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Legendary Referee Mills Lane Dies At 85

Legendary Referee Mills Lane Dies At 85

Boxing News

Legendary Referee Mills Lane Dies At 85

VJ Lovero/Icon Sportswire

Legendary Referee Mills Lane Dies At 85

(Tuesday brought the sad news that Mills Lane, a legendary “third man in the ring” for a bevy of big time title fights primarily in Las Vegas, had passed away. Our Dan Rafael has the details on his long and amazing career as a referee.)

Mills Lane, one of the greatest referees in boxing history, who was the third man in the ring for some of the sport’s most famous bouts, died on Tuesday at his Reno, Nevada, home. He was 85.

Lane had been in poor health for more than 20 years, since suffering a debilitating stroke in April 2002, and took a turn for the worse in recent days.

Mills Lane had an amazing refereeing career

He refereed more than 100 world championship fights, including the infamous “Bite Fight” heavyweight title rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson on June 28, 1997. Lane disqualified Tyson in the third round after he twice bit Holyfield’s ears.

“It’s been a rough few days, but I’m mostly relieved that it’s over. My family and I have had over two decades to prepare for this but still, one really can’t prepare,” Terry Lane, one of Mills’ sons and a prominent boxing manager, told Fight Freaks Unite and Big Fight Weekend.

“His life touched so many others throughout the years. Whether it be the Marines, the law, boxing, TV, he was just a special man. The one side the public never got to see was the fact that he was an amazing husband and father. I want people to know that.”

He died with wife Kay and sons Terry and Tommy at his bedside as they watched videos of some of the biggest fights he refereed.

“Ever since his stroke in April of 2002, my mom was his full-time caretaker,” Terry Lane said. “We helped, but she took care of him at home with no days off. My dad may have died this morning, but my mom was born again.”

Born Nov. 12, 1937 in Savannah, Georgia, Lane, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013, was known for far more than just Holyfield-Tyson II. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and during his stint began boxing in 1956.

After an honorable discharge, he enrolled at the University of Nevada at Reno and won an NCAA boxing championship in 1960 and that year also competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials. He boxed professionally as a welterweight from 1961 to 1967 and went 10-1 with six knockouts.

He would go on to become a both a district attorney and district judge, having earned a law degree at the University of Utah.

He began refereeing in the late 1960s and retired in 1998. For much of the 1980s and 1990s he was a staple of big Las Vegas fights and regularly received the biggest assignments in the sport.

Lane’s pre-fight instructions with the fighters in the center of the ring created excitement as he famously would conclude by pumping his fist followed by his catchphrase “let’s get it on!”

Among the dozens of major fights he refereed were Larry Holmes-Ken Norton, Holmes-Gerry Cooney, Muhammad Ali-Bob Foster, Tyson-Trevor Berbick, Tyson-Peter McNeeley, Tyson-Tony Tucker, Tyson-Frank Bruno II, Evander Holyfield-Buster Douglas, Oscar De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez-Frankie Randall II, Chavez-Meldrick Taylor II, Holyfield-Michael Moorer I, Michael Carbajal-Humberto Gonzalez I, Michael Spinks-Holmes II, Marvin Hagler-John Mugabi and Salvador Sanchez-Danny Lopez II.

Besides the “Bite Fight”, Lane also found himself in the ring for other infamous bouts. He called timeout when the “Fan Man” parachuted into the ring at Caesars Palace and disrupted the 1993 heavyweight championship rematch between Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.

See that moment here:

He also worked two bizarre Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fights a few months apart in 1997 — his rematch with Oliver McCall, when McCall had a mental breakdown and began crying in the ring during the bout, forcing Lane to stop it and award Lewis a TKO victory as he regained the title, and when he disqualified Henry Akinwande for excessive holding in his title shot against Lewis.

Lane was also the referee for Bernard Hopkins’ middleweight title defense against Robert Allen in their first fight in 1998, which ended with Lane breaking a clinch between the two and accidentally pushing Allen out of the ring. He suffered a leg injury that caused the fight be ruled a fourth-round no contest.

Lane’s final bout in 1998 was Thomas Hearns’ first-round knockout of Jay Snyder, which featured an extremely rare double knockdown.

Through it all, Lane was lauded for his poise and calm demeanor no matter what was happening during the fight.

Lane’s personality landed him television opportunities

His performance in the “Bite Fight” and the other unusual fight situations launched him to stardom well beyond the boxing world. He landed a television syndicated court series called “Judge Mills Lane” in which he heard civil case. It ran from 1998 to 2001.

He also became embedded in pop culture in 1998 when MTV aired the Claymation series “Celebrity Deathmatch” in which Lane’s voiced his character refereeing the stylized, cartoonish fights.

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Since 2000, award-winning reporter Dan Rafael has covered boxing full time and been ringside for thousands of fights, first for five years at USA Today and then for 15 years at ESPN, where he wrote and appeared on various television, radio and streaming programs. In 2013, Dan was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America with the Nat Fleischer award for career excellence in boxing journalism. Dan brings his great insight to the Big Fight Weekend site, podcast and more!

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