Mills Lane, the Hall of Fame umpire who officiated the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield “Bite Fight” and more than 100 other championship fights, died Tuesday morning at his home in Reno, Nevada, his son Terry Lane confirmed to ESPN. He was 85.
Lane, known for his “Let’s get it on” prefight catchphrase, suffered a stroke in March 2002 that left him partially paralyzed and virtually unable to speak.
In his final days he was surrounded by his wife Kay and sons Terry and Tommy. Much of that time was spent watching videos of some 50 fights he refereed in the 1980s and 1990s, including Marvin Hagler’s 1979 tie against Vito Antuofermo for the middleweight championship.
“The last 20 years after the stroke have been pretty tough, to be honest,” said Terry Lane, who manages prominent Chinese boxers Zhang Zhilei and Fanlong Meng. “…We are relieved at 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 mother has taken care of him since the stroke; he has never spent a night in a nursing home. I don’t know if December 6th is the date of my father’s death or a new life for her.”
Lane, known for his no-nonsense attitude as the third man in the ring, began boxing after joining the Marines in 1956 and was later defeated at the 1960 US Olympic Trials in San Francisco.
He turned pro at welterweight the following year, suffering a TKO loss in the first round on his debut. Lane won 10 straight fights (with six KOs) and retired in 1967 with a 10-1 record.
He graduated from the University of Utah 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 win over Peter McNeeley or Julio Cesar Chavez’s rematch win over Meldrick Taylor, Lane was arguably the most famous umpire in boxing history.
In 1998, Bernard Hopkins’ fight with Robert Allen ended in a no contest when Hopkins was thrown out of the ring while Lane was trying to break one of the many clinches. Even his last fight – Tommy Hearns’ first-round KO of Jay Snyder in 1998 – involved an ultra-rare double knockdown.
That same year, Lane went mainstream with his syndicated courtship program, Judge Mills Lane, which ran through 2001 (a native of Savannah, Georgia, he previously served as both a district attorney and a district judge).
Lane expanded his place in pop culture when MTV’s popular claymation series, Celebrity Deathmatch, debuted in 1998, starring Lane and his trademark ref.
“Everything is discipline,” Lane told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. , in any case it is the most important fight in the career of these fighters tonight.”