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 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.
Published Feb. 21, 2015
A century ago, Milwaukee's Butterfly Theater seemed to be home to one of the world's greatest stories in doorman Victor McLaglen. He was a war hero, a spy, a sword-wielding giant of a man who once fought Jack Johnson. Only the real Victor McLaglen was not in Milwaukee. Here's the story of how a future Oscar-winner had to fight to restore his own identity from an unlikely Cream City imposter.
Published Nov. 29, 2014
While most local fight fans paid big pay-per-view bucks to watch Manny Pacquiao pound Chris Algieri Saturday night, the burlesque that masquerades as live pro boxing nowadays slunk back into town at a south side hotel ballroom. Lyle McDowell, how 45, was allowed to box Enobong "The Nigerian Gentleman" Umohette and "won," but it was a far cry from a special event.
Published Oct. 18, 2014
Aurelia Libo Lorenz was a doting aunt. In fact, her niece and nephew, Vivian and Milton Libo, ages 5 and 4, were the only bright spots in the increasingly unhappy life of the 31-year-old divorcee who lived with them.
Published Sept. 23, 2014
Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer Cal Hubbard, who went on to become a hall of fame umpire in Major League Baseball, wanted to give boxing a shot, too. His choice of opponent, a rival from the Chicago Bears named George Trafton.