Iconic boxing referee Mills Lane passed away last December at the age of 85. The famous official was known for his “Let’s get it on” catchphrase and his presence as the third man for some of the biggest and most controversial moments in boxing history. On what would have been his 86th birthday, The Sportsman celebrates perhaps the greatest 'third man' boxing has ever had.
A list of Lane’s assignments reads like a “Boxing’s Most Outrageous Moments” ranking. The Hall of Famer was the man who called time out when the infamous ‘Fan Man’ crash-landed in the ring during Evander Holyfield’s second fight with Riddick Bowe. He presided over the moment Oliver McCall burst into tears while fighting Lennox Lewis. Lane would disqualify Henry Akinwande for excessive holding in another Lewis fight. He would also accidentally knock Bernard Hopkins out of the ring during a middleweight title defence against Robert Allen, rendering the champion unable to continue.
But the fight Lane’s name is most associated with goes by the simple moniker ‘The Bite Fight’. Say those three words to anyone with even a rudimentary education in boxing and they will recall time, place and combatants. Mike Tyson biting part of Evander Holyfield’s ear off in 1997 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena is a pivotal moment in the history of the sport. Lane’s calm, assertive handling of the infringement, in which he allowed the bout to continue at Holyfield’s behest before disqualifying a raging Tyson after a repeat performance, catapulted him to mainstream celebrity.
Lane would retire the year after the ‘Bite Fight’. His last fight was characteristically eventful. The great Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns stopped Jay Snyder in a single round, with both fighters simultaneously knocking each other down. It was beautifully apropos that Lane would go out on such a memorable moment.
Freed from spending his weekends pulling heavyweight behemoths off each other, Lane embraced his newfound fame. A claymation version of the referee, voiced by Mills himself, became the in-house referee for MTV’s wildly-popular ‘Celebrity Deathmatch’. The none-more-90s animated series saw Lane swap fights like Larry Holmes vs Ken Norton for Larry King vs Geraldo Rivera.
Lane would also front his own television series in the real world. Tapping into the market of courtroom shows like ‘Judge Judy’, former Nevada district court judge Lane hosted ‘Jude Mills Lane’ between 1998 and 2001. He also appeared on WWF Raw and provided a guest voice on Toy Story spin-off ‘Buzz Lightyear of Star Command’. If something was popular in the 1990s, chances are Mills Lane was involved.
But he will be best-remembered for his work at the fights. Even putting aside his measured officiating of some of boxing’s most outlandish match-ups, he refereed a laundry list of absolute classics. Muhammad Ali’s divine destruction of Bob Foster, Holyfield’s first heavyweight title win over James ‘Buster’ Douglas, Tyson’s maiden championship victory over Trevor Berbick, Oscar De La Hoya’s coming-of-age win over Pernell Whitaker and countless others too wide-ranging to list.
An Olympic trialist and NCAA boxing champion in his youth, Lane went 10-1 as a professional before swapping the gloves for the bowtie. He could not have imagined at that point he would leave a more indelible impact on the sport than most of the fighters he refereed. Mills Lane will be sorely missed as part of the fabric of this great sport. Rest in peace.