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In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first loss and igniting a brawl in which audience members are trampled underfoot. Following Jake's defeat, Salvy Batts, who works for boxing racketeer Tommy Como, informs Jake's brother and manager Joey that an association with Tommy could advance Jake's career. Although Joey agrees with Salvy, he observes that his stubborn brother, whom he affectionately calls "Jack," has "a head like concrete" and insists upon remaining independent. Nevertheless, Joey promises to present Salvy's offer to Jake, and proceeds to his brother's dreary, run-down apartment, where Jake is in the middle of a screaming match with his wife Irma. Once Joey mollifies his enraged brother, the mercurial Jake laments that his small, girlish hands limit his ability to rise to the top. Suddenly hostile, Jake provokes Joey into hitting him in the face. Later, when Salvy comes to watch Jake in a sparring match with Joey, Jake becomes so angered by Salvy's presence that he pummels Joey. At the neighborhood swimming pool one day, Jake spots blonde, fifteen-year-old Vickie Thailer, who piques his interest and passion. When Jake questions Joey about Vickie, Joey reminds him that he is a married man. Leaving Irma at home one night, Jake attends a church charity dance with Joey, where he sees Vickie seated across the room with Salvy. Watching Vickie drive off with Salvy, Jake sends Joey to the pool the next day to arrange an introduction to her. When Vickie admires Jake's shiny convertible, he invites her for a ride, and after changing from her swimsuit into a virginal white outfit, she joins him. After a visit to a miniature golf course, Jake takes her to the apartment he purchased for his father and ushers her into the bedroom, where a crucifix perches above the headboard. He nudges her onto the bed, but she quickly rises and walks to the bureau, where she looks at a photo of Jake and Joey sparring, a rosary dangling over its frame. In 1943, Jake scores a major victory against Sugar Ray Robinson, Robinson's first loss and the beginning of a life-long rivalry between the two boxers. Following the fight, Vickie, who is now living with Jake, kisses his blackened eye, but when he becomes sexually aroused, he pours a pitcher of ice water down his crotch in order to preserve his energy for the next match with Robinson, which is to take place three weeks later. Although Robinson is named winner of the bout by the unanimous decision of the judges, Jake's career takes off when he wins a series of victories and, now successful, he marries Vickie and buys a new home in the Bronx. Joey has also married and moved into a nearby house with his wife Lenore. In 1947, after having had three babies and living a relatively quiet life in the suburbs, Jake has gained weight and bristles when Joey enters him into a match with newcomer Tony Janiro, for which Jake will have to lose fifteen pounds. When Joey explains that he set up the match because established boxers are afraid to face Jake, Vickie supports Joey, noting that Janiro would be an apt opponent because he is so good-looking and popular. Vickie's comment triggers Jake's obsessive jealousy, and he balks at going to training camp and thus leaving Vickie alone. When Jake asks Joey to keep an eye on Vickie while he is gone, Joey suggests taking her out for a night on the town before he leaves. They all go to the Copacabana nightclub, and when Vickie excuses herself to go the ladies room, Salvy, who is there with Tommy, invites her to join them for a drink. Jake warily watches their encounter, and when Vickie returns to the table, accuses her of flirting with Salvy and Tommy. During his match with Janiro, Jake viciously pummels his opponent in the face, destroying his good looks and winning the bout. Following his victory, Jake returns to training camp, and one night while at a nightclub, Joey spots Vickie enter with Salvy and his friends. Pulling her away from Salvy's table, Joey orders Vickie to leave with him, then smashes a glass in Salvy's face. When Salvy follows Joey outside, Joey kicks him, then bangs him in the head with a taxicab door. Afterward, Tommy summons Joey and Salvy, his arm in a sling and his face bandaged, to his headquarters at the Debonair Social Club and orders them to forget their argument and shake hands. After Salvy departs, Tommy warns Joey that Jake is embarrassing him by not accepting his patronage. Although Joey argues that Jake wants to make it on his own, Tommy counters that Jake will never get a chance at the title without his help. Upon Jake's return from training camp, Joey reports that Tommy has offered him a shot at the title in exchange for throwing a match with Billy Fox. During the fight, Jake offers no resistance to Fox, allowing his opponent to strike him at will until being declared the victor. As Jake later tearfully relates to his cornermen, he did not know any other way to lose. Following the fight, Jake is suspended by the boxing board while the district attorney probes into the possibility of a fixed fight. Two years later, in 1949, Jake faces middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan in a title bout. Before the match, Tommy comes to Jake's hotel room to wish him good luck, but after Tommy kisses Vickie goodbye and leaves, Jake slaps her and demands to know why she is so friendly with Tommy. After Jake wins the bout on a technical knockout in the tenth round, the referee straps the championship belt around his waist. By 1950, Jake has developed a paunch from his extensive binges of eating and drinking, although he is set to defend his title in a month. Still insanely jealous of Vickie, Jake suspects that she and Salvy had an affair, and when Joey denies it, Jake irrationally accuses him of having an affair with her. In response, Joey advises Jake to indulge in more sex and less food. Jake then goes to Vickie's bedroom to ask if she had sex with his brother. Offended, she locks herself in the bathroom, after which he breaks down the door and slaps her. Proceeding to Joey's house, Jake pulls his brother away from dinner with his family and begins to beat him, accusing him of adultery with Vickie. When Vickie arrives, he punches her, prompting her to go home and pack her things. She later tells Jake that she is leaving him, but his more subdued, contrite demeanor causes her to relent and she agrees to stay, although the brothers remain estranged. In 1951 Jake faces Robinson to defend his championship title in the "fight of the year." As Joey watches the bout on television, Robinson viciously pounds Jake, sending streams of blood trickling down his legs and spewing from his mouth. Even though Robinson is declared the new champion, Jake remains cocky and defiant. Five years later, in 1956, Jake, now living in Florida and grown fat and bloated, announces his retirement from boxing and the opening of his eponymous nightclub. As emcee, Jake tells crude jokes and flirts with underage women customers. Tired of Jake's abuse, Vickie finally files for divorce and takes custody of the children. One evening, while sleeping in his office, Jake is arrested for pandering to underage customers. To pay his legal fees, Jake smashes his championship belt to pry out the jewels, only to be informed by the pawnbroker that the belt was worth much more intact. Unable to raise the money for his defense, Jake, bellicose and belligerent, is thrown into solitary confinement, where he slams his head against the wall and sobs that he is not an animal. By 1958, Jake, now out of jail and living in New York, has been reduced to introducing his new wife, Emma, a stripper known as "Miss 48's," in a dive bar. One night, he spots Joey walking down the street and runs after him. Although Jake smothers him with hugs and kisses, Joey, still angry, shrugs him off. In 1964, Jake rehearses his lines for his one-night show at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel. As he stands in front of his dressing room mirror, Jake recites the famous speech from On the Waterfront in which "Terry Malloy" accuses his brother, "Charley," of betraying him, saying "I could have had class. I could've been a contender, I could've been somebody¿instead of a bum, which is what I am." Before going on stage, Jake gazes into the mirror and sparring with his reflection, declares, "Go get `em champ. I'm the boss."