International Boxing Hall of Fame referee Mills Lane recently passed away at 85. He was a former collegiate boxing champion who narrowly missed making the 1960 U.S. Olympic team and would go on to a career as a prosecutor, a two-term district attorney, a district court judge and one of the greatest referees in boxing history. He passed away early Tuesday at a hospice near his home in Reno, Nevada.
The cause of his death has recently been revealed. Lane’s son, Tommy, told the Reno Gazette-Journal his health had significantly declined recently. Lane suffered a debilitating stroke 20 years ago that ended his officiating career and left him unable to speak:
“He took a significant decline in his overall situation,” Tommy Lane told the newspaper. “It was a quick departure. He was comfortable and he was surrounded by his family.”
A Marine, Lane won the 1960 NCAA welterweight boxing championship and competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Francisco, California, that year. He lost in the semifinals. He turned pro while still in college and after losing his pro debut, won 10 consecutive fights before retiring.
Lane served two terms as the Washoe County, Nevada, district attorney and then became a district court judge in Washoe. He then hosted a television show similar to “The People’s Court” in which he’d hear civil cases.
Lane had worked many of the biggest fights in the second half of the 20th century and officiated bouts including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe, among many others.
His catch phrase, “Let’s get it on!” which he used to open bouts was highly popular and distinctive and became his signature.
“Mills Lane was one of the best referees ever,” Richard Steele, himself one of the great referees of all time, told Yahoo Sports. “Mills had great judgement and he would make all the calls at the right time, never too early and never too late. He was one-way all the time. He wasn’t wishy-washy. He was strong, decisive and consistent. He had that Marine Corps background and he refereed the same way. We were both in the Marines and we used to talk about the need to be strong, firm and in charge all the time. He helped me to be the referee I became. He was one hell of a guy and was a good, fair honest person. I’m going to miss him, man. I truly am.”
Lane refereed the rematch between Holyfield and Tyson at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997, that became known as “The Bite Fight.” Holyfield defeated Tyson at the MGM Grand eight months earlier to win the title, but Tyson was upset with the refereeing of Mitch Halpern, whom he accused of allowing Holyfield to headbutt him.
Halpern was reappointed to work the rematch, but when the Tyson side argued, Halpern withdrew so as not to be a part of the story. Lane replaced him and in the third round, found himself in the unenviable position of trying to restore order after Tyson bit Holyfield on the ear.