For the better part of four decades, boxing has been synonymous with the voice of the man who announces the fights. Perhaps no sport is as intricately tied to its announcing talent as the Sweet Science is to the Pennsylvania Vietnam veteran who didn’t even get started in the industry until he was nearly 40, as Boxing Monthly reported.
Michael Buffer, 76 as of this writing, not only brought a bit of national celebrity to a job that was, until he came along, a mere afterthought in his sport, he also brought a catchphrase to the business. His famed “Let’s get ready to rumble!” pre-game phrase is now as much a part of boxing’s zeitgeist as the bell, the shorts, the gloves and the punches.
He’s also announced other sports, survived cancer, been married three times, reconnected with long-lost relatives thanks to his celebrity, and proved himself a shrewd businessman, becoming a multi-zillionaire in the process.
Announcing boxing matches used to be a strictly local job
Prior to the early 1980s, when Buffer first started announcing boxing matches, there was no nationwide face (or voice, for that matter) of boxing announcing. Rather than having one man announce the fighters for every major card, the sport would simply outsource the job of announcing the fights to whatever local talent was available. The job of introducing the night’s action at a local boxing match was, in effect, a boring afterthought.
In 1982, however, a perfect storm of events convened around Buffer. One night, he was watching a match with his son when the announcer made a mess of things. Buffer stated to no one in particular that he could do better, and his son suggested that if that was actually the case, as Seconds Out reported, he should send head shots and resumes to Atlantic City hotels. He did just that, and soon he was getting gigs announcing fights.
Meanwhile, ESPN was just coming into national prominence, and due to the relationship the burgeoning sports network had with boxing, soon Buffer was announcing fights that were being broadcast to tens of millions of homes across the country.
Buffer brought enthusiasm and schtick to the job
Speaking to Seconds Out, Buffer explained that, prior to his arrival on the scene, local boxing announcers didn’t get the crowd hyped up. They actually bored the spectators to tears.
“In the old days, the ring announcer would introduce the important fighters who were in attendance. But that had evolved to announcing five commissioners, three sanctioning-body officials, two ring doctors. And it chilled the crowd,” he said.
Buffer wanted something that would get the audience hyped. He remembered that the Indianapolis 500 had, for decades, been getting the crowd excited with its own catchphrase: “Gentlemen, start your engines!” and began thinking about what he could import into boxing to hype the crowd.
Unfortunately, “man your battle stations,” “batten down the hatches” and ‘”fasten your seat belts” failed to resonate. But one fateful night, Buffer overheard ESPN blow-by-blow announcer Sal Marciano say, “we’re ready to rumble.” Buffer fine-tuned the phrase a bit, eventually started using “Let’s get ready to rumble!,” and soon a million-dollar catchphrase was born.
'Let's get ready to rumble!' has made Buffer indescribably rich
Notice that we said “million-dollar catchphrase” in the previous paragraph? That’s just a figure of speech. Buffer’s line has actually made him closer to $400 million, according to CBC Radio.
Buffer didn’t realize at first that he was onto something huge. However, when a friend pointed out to him that the crowd only wanted to hear him say his catchphrase, he realized that he was onto something huge. His perception was backed up by the fact that his phrase was appearing in newspaper headlines, in commercials, and in non-boxing-TV shows.
So Buffer did what countless other individuals have done once they realized they were sitting on a lucrative catchphrase: He asked an attorney if the phrase could be trademarked, learned that indeed it could, filed the necessary paperwork, and then started cashing the checks.
The phrase has been licensed to music, TV shows, video games, you name it. And over the decades, it’s earned the former used car salesman approximately $400 million.
Michael Buffer has announced wrestling, baseball, and other sports, too
Although boxing is Buffer’s bread and butter, he’s also announced for other sports in his career. For example, for almost as long he’s been involved with boxing, Buffer has been tied to another combat sport: wrestling. Specifically, as Ringside News reported, the announcer brought his (literally) trademarked “Let’s get ready to rumble!” phrase to World Championship Wrestling (WCW), for which he initially made $5,000 every time he uttered those five words. He’s also announced the World Series for Major League Baseball, hockey’s Stanley Cup finals, and various NFL games, according to USA Today.
However, one major sporting event announcing gig has eluded him. “I think it would be great to start a Super Bowl off with, ‘The players are ready, the field is ready, let’s get ready to rumble,'” he said.
All of that work almost cost him his voice. One night in 2018, before a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, Buffer gave so many interviews that his voice gave out before his big performance. Fortunately, some salt water and some chicken soup fixed him up.
Michael Buffer's personal life could make a novel
Though he’s now a multimillionaire at the top of his game professionally and looking toward retirement, things haven’t always been easy for Buffer. For example, he was an orphan, in the most literal possible sense. Born in 1944 to an enlisted man in the Navy, when the war was over his father and mother went their separate ways, and he was put into foster care, according to Boxing Monthly. Fortunately, he described his adoptive family as “wonderful.”
Buffer did have the chance to meet his biological parents later in life, after he became famous and his father recognized him on TV. As it turns out, Buffer maintained relationships with both his foster family and his birth family for years afterwards. He also learned that his paternal (biological) grandfather was a boxer: Johnny Buff was a bantamweight champion back in the 1920s. He also has another connection to his biological family: his half-brother, Bruce Buffer, whom Michael met when he reconnected with his birth family, is now Michael’s manager.
After serving for a few years in Vietnam, going through a few marriages, and having a handful of children, Buffer contracted, and beat, throat cancer, according to Boxing Insider.
Buffer had a complicated relationship with Donald Trump
For a few years, Buffer worked closely with none other than the man who would become the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Back in the day, boxing was huge at Atlantic City casinos, and at the time, there was no bigger name in the Atlantic City casino industry than New York real estate tycoon and business developer Donald Trump. When it came to announcing fights taking place in Trump-owned properties, the future president was always — to extend the boxing metaphor as far as it will stretch — in Buffer’s corner.
“[Trump] said, ‘Well, we’re going to have a lot of big fights here, and you’re going to be the ring announcer.’ From that day on, it was pretty nice for me,” Buffer would later tell ESPN. However, the admiration doesn’t appear to have extended both ways. By 2018, things appear to have soured between the two men, as Buffer tweeted at the time that he considered Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau more honest and real than the 45th POTUS.
“JT also beats DT in smarts,credibility,respectability,class [sic] & at any period of their lives-Trudeau is more attractive & classy+his hair is natural+his teeth are real,” Buffer wrote.
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