In December 2010, I made a case for Portland boxer Pete Riccitelli's induction into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, in the snappily titled "The Case for Pete Riccitelli." During four-plus years I have been writing this column, no topic has generated more correspondence. I received several impassioned missives from Maine fight fans (there were a couple of actual letters, which is how you can tell a column reached an older audience, the type that would have frequented the Portland Expo in the 1960s, for Friday Night Fights), each agreeing that Pete Riccitelli deserves to be enshrined in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
However, when the Hall recently announced its 2012 inductees, once again, Riccitelli's name was not on the list. Bobby Russo, the current executive director of Golden Gloves New England, who also happens to head up the Portland Boxing Club, was a glove boy at the Expo's Friday Night Fights as a kid. As someone who saw Riccitelli in the time of his glory firsthand, Russo passionately believes that this hometown favorite's continued exclusion from the Hall is wrong, and that perhaps the people who vote on inductees are looking at things the wrong way.
"From what I understand, there was an attempt to get him in earlier, some years ago, and he was passed over because of his win-loss record," Russo said. Riccitelli's professional record was 56 wins (24 by KO) against 30 losses (9 of those by KO), with one draw. However, to decide Riccitelli's ultimate worthiness for the Maine Sports Hall of Fame by that statistic alone would be short-sighted, according to Russo. "That's really looking over the top of this, because, like is the case with many fighters, most of the losses come at the end of the career, when they're still taking fights."
Here's the most important fact, as Russo sees it: "They (the Maine Sports Hall of Fame Committee) like to hear hard, irrefutable facts. They like to hear indisputable numbers, and (Riccitelli) sold more tickets than anyone in that era. This guy put more asses in the seats than anyone in the history of Maine. . . . Pete was the most active fighter in the world in 1966 or 1967," Russo recalled. "Then, in 1968, he was tied for it with another Portland guy, Gene Herrick. At that time, Portland was the busiest fight town in the world. That's how many bouts we were putting on. Of course, this was the Muhammad Ali era, so boxing was big, but still, Pete packed people in, several thousand every other week."
Riccitelli is the fighter who personifies the Portland Expo's golden era of boxing. "A lot of fighters could draw crowds," Russo said, "But Pete was the man. Pete was very flamboyant. He had the orange trunks, the Cadillac, the boxer dog, he had it all, and not everyone liked that. A lot of people went to (Friday Night Fights) see him lose, just like some people watched Muhammad Ali to see him get beat, but either way, Pete got people buying tickets."