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Mills Lane, legendary Hall of Fame referee, dead at 85

The infamous "Bite Fite," the rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson was a Showtime production. Photo by JEFF HAYNES/ AFP via Getty Images
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His raspy, nasal voice was the prelude of some of the biggest boxing matches during the better part of three decades. His pre-fight instructions, complete with his expectations of a “tough, clean fight” and a last chance to ask for questions from either champ or challenger, were a classic. And his catchphrase “let’s get it on!” never failed to inspire both fighters and spectators before a high-stakes fight.

Mills Lane, the diminutive yet authoritative referee of dozens of title fights during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, passed away in Reno, Nevada, this past Tuesday, according to a statement from his family. He was 85 years old.

Lane had suffered a stroke that rendered him incapacitated back in 2002, and was paralyzed and severely limited in his mobility during the past 20 years.

In his youth, he was a boxing champion within the Armed Forces, where he served in the US Marines in Okinawa in the years immediately after World War II. He then studied law in the 1960s and moved on to a legal career that saw him become a no-nonsense prosecutor first (legend has it that he wore a gold noose on a chain around his neck to symbolize his disinclination towards plea bargaining), and then as a judge in Nevada, with a short stint as a reality TV judge in his years after retiring from boxing.

But it was in the boxing ring where he built his legend. He was famous for asking both fighters if they had any questions during his final instructions, and the moment of silence created by the usual lack of questions by either combatant only heightened the tension between them. The explosiveness of the ensuing call to “let’s get it on!” usually served as the unofficial cue for fans to explode in a roaring frenzy, and became one of boxing’s greatest catchphrases and trademarks of all time.

With his temperament hardened by his work in the justice system, he presided in hundreds of high-profile bouts during three decades with an iron fist. His memorable exchange with Mike Tyson immediately after Tyson bit one of Evander Holyfield’s ears (“you bit his ear” – “no, it was a punch” – “bullshit, two points”) remains as one of the finest examples of his indomitable character and his firm control of the situation even under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Lane was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013. He is survived by his two sons, Terry and Tommy, and his wife Kay.