Mills Lane, the Hall of Fame referee who officiated the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield “Bite Fight” and more than 100 other championship bouts, died Tuesday morning at his Reno, Nevada, home, his son Terry Lane confirmed to ESPN. He was 85.
Lane, known for his prefight catchphrase “Let’s get it on,” suffered a stroke in March 2002 that partially paralyzed him and left him virtually unable to speak.
He was surrounded by his wife, Kaye, and sons, Terry and Tommy, during his final days. Much of that time was spent watching videos of roughly 50 fights he refereed during the 1980s and ’90s, including Marvin Hagler’s 1979 draw vs. Vito Antuofermo for the middleweight championship.
“The past 20 years after the stroke were pretty tough, to be honest,” said Terry Lane, who manages prominent Chinese boxers Zhang Zhilei and Fanlong Meng. ” … We’re relieved of the outpouring of support.
“He was just this really amazing father and husband and I don’t know if people got to see that kind and sensitive side of him. My mom took care of him since the stroke; he never spent one night in a nursing home. I don’t know if Dec. 6 is my dad’s date of death or a new life for her.”
Lane, regarded for his no-nonsense attitude as the third man in the ring, started boxing after he joined the Marines in 1956 and was later defeated in the U.S. Olympic trials in 1960 in San Francisco.
He turned pro as a welterweight the following year and suffered a first-round TKO loss in his debut. Lane went on to win 10 consecutive fights (with six KOs) and retired in 1967 with a 10-1 record.
He graduated from the University of Utah’s law school in 1970 and refereed his first title fight the following year.
Lane always seemed to find himself in big boxing moments. Whether it was Tyson’s comeback DQ victory over Peter McNeeley or Julio Cesar Chavez’s rematch win over Meldrick Taylor, Lane was there as arguably the most recognizable referee in boxing’s storied history.
In 1998, Bernard Hopkins’ fight with Robert Allen ended in a no contest when Hopkins was ejected from the ring while Lane was trying to break one of the many clinches. Even his final fight — Tommy Hearns’ first-round KO of Jay Snyder in 1998 — featured an ultrarare double knockdown.
That same year, Lane crossed over into the mainstream with his syndicated court program, “Judge Mills Lane,” which ran until 2001 (the Savannah, Georgia, native previously served as both a district attorney and district judge.)
Lane added to his place in pop culture lore when MTV’s popular Claymation series, “Celebrity Deathmatch,” debuted in 1998 with Lane as the referee complete with his trademark catchphrase.
“Everything is discipline,” Lane told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “When I’m working a fight, I give the same energy and attention to a four-rounder as I do a million-dollar fight. The way I see it, in either case, on that night, it’s the most important fight in those fighters’ careers.”