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At 77, He Still Packs A Punch
By Ron Avery
Philadelphia Daily News - December 1991


It's not surprising that any time someone living around 9th and Dickenson in South Philly cuts their finger or scrapes their elbow they come running to Adolph Ritacco.

After all, Ritacco, now 77, was among boxing's premier cut men for decades. His proudest boast is that no fighter whose corner he worked ever lost on cuts.

What is surprising is that 50 years after the compact 5-foot-2 flyweight fought his last bout he can still deck a young punk with one shot.

"Tell the story about what happened in the bar, Adolph," coaxes his wife, Lucy.

Ritacco says a couple of months back a young troublemaker was picking on an old man.

"I say 'old man', but he was 10 years younger than me," Ritacco recalls. "the guy was poking him in the ribs. And that hurts.

"I says, 'What are you botherin' this man for?' He says, 'What's it your business.'

"The guy hauls back to throw a right. Before he could get it off I hit him with a left hook," Says Ritacco, describing his opponent as 28 years old and about 6 feet tall.

Ritacco's punch put the younger man on the deck. His head struck a foot rail and he was out cold for several minutes. When he came around, he apologized and has never returned to the taproom again, says Ritacco.

Where does a 77-year-old gnome with a bad hip get the nerve to challenge a guy 50 years his junior?

"I don't know, but honest to God, I don't feel old," says Ritacco, pounding his stomach to show it's still rock-hard.

Born and raised in South Philly, Ritacco says he was such a wild and bad kid that his parents shipped him off to live with a South Jersey farmer where he learned hard work and completed the eighth grade.

Back home at 16, he worked as a carpenter and became one of the nation's top amateur 112-pounders, compiling a 91-1 record.

Restaurateur Frank Palumbo became Ritacco's manager when he turned professional - meaning the fighter always ate well. Paydays for flyweight fighters were also flyweight. "My biggest purse was $250 for an eight-rounder at Madison Square Garden," he recalls.

At 18-0, Ritacco might have become a contender or even champion if World War II hadn't ended his boxing career. He was soon a machine gunner on Navy amphibious landing craft in the Pacific.

Seriously wounded twice during five island landings, he was discharged with a lifelong disability pension.

Ritacco naturally returned to boxing, this time as a trainer and cut man. The first top fighter he handled was Dan Bucceroni.

For 12 years, he trained former middleweight champion Joey Giardello - a fighter he considers a pan-in-the-neck and a great talent.

"He hated training. I must have broke his door down three times trying to get him to come out and run. Once he called the cops on me," says Ritacco, laughing at the memory. "I was on his back day and night."

"I ran with all my fighters. One time me and Giardello were running around the lakes (League Island Park). And I turn around and he's gone. I found him hiding under some bushes."

Ritacco figures he worked in about 35 championship bouts and in the process saw much of the world.

Trainers are normally paid 10 percent of a fighter's purse. Ritacco's biggest paydays were earned during his last years with light-heavyweight champ Matthew Saad Muhammad.

Ritacco's secret and foolproof cut-stopping concoction got him in trouble after a Saad Muhammad-John Conteh title match in 1980 in Atlantic City.

Only certain approved substances are permitted in the ring. Ritacco's secret coagulant of ground tea leaves and petroleum jelly was ruled illegal. The trainer was suspended for a year by the New Jersey Boxing Commission, and Conteh was awarded a rematch.

People are always knocking on his door seeking treatment for cuts and sprains.

In recent weeks, he's patched up the bloody knee of a kid who fell off his bike, an quickly staunched a tiny nick in the ear of a beauty parlor patron.

Married 51 years, Adolph and Lucy Ritacco have one son, Dennis, a recently retired city firefighter, who announced his plans to box as a teenager.

"I wanted him to finish school," Ritacco recalls. "Unless he was really good, I didn't want him in boxing. So I said, 'If you can last three rounds in the ring with me, I'll let you box.'

"I hit him three good shots in the stomach. He quit in the first round and stayed in school."



This story was originally published in Ron Avery's Philadelphia Daily News column "Poor Ronald's Almanac".