Rugged prize fighter Jake LaMotta, who died of pneumonia in a Florida nursing home this week at 95, had his name appear on numerous FBI and Michigan State Police surveillance reports for his mingling with the mob on his trips to Detroit in the 1940s and 50s during his pro boxing heyday. The subject of the 1980 film Raging Bull starring Rober De Niro in an Academy Award-winning performance, LaMotta, a tenacious, hard-slugging world middleweight champion hailing from The Bronx, New York, fought 22 times in Motown throughout his career and was known for his rivalry in the ring with Detroit-based Sugar Ray Robinson.

The fight game in Detroit those days was run by mob captain Salvatore (Little Sammy) Finazzo, the owner of the Motor City Boxing Gym. One FBI surveillance report from March 1950, notes LaMotta’s presence in Finazzo’s company at high-stakes card games being operated both at the gym and in the back room of the Grecian Gardens Italian restaurant in downtown Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood, an authentic eatery and mob hangout of the era owned by the Zerilli-Tocco crime family’s Corrado and Vitale crews.

Another MSP intelligence report from 1952 lists him in attendance at a barbeque hosted by Finazzo at Finazzo’s home. Pietro (Machine Gun Pete) Corrado and the Vitale brothers (Peter and Paul) lorded over the lucrative rackets in Greektown, the city’s primary entertainment district, from their Grecian Gardens headquarters. The Grecian Gardens shuttered in the 1990s.

LaMotta won his world middleweight crown at Detroit’s long-demolished Olympia Stadium on June 16, 1949 with a knockout of Marcel Cerdan in the tenth round of action. His lone victory over Sugar Ray Robinson occurred in Detroit at The Olympia too in February 1943. Finazzo was seen in LaMotta’s locker room before and after both fights, according to state police informants. The Finazzo crew specialized in gambling, loan sharking, labor-union strong-arm work and narcotics.

Admittedly, LaMotta took a dive for his associates in the mob in the fourth round of a fight against Billy Fox held at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1947. He went on to write about the incident in his autobiography and testify about it in front of the U.S. Senate in hearings investigating the influence of organized crime in pro boxing being conducted in 1960. Retiring in 1954 with an 83-19 overall record in the ring, LaMotta dipped into the entertainment industry, working as an actor and stand-up comedian for a while before going on the speaker and autograph circuit later in life.

Little Sammy Finazzo did federal prison time for bribery and racketeering in the early 1980s and died of heart failure in 1994 at 86 years old. Finazzo had been a brother-in-law to legendary Detroit mob don Joe Zerilli (d. 1977), a member of the mafia’s national commission. The Motor City Boxing Gym staged the first-ever nationally televised fight broadcast in 1951. FBI surveillance records indicate Finazzo met with a who’s who of mobsters wielding power in the boxing world, including east coast hoodlums like Frankie Carbo, Frank (Blinky) Palermo and Anthony (Tony Meats) Ferrante, at his office inside the gym over the course of his reign.

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