Five days after ending the notorious Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight with a Tyson disqualification, Mills Lane is holed up in his Nevada District Court chambers in Reno, thankful the media rush has finally begun to subside. “Judas!” the spry, veteran official exclaims in his distinctive style, “It was absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 40 years as a fighter and a referee. A truck from “Good Morning America” pulled up to my house at 2:30 a.m. Monday morning and I had a trial to preside over the next day.”
With a chomp of his teeth, Mike Tyson made a mockery of boxing and thrust himself and everyone involved in the controversial June 28 match into the glaring media spotlight.
As a general jurisdiction Nevada state trial judge since 1990 (and former Washoe, Nev., county attorney) the 59-year-old Lane renders judgment on hundreds of criminal cases a year. He’s seen a lot in his years, both on the bench and in the ring, but when Tyson bit off a large chunk of Holyfield’s right ear and spit it back out on the canvas, Lane was shocked.
“Regardless of what you think of Mike Tyson, his problems with the law, his big talk and so forth, he had, at least to some degree, observed basic boxing protocol in the past,” Lane says. “There is a certain discipline between fighters, a mutual understanding about what occurs when you strap on the gloves and come out to answer the bell. That protocol needs to be observed. There are some things you just don’t do, and biting somebody in a prize fight is certainly one of those things. To see Tyson step out of that protocol in such a broad way is simply amazing to me.”
Lane wasn’t the only one amazed by the chain of events that took place. Immediately following Tyson’s initial bite, lane temporarily stopped the fight (with 33 seconds left in the third round) to have Dr. Flip Homansky enter the ring and examine Holyfield’s ear.
“If Flip said he couldn’t continue then I’d have stopped it right then and there,” Lane says. “But we discussed it and even though Flip said it was cosmetically bad, he felt that Holyfield could continue, and Evander himself was ready to go so I decided the fight could go on. I penalized Tyson the two points, one for biting and one for pushing. But before we got started again I got the two of them together and I said, ‘Look, this is a prize fight; surely we can do better than this.’”
Mills Lane: “That’s Bulls— Mike!”
Meanwhile, television commentators announced to millions of viewers around the world that Lane had called the fight. They said they overheard Lane say Tyson was disqualified and the fight was over. Lane admits it appeared as though he called the fight after the initial bite. “The confusion that I have is I don’t remember saying, ‘He’s disqualified,’ after the first bite, but the tape seems to indicate that I said it,” he says. “It must have just been a reaction of my mouth operating before I had my brain in gear.”
After both fighters returned to their corners, Marc Ratner, the Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director, stepped up on the ring apron, leaned over the ropes and exchanged words with Lane.
The fight finally resumed, but before the end of the round Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear. “After that (second bite) I didn’t talk to anybody. I just said, that’s it, (Tyson) you’re out of here, you’re gone, you’re done,” Lane says.
Initially, Tyson denied biting Holyfield the second time. “He tried to tell me the blood on the side of Holyfield’s head came from a punch,” Lane says. “I said, ‘That’s bulls— Mike; you bit him!’”
Ratner agrees with Lane’s decision to call it when he did: “I think he did exactly what he should have done. I have no second-guessing of his decision whatsoever.”
Much of the postfight discussion centered on whether Lane sought to disqualify Tyson after the first bite, with 33 seconds left in the third round. There was even speculation that Ratner stepped to the ring apron and forced Lane to let the fight continue. Although Lane admits to some confusion about what he said at the time, he is adamant that Ratner never attempted to overrule or influence his decision.
“Anybody who suggests that Marc or any member of the commission tried to influence me in any way is wrong.” – Mills Lane
Ratner says disqualification was never brought up. “He never discussed disqualifying Tyson with me after the first bite. What he told me was he was taking two points away (From Tyson), one for biting and one for pushing Holyfield in the back.”
Lane was completely in charge of the fight, according to Ratner. “One of my functions at a boxing match is to be there to assist the referee, but not to supervise or overrule the referee in any way,” he says. “Before the fight I make sure the fighters are ready to go when the television crews ask for them to come out. During the fight I make sure the cameramen don’t get too close to the ring and interfere with the fight. If there is a point deduction, I’ll let everybody know what happened so there is no question about it, but the referee is the final arbiter in the ring. Whatever he says goes.”
“The decision was left completely in my hands,” Lane says. “It was my decision to let the fight go on after the first bite and it was my decision to stop it when I did. Anybody who suggests that Marc or any member of the commission tried to influence me in any way is wrong.”
Lane’s decision to disqualify Tyson at the end of the third round prompted a melee that began in the ring and eventually spilled out into the crowd. Ratner says, however, that at no time did he feel the situation was getting out of control. “It was like a flash fire that flared up and was put out immediately. I was on the apron outside the ropes when it started, but I was not in any danger and I was very pleased with the way security handled it,” he says.
Lane agrees. “I remember Tyson rushing around and swinging at people, but security was in his corner and they seemed to have it all under control,” he says.
Lane dismissed accusations from team Tyson that Holyfield headbutted Tyson intentionally: “Headbutting is a common thing in boxing. It’s a referee’s call to determine whether a butt or head clash is unintentional.
“An intentional butt is severely sanctioned. If a fight has to be stopped because of an intentional butt, the ‘buttor’ cannot win the fight. He loses the fight if he’s behind. If he’s ahead, he either gets disqualified or they’ll all it a technical draw. There’s butting and then there’s butting. What you have to keep in perspective is that it’s often a fighter’s style that causes it. These two guys had the type of style that was going to cause them to butt heads. …I do not believe that Evander Holyfield intentionally butted Mike Tyson at any point in the fight. Evander Holyfield is a great man, a warrior in the ring and a gentleman outside of it. I didn’t foreclose the possibility of a headbutt coming from Holyfield, but it did not happen that night,” Lane says.
In the days following the fight, more than 2,000 calls from media inquiries flooded into Ratner’s office at the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which regulates the sports of boxing and kickboxing in Nevada.
Two days following the incident Tyson apologized to the world, Holyfield and Lane for his brutal behavior, but having heard countless similar pleas for forgiveness in his courtroom, Lane was unfazed by Tyson’s apology. The following day the commission convened and decided to suspend Tyson and temporarily hold his estimated $30 million purse. On July 9, the commission revoked Tyson’s license to box in Nevada. Additionally, the commission fined Tyson $2.98 million and prohibited anyone licensed in Nevada to box against or promote Mike Tyson anywhere in the United States.
While the apology doesn’t excuse Tyson’s actions, Lane thinks it’s a step in the right direction. “I give anybody credit who does that. Absolutely,” said Lane in his own emphatic style. “When you can look yourself in the eyeball and say, ‘It’s me, I did it,’ then you’re taking a step towards getting it together. There is no way in the world Tyson can justify what happened, but at least he stood up and said he did it and that’s something.
“Too often in my line of work I see people try to side step around what they’ve done and I have to tell ‘em, ‘Look it’s not because your daddy yelled at ya when you were a kid, it’s not cause your momma didn’t change your diaper enough, it’s you.’ Tyson admitted it, that’s a start, and hopefully he can go on from there.”
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