LONG-time promoter and match-maker Don Chargin has seen many great fighters over the years and he has quite a few memories of the recently deceased Jake LaMotta. But the 89 year old from San Jose, who promoted his first boxing card in 1951, speaks about a number of other special fighters here, in an exclusive with Boxing News:
Q: First of all, how well did you know Jake LaMotta?
Don Chargin: “I got to know him real well. I really knew him and got to know him as they were making the movie, ‘Raging Bull.’ I was the match-maker at The Olympic Auditorium, and they shot all the fight scenes there. Jake was technical advisor on the film and he was in my office almost every day. We got to know each other really well then, and then we would meet up each year at The Hall of Fame in Canastota. This year [in June] Jake never made it because he wasn’t feeling so good, so I last saw him, around five months ago in New York. He was spending most of his time in Florida but he came up to New York and I was there and we shared an hour or so together. He could be a little cranky if too many people got around him (laughs) but it was always great to see him.”
Q: Of all the great ones you have both seen and worked with, how does LaMotta rate?
D.C: “Oh, Jake was some fighter! The greatest fighter I ever saw was Ray Robinson, who I saw fight live around six or seven times, and for LaMotta to have had six truly great fights with Robinson just shows you [how great he was]. You cannot imagine how tough those fights were. To me, LaMotta has to go in the top-10 greatest fighters of anyone’s list; certainly his chin has to! It’s really astonishing that he lived to be such a great age of 95, some say 96, with his career; the way he fought, coming right at you each and every time. There isn’t a single middleweight, from any era, where you would say LaMotta couldn’t have got in there and had a great fight with him. LaMotta could have fought anyone and it would have been a great fight. There isn’t a fighter from any era you would have been afraid to match him with. ”
Q: There cannot really be any mention of LaMotta without mention of Robinson, such was their epic rivalry.
D.C: “That’s right. I first saw Robinson in 1948 and he was just incredible. But Jake LaMotta beat him, when he [Robinson] was unbeaten at 40-0. Again, you can’t really understand how vicious those fights were, all six of them. I mostly saw LaMotta on screen because I was really young when he was in his prime, but I watched a whole lot of him. Back in those days, we only had radio for the big fights as far as tuning in live, but a week or so after the fight, the cinemas would show the fights – the big fights, Joe Louis fights and the like, and I never missed any of them. It was a special time for boxing, it really was.”
Q: One of the great fights that was signed but then never happened was LaMotta against Rocky Graziazo. How would that have gone had it actually happened?
D.C: “Oh, he’d have beaten Rocky. Rocky could punch and he’d have thought he could have beaten LaMotta, but he never had the greatest chin. It would have been a good fight, interesting for five or six rounds, but Jake would have been too tough for him. They were very much alike in a way, but LaMotta was tougher.”
Q: How good is the film “Raging Bull” in your opinion and how realistic is it?
D.C: “I think it’s a great film, they did a great job. I think it was accurate. You know, he wasn’t the greatest guy in the world [laughs]. Jake had a tough upbringing. This was a kid who, his father would parade him around the neighbourhood at age 12 and have him fight the local kids for money, money that would be thrown at them. This is the life he [LaMotta] had back then in his younger days. He had it really rough and that’s what made him the person, and the fighter, he became.”
Q: Were fighters tougher back then compared to more recent times?
D.C: “Well, look at it this way: Jake beat Ray in their second fight and Robinson wanted to avenge that defeat. They fought just three weeks after their first fight, which was a very rough and tough fight, but Robinson boxed another fight in-between that fight! Ray fought a good contender in (California) Jackie Wilson, who he beat on points, before fighting the rematch with Jake a week afterwards. You just wouldn’t hear of anything like that today.”
Q: Aside from Robinson and LaMotta, who are the greatest fighters you have seen and what are the greatest fights you’ve seen?
D.C: “My father took me to see the great Henry Armstrong when I was 12 years old, so that puts it around 1940. He fought in my home town of San Jose and he was near the tail-end of his career by then but he knocked out a good fighter, Johnny Taylor, and I was just mesmerised. Armstrong just never stopped throwing punches! But even today, I still promote and I still love boxing. I was at one of the [Arturo] Gatti-Micky Ward fights. Last week I was at the big fight in Vegas [Golovkin-Canelo]. I had it very close. If it wasn’t for that one judge who had it so wide for [Canelo] people wouldn’t be making as much of a fuss; it was a very close fight.
“The fight Robinson had with Bobo Olsen, the one that went the distance, that was a great fight – 15 rounds and a heck of a fight. Robinson against Carmen Basilio, they were great fights. But I think the best fight I ever saw was one I promoted, it was Mando Ramos – a great fighter who was all shot by the age of just 22 or 23, if he’d looked after himself he could have been one of the real greats – against Sugar Ramos, who has just passed away [this lightweight elimination bout being won by Mando Ramos via spit decision in August of 1970]. That fight was at The Olympic Auditorium in California and the arena held 10,400 people. That night we had 14,000 in the place. Both guys just went at it, both were cut really badly and fans from both sides were screaming that the fight should be stopped. That was possibly the most brutal fight I ever saw. Check it out on You-Tube, it’s a fight you will not be able to take your eyes off!”