildren, Kenneth Chromyj, 4 years old and Michelle LaMotta, 3.
Like many other former professional fighters, Phil is a member of the Veteran Boxers Social Club of Belleville, founded by Ernie Ratner, which works all year round raising funds for various charitable organizations. The group meet regularly at Ratner’s home.
Stay well Phil, and good luck to you. We know your many fight fans join us in thanking you for the many wonderful evenings we spent watching you in the squared circle.