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 Nov. 27, 2015
One hundred eight years ago, a 69-year-old man walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago. A week later, Weston arrived in Milwaukee for a walking contest with political implications that overshadowed its competitive ones.
Published Nov. 6, 2015
I rise now to heap encomiums on Louis Mueller, though he is long gone, and I know him only from a front-page article in The Milwaukee Journal 100 years ago titled, "Milwaukee man Downtown for the first time in 31 years."
Published Oct. 31, 2015
`Tis the season to remember when a Milwaukee judge ruled that a man had no right to beat his wife because she was cheating on him with the ghost of her dead first husband.
Published Sept. 28, 2015
Eliza Blue was hard on the eyes, but not in the way Donald Trump thinks that about Carly Fiorina. In 1905, the Milwaukee woman permanently blinded a man by throwing acid in his face. Ten years later, Eliza blinded another man the same way. She was also Milwaukee's greatest escape artist since Harry Houdini left town.
Published July 28, 2015
On the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1936, people at the busy Downtown intersection of 3rd and Wells Streets were startled by the appearance of a gorilla walking a lion. The former was actually a familiar enough sight in Milwaukee, as William "Gorilla" Jones was a famous boxer who'd fought in Milwaukee seven times. The latter, however, was new.
Published July 22, 2015
The recent Milwaukee lion drama calls to mind two past Milwaukee cat encounters: one with an escaped leopard in the early 1900s and another with a "lion" in 1920.
Published July 1, 2015
Brew City boxing legend Sam Cicerello died on June 28, at age 90.
Published April 6, 2015
It wasn't exactly Cain vs. Abel II, but two Milwaukee brothers earned a footnote in boxing history by fighting each other for a Golden Gloves championship 64 years ago. There'll be no sibling rivalries on display when the Wisconsin & Upper Michigan Golden Gloves tournament starts its 85th annual run in Racine Saturday night at the John Bryant Community Center, but it's all relative.
Published March 27, 2015
When Orville Pitts was elected Milwaukee alderman in 1968, his political future looked as bright as the one that had seemed in store for Pitts in the boxing ring a decade earlier. But unlike the knockout that ended his boxing career, his downfall in the political arena was self-inflicted and a drawn-out process featuring, in random order, booze, drugs, hookers, the devil and Richard M. Nixon. Pitts died Tuesday at 81, after a long illness.
Published March 14, 2015
There is no escaping Scott Walker -- not even by fleeing into the distant past. Our governor's countenance is everywhere lately, and it was disconcerting recently to find a remarkable facsimile of it on the front page of the Dec. 21, 1908 edition of The Milwaukee Journal.