Boxing: Tyson knocks out referee

The richest fight in history did not need a sideshow about the referee to sell tickets, but it got one anyway. Mike Tyson also got what he wanted, a referee other than Mitch Halpern. The veteran Mills Lane was picked on Friday to replace Halpern, who withdrew after protests by the Tyson camp that their fighter would be "psychologically damaged" by having him in the ring.

Halpern, the referee in the first Holyfield-Tyson fight, pulled out on Thursday, hours after Tyson's co-managers appeared before an emergency meeting of the Nevada Athletic Commission, asking that he be replaced. The commission rejected the protest. But, later that night, Halpern stepped down. "He said he refused to be the focal point of the fight," said Marc Ratner, the commission's executive director. "The story shouldn't have been about me," Halpern explained. "I'm just a guy in a bow tie and polyester pants."

Most observers felt Halpern did a good job in the first fight in November, which Holyfield won by stopping Tyson in the 11th. If anything, Halpern might have been accused of letting the fight go too long when Tyson was being battered in the 10th.

Tyson's camp claimed their request had nothing to do with Halpern's talents, saying he was a fine referee. But Horne said that Tyson was concerned about going into the ring with the same referee that counted him out only seven months earlier.

Holyfield's lawyer, Jim Thomas, told the commission that the champion had no objection to Lane as referee. Lane is one of boxing's top referees. He has worked 96 title fights .

By pulling out, Halpern loses out on a $10,000 payday. The 29-year- old book-binder, whose first big fight was Holyfield-Tyson, planned to put the money into a trust fund to educate his 14-month-old daughter.

Before changing his mind, he had said that the day a fighter could dictate what happened in a fight he would not referee, since he would have no authority in the ring.