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Referee Mills Lane: Still Fighting At Age 78

Bernard Fernandez

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Referee Mills Lane

 

By BERNARD FERNANDEZ

✅ It is cruelly ironic, when you stop and think about it. Mills Lane, one of the best and most accomplished referees in boxing history, always saw himself as a protector of the individuals whose bouts he worked. Toward that end, he was an absolute stickler for enforcing the rules. If a fighter was taking too much punishment, the former Marine always knew the exact moment when he needed to step in and wrap his arms around him. In the ring, as was the case in his other duties as a district attorney and then a District Court judge in Washoe County, Nev., it was up to Lane to see that justice was served, and he never shirked his responsibility.

But there was no such protection for the protector when Mills Lane, then 64, collapsed from a stroke in his home in Reno on or about April 1, 2002. He was all alone, with no one to kneel over him or to call for the ring doctor. And so Mills Bee Lane III lay on the floor for an indeterminate length of time, any chance he might have had for an appreciable degree of recovery slipping away with each passing minute.

“When you have a stroke it’s crucial you receive treatment quickly,” said Terry Lane, the older of Lane’s two sons. “If you do you can minimize the effects of even a bad stroke. But we really can’t pinpoint when the stroke happened.

“A few months earlier, our family had become bicoastal. My brother (Tommy) had just begun high school in New York City after moving there from Reno. All of us were kind of going back and forth between Reno and New York. I had just started college in New York around that time. My mom (Kaye), my brother and I were all back East and my dad was in Reno, by himself. We really don’t know how long it was before he was found. It might have been a day, possibly as long as two days. We don’t know for sure.

“He finally was found by one of his former law partners because he missed a meeting, and Mills Lane never missed a meeting. So they knew something had to be wrong.”

Mills Lane had already retired both as a referee and as a Washoe County judge, having taken in 1998 an even higher-profile position as a dispenser of instant justice on Judge Mills Lane, a syndicated television show in which he issued rulings in the raspy voice so familiar to fight fans. But since the stroke, that voice has been forever silenced. Although his mind is said to be as sharp as ever, Lane, now 78, no longer can verbalize his thoughts. His trim and taut former athlete’s body – in addition to the remarkable fitness level he achieved in the Marine Corps, he was a former standout boxer at the University of Nevada-Reno and then as a pro, posting a 10-1 record – also has begun to fail him in a variety of ways, which stuns those who remember him as boxing’s bow-tied Energizer Bunny.

“All through his life his weight never varied by more than four or five pounds,” said a friend, New Jersey-based referee Steve Smoger. “He called himself `The welterweight.’ Ever since I’ve known him, he was always somewhere between 145 and 150.”

Added another friend, Marc Ratner, the former executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission: “Even now, it’s difficult to imagine him as a prisoner in his own body. Mills was always in such tremendous shape.”

Although Lane did attend the festivities when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., on June 9, 2013, it was done so only with considerable effort on his part. It might even be said that Lane literally willed himself to be there.

“He has visibly aged,” Terry Lane acknowledged. “He broke his hip in 2012, the year before he was inducted in Canastota. Like any older person with physical limitations, he has lost a lot of energy. He can’t move around very easily. Mostly, he watches TV and lets Mom take care of him. She makes him as comfortable as she can.

“It seems like every year he receives an award for something, and while he does want to be around certain things, it’s difficult for him to physically get places. It causes him pain. For the most part, it’s Tommy and I and Mom serving as his representatives. When I got the call (from IBHOF executive director) Ed Brophy, I just assumed it would be Tommy and me going to Canastota and making a quick thank-you like we’ve done dozens of times before. But Dad was really into it. I know he was very happy to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He can’t speak, but he still can emote and be expressive.”

Lane’s image as a no-nonsense banty rooster inside the ropes is well-deserved, but his path to Canastota and a measure of notoriety that no referee before or since has achieved began long before the boxing world came to know him as the guy who always seemed to land the kind of fights that stick in the public’s memory. Over the course of his 34-year career, he was the third man in the ring for such major or out-of-the-ordinary bouts as Muhammad Ali-Bob Foster (1972), Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney (1982), the Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe II “Fan Man” Fight (1993), Oliver McCall’s bizarre crying jag against Lennox Lewis (1997) and, most notably, the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson II “Bite Fight” (1997).

“The visibility of the `Bite Fight’ made Mills even more mainstream,” Ratner recalled. “It almost seemed like he worked all the Super Bowls of crazy fights.”

And the craziest of all was on June 28, 1997, when Tyson twice decided to gnaw off a one-inch chunk of Holyfield’s right ear as if it were on the menu at one of the MGM Grand’s fine restaurants. Lane had no alternative but to disqualify Tyson in the third round following the second toothy infraction.

“It’s my understanding that the producers of the (eventual Judge Mills Lane) show were watching the `Bite Fight’ and one of the TV commentators mentioned that my dad was a District Court judge in Washoe County, Nevada,” Terry Lane said. “I don’t know if that sparked the idea for him doing his own show or if they wanted a Judge (Joseph) Wapner (the first of the reality-show TV judges) thing, but it definitely put Dad on a different level of attention nationally and, I guess, even globally.”

With his shaved head, distinctive growl and signature catch phrase (“Let’s get it on!”) that spawned a wave of imitators, Mills Lane now seems like the perfect candidate to have been selected for unscripted courtroom drama. But the mere fact he wound up doing any of what he’s done, given his background, makes his accomplishments even more noteworthy.

The patrician scion of a Southern dynasty in Savannah, Ga., young Mills hailed from a banking family that also had extensive plantation holdings in that state and in South Carolina. How wealthy were the Lanes? Well, the Mills B. Lane House in historic downtown Savannah, completed in 1907, was hailed as a “jewel of the antebellum South” when it was placed on the market in 2007 with an asking price of $7.6 million. It seems a safe bet that no other future referee was raised in a mansion that boasted a marble entrance, Corinthian columns, parquet floors, 29 handcrafted canvas murals, nine fireplaces, five bedrooms, eight full baths, three half-baths and a large, in-ground pool.

Mills Lane’s father went so far as to have already paid his son’s tuition at a prestigious Midwestern university, where the young man was to study agriculture, the better to prepare him for instructing field hands on the proper way to eradicate those pesky boll weevils.

But being a banker and/or gentleman farmer didn’t especially appeal to young Mills, who did not want to float through life sipping mint juleps and benefiting from a name that carried so much economic and social clouts. He apparently believed that rich kids could be rebels, too, and not just because their male ancestors once had worn plumed hats as Confederate officers.

So Mills B. Lane chucked it all in 1958 to enlist in the Marines. He took up boxing while in service to his country, becoming All-Far East welterweight champion. And when his hitch was up, he took off for Reno where, he had read in a magazine, the local university had a boxing team of some repute. After winning an NCAA boxing championship at UNR and then enjoying some success as a pro, Lane continued his journey of self-discovery, gaining his law degree and sliding seamlessly into multiple vocations in boxing and law enforcement as a referee, deputy sheriff, district attorney and judge, where his penchant for handing out stiff sentences to felonious offenders earned him the sobriquet of “Maximum Mills.”

It should come to no surprise to anyone, given Mills Lane’s determination to forge his own identity, that one of his favorite songs is the Paul Anka-written standard My Way, the most familiar versions being the ones sung by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

“Dad definitely did things his way,” Terry Lane said. “When I hear that song, I always think of him. Not to take a morbid turn here, but he always said that he wanted that song played at a memorial service whenever his time comes.”

At least Mills got the opportunity to convey that wish to Terry and Tommy, who were teenagers when their father was stricken with the stroke that has deprived them of so many of the father-son chats that never took place.

“If I could have even a one-hour conversation, an adult conversation, with him, it would mean so much to me,” Terry said. “I’d want to hear why he made the choices he did, and his outlook on everything.

“Tommy and I have to piece together a lot of that in our adult lives. There’s so many questions we’d like to go to him with, and he’s sitting right there. It is frustrating. But safe to say, he’s one in a billion.”

 

 

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 7-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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