The Bronx Bull puffs theatrically on a Don Diego cigar, then delivers the punch line.
"She divorced me because I clashed with the drapes."
Jake La Motta is back in Detroit, his lucky town. He won the world middleweight title here in 1949, when he beat Marcel Cerdan, and he defended it here in 1950, knocking out Laurent Dauthuille with a furious last-minute charge. Here, too, he beat Sugar Ray Robinson in 1943—his only victory in six bloody Robinson-La Motta bouts. Today he is back in town to tell jokes.
La Motta has been a stand-up comic for 34 years. He lives in a studio apartment in Manhattan with his sixth wife, Theresa—next door to his boyhood pal and fellow ex-champ Rocky Graziano—and ventures out to do three or four shows a month, telling fight jokes, drunk jokes, wife jokes and Italian-father jokes. He averages $2,500 and a standing ovation per show.
He weighs 190, 30 pounds over the middleweight limit he once sweated to reach. Manicured, resplendent in a dark blue suit, pink shirt and striped tie, La Motta looks fitter than many members of the Detroit Athletic Club, for which he is today's headliner.
"I'm in great shape for a man of 65," he says. "Every artery in my body is hard as a rock."
The news that any part of the La Motta anatomy is inflexible should not surprise his former opponents. He was the ultimate stand-up fighter, as close to invulnerable as any boxer could be. Rocky Marciano called him "the best I ever saw." La Motta's comic routine is laced with self-deprecatory boxing stories, but there was nothing funny about fighting him. He could not be knocked down. On Feb. 14, 1951—the St. Valentine's Day massacre—Robinson pounded La Motta to death's door but never knocked him down.
There's too much violence in the world," La Motta says to the Detroit A.C., "most of it perpetrated on me by Sugar Ray Robinson."
"I came at that guy with a vengeance. He came at me with punches. Robinson opened everything I had that was closed, and closed everything that was open. But there was one thing you could say about me as a fighter—I kept my head. I lost my teeth, but I kept my head."