Compared to some of the high-profile, self-promoting boxing referees who came after him, Milt Rickun was a shrinking violet in the ring when he refereed professional and amateur bouts at the Milwaukee Arena, Auditorium and Eagles Club in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Guys like Mills Lane and Joe Cortez sought as much face time and notoriety as the fighters they policed, even developing and marketing their own pre-fight catchphrases ("Let's get it on!" for Lane; "I'm fair but firm!" for Cortez).
Rickun, who died Dec. 7 at age 85, was properly inconspicuous between the ropes. He didn't preen or showboat, and let his professionalism speak for itself.
The biggest fight Rickun refereed was on Aug. 3, 1970, when ranked light heavyweight contender Andy Kendall met local favorite Ron Marsh before a standing-room-only crowd at the Eagles Club. It went 10 rousing rounds, and in the story about it in the next day's Milwaukee Journal Rickun's name wasn't mentioned at all. In the Sentinel, reporter Ray Grody mentioned him once, noting that Rickun "did an excellent job."
A street fighter growing up on Milwaukee's North Side, Rickun boxed as an amateur after joining the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He turned pro in the late 1940s, but his dream of "being one of the great fighters of all time" was unfulfilled thanks to a glaring anatomical deficiency Rickun described to Zak Mazur of The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in an interview a decade ago.
"Every fight I ever had as a pro ended in a knockout. Either I stopped them or they stopped me. I was a knockout puncher with a glass jaw."
When he became a licensed referee, Rickun told Mazur, "I loved it almost as much as boxing."
And he did it the correct old-school way: almost invisibly.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Pete Ehrmann
Published Dec. 6, 2016
On this day, 120 years ago, local boxing fans stole out to a roadhouse near Hales Corners, after midnight and in a blizzard, to watch an illegal prizefight for the lightweight championship of Wisconsin. Many of them ended up in worse shape than the combatants in the ring.
Published Oct. 11, 2016
On May 16, 1990, it was announced that Aaron Pryor - who was legally blind in one eye - was coming to Madison to box, thereby thrusting Wisconsin into the sport's spotlight for the first time in 40 years. But the attention was hardly flattering.
Published July 26, 2016
A nagging gap on the Milwaukee sports history shelf has finally been filled with the publication of "Happy Felsch: Banished Black Sox Center Fielder," a biography of the homegrown icon and member of the infamous Black Sox World Series fix.
Published June 7, 2016
West Allis native Don Lutz was a professional boxer in Miami Beach, where he trained with numerous world champions, including Muhammad Ali. And even though they responded to being drafted to the Vietnam War differently, the two couldn't be divided.
Published June 4, 2016
The illustrious Muhammad Ali, who died Friday night at 74, visited Milwaukee at least four times. He always left an indelible, unforgettable mark on the town and the people that saw him, including this writer.
Published May 31, 2016
Native Milwaukeean Luis "Cuba" Arias, 25, is an undefeated middleweight who hopes to lead a boxing renaissance here when he fights at the Wisconsin Center on June 4 against Jorge Silva. Now a Florida resident, Arias talked with OnMilwaukee about his homecoming and his ring career.
Published March 29, 2016
Thanks to my often reluctant participation in our grand democracy by voting in elections, my mailbox has lately been overflowing with brochures from candidates. Most of it is just annoying, but today's mail brought something downright offensive.
Published Feb. 3, 2016
John L. Slaughter reigned, in the long-ago words of a local newspaper, as "king of the Milwaukee colored colony," owning one of old Downtown Milwaukee's biggest gambling joints. And his fall from the throne was as jaw-dropping as his rise.
Published Jan. 24, 2016
Milwaukee's original "Greek Freak" Theodore Anton stood only waist-high to the current one playing for the Bucks. But in a match-up in Anton's boxing arena, 6'11" Giannis Antetokounmpo would be in over his head.
Published Dec. 19, 2015
The mark British light-welterweight Jerome Wilson hoped to make in boxing, until he left the ring on a stretcher in his 11th pro fight last year, is now indelibly etched with "Wiped Out? The Jerome Wilson Story."