The Voice of the Octagon

Mar 18, 2004
The brothers Buffer have become as integral to fightsports as the fourth ring rope, the mid-round cry of ‘seconds out!’ or the ring girls that evoke cheers from the crowd that rivals the good spirits the actual fight induces. If the older Michael isn’t center stage getting the crowd pumped for the upcoming bouts, chances are it’s the man whose made his name behind the scenes, younger brother Bruce.

A UFC veteran with more Octagon appearances than most MMA veterans have had fights, Buffer hasn’t fought, and doesn’t plan to, but the same compelling voice that has masterminded millions of dollars worth of “Rumble” products, is laden with motivation, and a zest for the sport of which he’s given so much.

Derek Callahan: This may sound lame but how do both Buffer brothers end up in such an unusual profession?

Bruce Buffer: Michael has been announcing for about 23 years and I became his manager and business partner around 11 years ago when I told him about my plan to make him richer and more famous than he ever dreamed of and to make the "Ready to Rumble" phrase one of the most famous and marketable phrases ever spoken. One night back in 1993 after a big Vegas fight I went back to my room and wrote pages of ideas and have been fulfilling those goals and dreams as best as I can since then with everything from Rumble toys and video games to movies and there is more yet to be done.

I've performed publicly and given motivational speeches to large crowds in the past. My first night ever announcing in the ring was at an MMA event in Kellogg, Michigan which also had Don Frye and Frank Shamrock fighting on the card in one of their first pro MMA bouts. When the UFC came on the scene, I searched them out and contracted Michael to do UFC 5, 6 & 7.

Then I had to pull him because of a huge contractual commitment we had with the WCW wrestling league. I knew the UFC was for me, which Michael also agreed and pushed me towards, and I began at UFC 8 in Puerto Rico where Robert Meyrowitz gave me my start as the undercard announcer while I was there managing my fighter named Scott Ferrozo.

DC: Since you're a bit younger how were you influenced by Michael?

BB: Michael is an influence because he is the greatest ring announcer of all time and set the mold for people to take notice of the ring announcer due to his great voice, 007 persona and tuxedo model image he brought to the ring. His creation of the "Ready to Rumble" trademark phrase, was intended to be like a "Gentlemen Start Your Engines" phrase to bring the excitement back into the fans watching after having to announce the judges, referee, commission names, etc. which usually lowers the tempo and you need to excite the fans again before introducing the combatants in the ring. I have my own style of announcing that's different from Michael's, although genetically there are certain similarities that are unavoidable.

DC: Do you prefer to be involved in pro wrestling or fighting shows? Why?

BB: Without a doubt reality fighting shows like my beloved UFC are the best. Hands down there is no comparison at all. I have a lot of respect for what pro wrestlers go through and what it takes physically and mentally to stay up performing for weekly entertainment shows. I'm all about reality fighting and to me the Oscar goes to the MMA fighter and boxer for the outstanding individual effort and commitment it takes to get to step into the Octagon or ring for that one on one war.

There is no greater feeling than the feeling I experienced being in the Octagon at UFC 40 announcing Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock and feeling the energy waves hitting me from all sides as 13,700 fans are screaming and reacting to my announcing those two great MMA warriors standing in the Octagon ready to knock horns in one of the greatest MMA fights I have ever seen.

DC: What qualities make you like a fighter?

BB: My individual determination and commitment plus the personal sacrifice I'm willing to make to achieve my goals. To me there are no problems in life, only solutions. I've trained in boxing and martial arts of different styles since I was 15 and have been awarded two black belts in the process.

In my early twenties I decided dojo point fighting was not the real thing for me, so I decided to throw myself into kickboxing and Muay Thai and sport fight for real. I never fought as a pro and I consistently trained 3-5 times a week and sparred weekly from the age of 25-32. Years ago I stopped all heavy sparring and just continued to train in Muay Thai 2-3 times per week along with my other fitness training, schedule permitting.

DC: As a fightsport, some see the business side of MMA steering towards how it is in boxing. In your experience, how are the two businesses different/the same?

BB: I started my first corporation when I was 19 years old and have found in every business I've owned and every product I've promoted since then is that "All business is the same... it's just the products that are different. You can have a diamond in your hand, but if not marketed correctly your buying public demographic just perceives it as a piece of coal."

The difference between MMA and boxing is that MMA is still young and pure and is still on its way to becoming a mainstream sport, which will explode once the UFC has a quality show full of entertainment on a free major cable or network TV show that is promoted correctly and builds the personalities of the fighters and the excitement of MMA as a fighting sport. Done correctly this will draw in millions of new fans wanting their weekly fill of MMA like the lucky boxing fans have received for years.

The UFC is the premier brand and it's success dictates the success of the sport of MMA as a whole and sets the pace for all other promotions here in the USA. If the UFC makes it, MMA makes it, if it dips in any way, the whole sport dips. I feel that Dana and Lorenzo are doing all they can do with ZUFFA to take the UFC and MMA to the top of the media mainstream mountain. Boxing is now planned for production as a reality TV show with the Mark Burnett and Sylvestor Stallone show titled "The Contenders" in the works for airing in 2005.

There are other boxing reality shows in development and another one will be picked up by a network because of the fire the "contenders" show has created within the industry. Because of this I predict that a reality TV show surrounding MMA will possibly be announced in 2004.

If this happens and the show hits the TV screen before the UFC has a show on free TV, then it still will be good for the UFC and MMA as long as it's produced and marketed well showing MMA and it's fighters in an exciting, positive and marketable way. If this happens, then the UFC should capitalize on it in the best way possible. Again, the UFC is the premiere MMA brand and always will be.

DC: How have you been involved in fighting beyond ring announcing? Anything you'd like to do?

BB: I've managed a fighter in both MMA and in boxing and after each experience decided I don't want to be involved in management, other than for my brother, but have always offered advice when requested or been paid as a consultant. I work in many areas of sports and entertainment and I'm happy with all I do in the fight game now.

I've even been offered ownership and dollars to be a principal in fight promotions and have politely turned them down. I enjoy my freedom and my ability to be involved in the promotions and productions that I choose to be when requested. In the event I ever choose to go down the road of being a promoter or a figurehead for a fighting promotion, I would only do it in a huge way or not at all.

DC: What makes the ring announcer integral to a show?

BB: First off there is nothing more important to a fighting event than the fighters themselves. With that being said, the announcer is the glue, the man that either excites or bores those watching in attendance and on TV. An announcer either adds flavor or is just a necessary production need. A ring announcer has always been an integral part of fighting sports productions.

To me every event is a show and I do whatever I feel is needed to enhance that show in the way I choose when given the freedom to do so. In the case of a UFC pay per view show, we have production meetings and everything I do is timed down to the second.

Much of my announcer introductions are required, whether I like them or not such as introducing the commission officials, sponsors or even suddenly receiving an order through my ear piece to read a celebrity list on camera which is normally done off TV and for the audience in attendance only. This happened to me at UFC 46, which was just a rare production mishap, so I roll with the punches, don't complain and just do my job.

DC: What was the "up-and-coming" period for you like, what got you to where you are today?

BB: Trial and error combined with fulfilling my goals and business dreams while learning in the process. Just like performing, everything in life has its own natural maturation process and you either learn from your mistakes and grow or you stay stagnant and fail.

To me a mistake is never a mistake unless you allow it to happen more than once and then you better take note of it or pick up your chips and find another game to play in.

DC: What's the most memorable show you've worked on?

BB: There are so many memorable UFC's like UFC 40 and 45 or when Frank Shamrock fought Tito in one of the best fights in UFC history. Aside from the UFC my most memorable show was last New Year's Eve when I was flown to Kobe, Japan where I announced Mr. Inoki's Bom-Ba-Ye show in front of about 40,000 incredible Japanese fans on network TV. Now that was a rock star experience I'll never forget and look forward to again this year.

One of the best tournaments I ever announced was the Kuwait tournament that Big John and I traveled to where Dave Menne put on one of the most awesome individual performances I have ever seen from a fighter. The tournament consisted of Pele, Kareem Barkalov, Matt Hughes, Carlos Newton and others so you can imagine the bouts that took place that night. Afterwards we all wondered if we were even going to get paid and get out of the country. It was a very weird and memorable experience.

DC: There are many punch drunk boxers that need help with their lives after the ring, as a businessman how could this situation be helped.

BB: This is a tough one because boxers and also MMA fighters all face a lot of physical and mental obstacles. One being you can't fight forever and many fight beyond the age they should because this is the only way they know how to make money and more times than not they blow all the savings or money they've earned thinking it will last forever.

It would be great to see a retirement association that is recognized universally like a union protecting fighters. If I was managing a contender who was earning good paydays I would help him invest and prepare for life after fighting. One of the best things I've ever been informed of a promoter doing for one of their fighters was when Main Events and the Duva family vested into an annuity for the boxer Mark Breland, who now earns in the area of a $100,000 a year guaranteed for life, which he lives off of, and as it turns out, he did have to quit boxing early in his respected career due to hand injuries.

Fighting is a tough business and one where the fighters get taken advantage of financially. Each blow to the head possibly creating future increased dementia, which most boxers begin to suffer from during their career and only makes the future of life after fighting more questionable.

DC: I'm curious about your take on Hockey Gladiators and how it's good/bad for fightsports.

It's all in the way it is marketed and presented. Fighting is a large part of hockey and many fans go to a game waiting to see the fights on the ice which the authorities allow to take place, unless it is an extreme case like what has occurred recently or with the Marty McSorley mishap years ago where in both instances a player was hit from behind which is totally unacceptable to me. They should be treated and fined harshly plus criminal charges should be filed. If you get attacked by someone with a stick in the street, they would be arrested. Well why not arrest a pro player for assault on the ice with a stick?

What Hockey Gladiators is putting together is an organized tournament of fights on the ice governed under rules with no sticks. The fights consist of only one two minute round and they are in full hockey uniform. The reaction to the impending event is strong and with criticism that will only drive ticket sales like controversy does for many entertainment avenues like the huge ticket sales for "The Passion of the Christ", criticized highly for the violence an suffering it depicted. Done correctly, Gladiators is just another entertainment angle which will receive pay per view success and will be a ticket sell out for the promoters followed by future shows.

DC: Finally, after being involved in a sometimes corrupt business that's hosted primarily by casinos, ring girls, tough hombres and consistently growing events, what have you learned from it all?

BB: It's all one big game to me that I play in. I look at the overall picture as a game board of life with diverse personalities, good and bad. At this point in my life and career, I feel I'm intuitive enough to know who the players are and who the BS'ers are. When I walk in a room, I'm pre prepared to deal with both in the most effective way possible for what I intend to achieve.

I treat everybody the way I like to be treated and that is with respect, honesty, enthusiasm, showmanship and performing to best of my ability, whether in front of or behind the camera. I don't lie or mistreat people and don't wish to be lied to or mistreated by them either.

If so, I deal with what needs to be done and in most cases just walk away. Life is short and time goes by fast, so I only play where I want to play in this sports and entertainment game, stay in control and am the governor my own destiny. When I lose the passion to do what I love to do in this business, I will walk away and be very happy in the process.
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