An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published July 1999
Mills Lane, the feisty ex-boxing referee who gained national notoriety by disqualifying Mike Tyson for biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a championship fight in 1997, will return to the ring tonight. This time, however, it will be a wrestling ring where Judge Lane will hand down his verdict.
Lane, host of the nationally syndicated courtroom series “Judge Mills Lane,” will deliver his signature “Let’s Get It On” phrase when he officiates a 10-round boxing match between Roddy Piper and Buff Bagwell at WCW’s Bash at the Beach pay-per-view in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The bout marks a return to the ring for the 61-year-old, chrome- domed, uniquely voiced Lane, who retired last December after overseeing more than 100 championship fights.
Lane, who was honored as the “Best Ref in Boxing” by Ring Magazine, is best known for his action in the Tyson-Holyfield bout that led to Tyson’s temporary banishment from boxing. The ex-prosecutor’s latest notoriety, however, stems from his national exposure as a judge who runs a no-nonsense courtroom which he tempers with compassion and a keen sense of humor, reflecting his “tough but fair” philosophy.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“I was a hard-nosed SOB. I make no bones about it,” Lane said from his office in Reno, Nev. Lane served as a deputy district attorney and chief deputy sheriff for 12 years before being elected head DA for eight more. His reputation earned him the nickname “Maximum Mills.”
He used that same tenacity as a Marine Corps boxing champ, a top- ranked pro boxing referee and later as a TV judge. Tonight he’ll bring it to a pro wrestling ring.
“Hell, you can’t hardly fake that,” said Lane. “When you get hit in the nose, you get hit in the nose. So I’m going down to Fort Lauderdale and referee a fight.” Lane admits he doesn’t follow pro wrestling, but says he has great respect for the amateur variety.
“If it hadn’t been boxing for me, it probably would have been wrestling. I have a great respect for that discipline. Dan Gable was always one of my favorites. He didn’t have one of the best techniques, he’d just work you to death.
“I have great respect for people who get their ears back and get after it. I always tell people, especially fighters, that I don’t care if you get knocked down, I want to know if you’ll get up.”
Lane didn’t renew his boxing referee’s license for 1999 when he was informed by the governor of Nevada that he would be appointed to the state athletic commission.
“Plus I’m doing some color commentary,” said Lane, “If you’re doing color commentary, I think it is a conflict of interest to be one of them. I had a hell of a run, and it was time to pack it in.”
Lane, whose TV show’s second season will be on the books July 30, says he doesn’t allow himself to miss boxing.
“I don’t let myself miss it. If you let yourself miss it, you’ll kill yourself. When I was a fighter and it was time to get out, I just didn’t let myself miss it. You have to go on.”
Lane, whose first cousin is Charleston banker Hugh Lane Jr., has deep roots in this state, where he grew up on Combahee Plantation in Beaufort County, did boot camp at Parris Island and attended USC for a summer.
“We did our shopping in Walterboro,” he recalled.
Lane, who was born in Savannah, Ga., was a former NCAA welterweight champion with an amateur boxing record of 60 victories and only four losses. Lane, at 5 feet 7 inches and 147 pounds, was named the Marine Corps’ Far East boxing champion in Okinawa.
“I did my boot camp at Parris Island and was stationed in the Fleet Marine Force at Okinawa, Japan, where I did my boxing. After the All-Marine tournament in ’59, I took my orders to go back to Parris Island to handle recruits. I wound up my tour at Parris Island.”
Lane returned home to Combahee Plantation after his Marines stint. His father, Remer Lane of the Citizens and Southern Georgia banking dynasty, had moved the family from Savannah after World War II.
Lane spent the summer of 1959 at USC in order to get his grades up so he could transfer to the University of Nevada, which boasted a top intercollegiate boxing program.
“I loved it at Carolina,” said Lane. “It was a great school, and the people were real nice. But I had my mind on being a fighter, and they didn’t have a boxing program there. When I had a chance to come west on a scholarship, I did it.”
He left for Nevada and never returned.
“One reason I didn’t wind back up in the Carolinas and Georgia is that my uncle, Mills II, was the president of the C&S Bank, and (another uncle) Hugh was the president of the one in Carolina. A part of the idea was that I was supposed to major in business, which I did, and work hard, which I tried to, and come back and work in the bank. I even came back and was signing up for my training program.
“I said to myself: `If you do this, you’re never going to know.’ So I told my daddy, who had the farm, that I just couldn’t do it. If I went to work in this bank, and I’m the boss’ nephew, I’m never gonna know. So I loaded everything I had in my car and headed back to Reno. Ironically I went to work for a bank there, repossessing cars and collecting loans. I went to law school on the GI Bill, became the DA, then became a kindly, old judge, and then Tyson-Holyfield.”
Lane fought in the amateurs from 1956-61, competed professionally from 1962-63 (had an 11-1 record) and took up refereeing in 1964. He refereed through 1998, with the exception being three years he spent at law school.
Lane said he returns to the Carolinas every three or four years. “My mom lives in Savannah. We rent a car and drive over and drive back to the old place for nostalgia. I spend half a day at Parris Island and half a day at Combahee. I drive to Parris Island, go to the parade ground and watch them getting drilled. I say to myself, `OK, if we’ve got to get it on again, by God, there’s a few young men we can get it on with.'”
Lane laughed at the possibility of being personally involved in the fisticuffs tonight.
“I hope they don’t want me to do that. I’m too old for that, but I’m not going to take any crap.”
Lane said he has no regrets over how he handled the infamous Tyson-Holyfield fight.
“I don’t have any regrets because of the way things worked out. But I cannot disagree with those folks who say that I should have chased him after the first bite. You can make a hell of a case out for that. But so much was on the line, the doctor told me Holyfield could go, and I figured maybe they could settle down and get this thing together. The way things worked out it was probably for the best.”
Lane also said he has no problem with athletes running for political office.
“I was impressed when I heard Jesse Ventura say, `I don’t know,’ to a question. The key is surrounding yourself with good, hard-working, ethical people. If you are savvy and have a sense of the deal – a sense of what’s going on around you – and you don’t try to meddle in everything and take the heat when you’ve got it coming, that’s what politics and leadership are all about. I think that people who have that discipline and are willing to work and are willing to listen and are willing to be honest about things, and will say every now and again, `I don’t know, but I’ll find out,’ those are the kind of folks I want representing me.”