Boxing was in mourning when Mills Lane, the legendary referee passed away.
In Reno, Nevada, Lane’s long and storied career with the sport he loved began, when he made his way to the ring for his fight with Artie Cox on 7 April, 1961.
However, rather than lacing up gloves, Lane became more famous for the blue shirt and black bow tie combination he sported as boxing’s most famous referee.
It’s the reason there was such an outpouring of grief when he died, on Tuesday, at the age of 85.
He was the man given the task of keeping order when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear, when the ‘Fan Man’ gatecrashed Holyfield vs Riddick Bowe and when Oliver McCall stopped fighting Lennox Lewis and broke down mid-fight.
His ‘Let’s Get It On’ catchphrase became his signature and was the basis of MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and he was eventually inducted into boxing’s Hall of Fame.
But his association with boxing began many years before any of that.
He even shunned a career in banking to chase his dream.
A FAMOUS NAME
Born into money on 12 November, 1937, thanks to his granddad, Mills B. Lane, who founded the largest bank in the state of Georgia, he shunned the riches on offer to him and enlisted in the marines in 1956.
There’s even a Mill B Lane Boulevard in Savannah, Georgia.
Lane believes his greatest accomplishment was becoming a Marine.
“He said it taught him the discipline on which he based his entire life,” son Terry told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “He also started boxing when he was in the Marines.”
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During his time as a Marine, he won the All-Far welterweight title before winning the NCAA tournament at the University of Nevada, which he enrolled in after being discharged from the corp in 1959.
But a career as a professional fighter wasn’t on the cards as he found out when Cox dropped him in the first round.
He did beat Cox again, with his debut being his only defeat.
“I took a year off, started all over in the gym, came back and fought 12 more times,” he said. “When I quit, I was 11-1-1.”
JUDGE MILLS LANE
Rather than getting punched in the face for a living, he attended law school and worked as a prosecutor then a district attorney and served as a district court judge.
As you might expect, he wasn’t known for his leniency and this last job even landed him his own TV show in later life – Judge Mills Lane – where his no-nonsense approach had many criminals cowering in the courtroom between 1998 and 2001.
His serious demeanour meant you never knew which way the axe would fall – a good trait to have for this avid poker player.
“Being an arbitrator, whether in the courtroom or in a prizefighting ring, is what I am. That’s where my passion is and I know of no other way to describe it,” he wrote in his book, Let’s Get It On.
LET’S GET IT ON
It’s right up there with Michael Buffer’s ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’.
Lane’s simple utterance was first heard in 1982 before Gerry Cooney fought Larry Holmes in a WBC heavyweight title fight.
“I wanted to say something different,” he later explained, while his iconic touching of the nose and thumbs up pre-fight ritual was for a dear friend of his suffering from cancer.
HIS FIRST FIGHT
A man called Lonnie Toleno beat Jimmy Ahmed at the University of Nevada Gym under his watchful eye, though Lane got his first taste of big time boxing in the fight capital of the world in 1978.
And what an introduction it was at Caesars Palace when Larry Holmes beat Ken Norton in 15 rounds, which has since gone down as one of the heavyweight division’s most epic battles.
THE ‘BITE’ FIGHT
In 1996, Holyfield emerged victorious from his first fight with Tyson against the odds. The rematch, in 1997, was supposed to be different – it was certainly memorable – and it ended up thrusting the ref into the mainstream.
It has since become known as the ‘Bite Fight’ due to Tyson’s decision to tear a chunk out of his opponent’s ear TWICE.
Microphones picked up Lane telling the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ he bit Holyfield’s ear and when Tyson responded by telling him it was a punch, he replied ‘bull****’.
Lane wasn’t even supposed to be there and only got the call-up when the Tyson camp protested the decision to appoint Mitch Halpern as third man.
Tyson had become accustomed to Lane’s hard as nails attitude.
He was in in the ring when he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history in 1986 and was there to oversee his fight against Peter McNeeley, his first following his release from prison in 1995.
“My dad always liked Mike, and he ended up doing nine of his fights,” Lane’s oldest son, Terry, told Ring magazine.
HIS LAST FIGHT
He signed off his career alongside another legend in Tommy Hearns. One of the ‘Four Kings’, Hearns was 40 when he fought Jay Snyder at Joe Louis Arena in Michigan on 6 November, 1998.
He needed just 88 seconds to win, but perhaps should have followed Lane out of the ring.
“He was a fair, honest guy,” Hearns said. “He allowed you to do what you were supposed to do in the ring.
“I had great respect for Mills Lane. I always liked it when he said, ‘Let’s Get It On!’”
Mills was gone from the ring but definitely not forgotten.
Millions of non-boxing fans later knew Lane thanks to the claymation version of himself where he provided his “Let’s get it on” catchphrase to the MTV show.
He was a lot more lenient here as the show saw celebrities literally rip each other’s heads off, which was often accompanied by Lane saying “I’ll allow it!”
HALL OF FAME
“The entire boxing referee fraternity owes a lot to him,” former referee Joe Cortez told The Las Vegas Review Journal.
“He was a premier referee. He was very consistent and very fair with the fighters, but very firm.”
Having retired in 1998, Lane suffered a debilitating stroke in 2002 that left his right side paralysed and rendered speech difficult for him.
And his family revealed their surprise when he told them he wanted to attend his Hall of Fame induction in 2013, joining esteemed boxing journalist Colin Hart, announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr and blood and guts warrior Arturo Gatti.
“Because he usually doesn’t want people to see him in this state. He’s a proud guy,” Tommy Lane told The Ring ahead of an appearance where he was showered with the kind of love reserved for the boxers.
And there was plenty more of that affection when the sad news broke.