The Vikki LaMotta’s of Boxing: Champions of Another Kind
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (Dec 28, 2009)  
When they say that a boxing ring is the loneliest place in the world, they could not be any more correct. We see our heroes and holler their name but at the end, they are by themselves in that squared circle. No matter how much you screamed favoring Ruben Olivares to beat Alexis Arguello, Arguello to beat Aaron Pryor or, more recently, Mike Tyson to beat Kevin McBride, at the end, your screams went unanswered because after all, it’s just your favorite boxer in there against a rival, not him or her, you and 10,000 fans against a rival. The same could be said about boxing fame. Rarely does a member of a boxer’s family transcend the spotlight. Unlike Hollywood, where we have TomKat and Zanessa, you don’t hear people pairing Manny Pacquiao’s name with his wife’s. That’s partly because as fans we can be near sighted and pay attention only to the action inside the ring, not what’s going on around it. Yet, like the Clubman ad likes to proclaim, behind every great man there is a woman, and people like Juanita Leonard and Judy Bowe had already been there before anyone cared about their former husbands, boxing Champions and greats Sugar Ray Leonard and Riddick Bowe, respectively.

The thing about boxing wives is that they suffer; certainly they suffer more than us when they see their husbands struggle to entertain us. Perhaps the only people who suffer less than a spouse-to include women boxers in this article-are the boxer’s children and parents. A woman’s role in a fighter’s life is greatly underappreciated. While the husbands go away to feed the family by training and winning bouts, these women feed the family, they provide moral support to the boxers and take care of their children. They are the Champions within the Champion, the masters behind the scenes. One look at Theresa Tapia, who at one time managed, supported and comforted husband Johnny Tapia, should tell you all.

Perhaps the greatest of these behind the scenes Champions was Vikki LaMotta, the late former wife of Jake LaMotta. Without much fanfare at her time and because of the obscurity that boxer families are given, Vikki LaMotta was one of the bravest women to ever be near our sport. Thanks to the 1980 Martin Scorsese movie, The Raging Bull, we found out the battle that Vikki LaMotta endured for many years while Jake was a fighter. Personally, and from a personal experience standpoint of view, I like Jake LaMotta. The man reinvented himself after the release of the movie and has reflected upon his earlier days mistakes. While married to Jake LaMotta, however, Vikki LaMotta endured a grim battle of survival not comparable to any ring battles. The days of women being considered weaker from men are far over and Vikki LaMotta provided an important link between now and then. Not only did she love, cared for and survived Jake but she also faced another struggle later on in life, the loss of her son Joseph LaMotta, on the Swissair Flight 111 tragedy in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

When Vikki LaMotta posed for Playboy magazine at age 51 in 1981, thus making her the oldest model to pose for that magazine, it was a signal for her of her personal liberation from her past problems. It was also a real sign of the times.

Because of the movie, the beatings Vikki LaMotta took from Jake LaMotta are generally known. Her dedication to having a substantially normal family and to life are also known. Not everyone who is a sports spouse, however, has a similar life to the one Vikki LaMotta carried. It would be unfair to say, for example, that every sports wife has been beaten. What they all have in common is a heart that is as big as that of the athlete they live with. And in boxing, there are many spouses who do not support their half orange’s career of choice, like Valerie Chacon, who sadly committed suicide in 1982 after pleading with Bobby Chacon not to continue fighting, they, at least are very supportive of their loved ones. The one reason that Valerie Chacon took her life that fateful night was that she did not want Bobby to suffer more blows because her love for him was that big.

The other side of that coin is Jim Martin, boxing trainer for many years and whose only Champion he crowned was his own wife, Christy Martin. Jim Martin is a true gentleman and a very intelligent man who knows the sport as well as any, and because of that, he was able to provide Christy with all the support required to go on in such a hard a sport as boxing. The only thing I can compare to training for a boxing fight is training at a Marines training camp. So Jim Martin did chores at home, he washed his and Christy’s children, he made sure everything, both at training and at home, was in order, thus leading Christy Martin into a career that will probably make her, quite deservedly so, the first female fighter to enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Nothing less.

Another person worth mentioning is Yolanda Ali, better known as “Lonnie”. Lonnie Ali, wife of “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali, and the person who has carried on the brunt of Ali’s Parkinson’s disease. Lonnie Ali spent many years with Muhammad Ali living in Berrien Springs, Michigan, before the Ali's relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. And that’s the thing about Lonnie Ali, wherever and whenever her husband must relocate, even if just for one single day, Lonnie Ali relocates. And Muhammad Ali’s website states that he travels on an average of 200 days a year. Now, talk about support! The Ali’s can still do a lot in life, and I mean a lot when I say a lot, but at their age, so much traveling must be effort consuming to their backs. Lonnie Ali, however, is always there, taking care of the man who was once, and still probably is, the most recognizable face in the world. To put it in Muhammad’s own words, when the hour is darkest, Lonnie Ali comes through.

In sports, unless one’s spouse is also famous like Oscar De La Hoya and Millie Corretjer or Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, for example, we never know who are the Champions behind the Champion. Most of the times, however, if we do get lucky to learn about them or maybe even meet them, we learn that these people are mostly people with deep values, dignity and grace. True Value hardware sells hardware, these people give us true values. In many senses, they are Champions of another kind.

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