Law school was a struggle. The boxing career was brief. Mills Lane did persevere to become a respected state court judge and one of the top referees in the sport.
“In the Marine Corps, they taught you you might not like to shine your shoes, but you got to. So you just try to make sure that they’re the best shine that’s in the platoon. Try to excel at what you do,” he said.
It’s a philosophy that got a mediocre student through college and his bar exams, honed by the discipline he learned in the ring.
“Amateur boxing is a true sport,” Lane said. “It allows you to stand on your own two feet all by yourself to face a series of difficult situations, and your dealing with them is all based upon what you’ve done - if you’ve hit the bag, if you’ve been on the road. It teaches you that reward comes from sacrifice.”
Lane’s own ring career began in the Marines in 1957 and carried him from the family farm in South Carolina to the University of Nevada, Reno, which hosted the 1959 NCAA boxing tournament. He made it to the finals in the 1960 Olympic trials at 147 pounds, then fought professionally until his graduation in 1963.
“I just wasn’t good enough,” he said of his decision to retire. “You break your arm, you get that fixed.” Pointing to his head, he added, “You break that, you don’t get that fixed, so when my time came to get out, I got out. But I wasn’t going to just walk away.”
That led to refereeing, starting at $12.50 a fight plus gas money in the amateur and semi-pro ranks before he moved up to championship bouts.
His 96th title fight was the June 28 rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
He would not speculate on how Tyson’s ear chomping might affect his boxing career. But he said the sport would not suffer for it.
“It’s just a blip on the whole spectrum of professional prize fighting,” he said. “There’ll be tickets sold tomorrow. There’ll be fights tomorrow.”
And Lane will be there. He’ll be at Saturday’s card at Caesars Tahoe featuring the Lennox Lewis-Henry Akinwande WBC heavyweight title bout. The following weekend, it will be club fights in Yerington.
“If you work as a referee under the (Nevada State) Athletic Commission, you do not have the right to pick and choose,” he said. “A four-round prelim is the most important fight in the world to two people. You ought to give that the same kind of effort you give a title fight.”
Because of his courtroom commitments in Reno, Lane generally limits his refereeing to Nevada.
“I LOVE what I do,” he said. “I LOVE being a kindly old judge. But doing a fight is really the rush. If you don’t have a lot of something, it’s really more tasteful when you get it.”
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