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.
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