Back in the 1980s Bruce Buffer’s father was watching a boxing match on TV when he recognized the ring announcer as his son.
Michael Buffer — then in his early 40s — hadn’t had contact with his birth parents since being sent to foster care at the age of 11 months. But this chance recognition provoked a phone call from his father, and the two were reunited.
That led to Michael meeting his half siblings for the first time. One of them was Bruce, and the two made an impression on each other; Michael took on Bruce as a manager, and in Bruce’s words, “I gave up everything just to roll the dice, on a dream of making him richer and more famous than he ever dreamed [by] trademarking properly that phrase, those famous, five words.” The five (lucrative) words he means are “Let’s get ready to rumble.” You’ve probably heard them.
Since then Bruce Buffer has become a ring announcer himself -- the “Veteran Voice of the Octagon” they call him -- and he’s as much a part of MMA as chain-link and the sound of a gate locking. Everyone who’s seen a UFC fight since UFC 13 has heard Buffer’s voice (unless the only event you bothered with was last week’s UFC on FX 6 in Australia, which Buffer skipped in order to be at The Ultimate Fighter finale in Las Vegas the next night). And Buffer’s signature call to action, “It’s time!,” has become nearly as synonymous with mixed martial arts as his brother’s famous phrase is with boxing. Which makes sense, as fighting is in the Buffer blood.
“My grandfather was a boxer named Johnny Buff,” Buffer tells us. “His name was actually Lesky, but he fought under the name Johnny Buff. (Boxing writer) Bert Sugar, before he passed away, called him called him the greatest fighter of 1921 because he held both the bantamweight and flyweight titles.“
Buffer’s father was a military man who made sure his son could throw a punch. “I grew up with the whole fighting mentality. I think I was watching boxing right out of the womb,” he says. “My dad started showing me boxing, teaching me how to throw punches, and how to do little street techniques even at 5 or 6 years old before sending me off to school in Philadelphia. It's just something I grew up with. I never met my grandfather, but it's in the blood.”
An interest in Judo when he was 12 became an interest in Tang Soo Do (a Korean point-striking discipline similar to Tae Kwon Do), in which Buffer earned a black belt. This affinity for martial arts eventually led Bruce to want to compete in kickboxing:
“From the experiences I'd had I wanted to fight for real, so that brought me to the world of kickboxing,” Buffer says. “I thought if I was going to train and spar and everything else I might as well do it till I get knocked out or the other guy knocks me out.”
These days, though, Buffer gets his more bellicose thrills outside the ring, sitting at a poker table. “I love poker because it's a war,” he says. “I just got 19th out of 1,173 players in the world poker tournament in Montreal a few weeks ago. That was against the top players in the world, so I'm very proud of that.
“Knocking someone out and taking all of their chips is kind of the same adrenaline rush as getting a good punch in. It is fighting. Fighting and playing poker -- not from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint -- are very similar. You go to knock somebody out, two things can happen: You're going to get knocked out, or you're going to knock the other guy out.”
It’s a comparison that raises an interesting question: would you rather lose blood or money? It's also an apt one for Buffer to make. After all, he learned both from his father:
“My dad taught me three things when I was 8 years old,” Buffer says. “He taught me how to play poker. He taught me how to play black jack, which I like to say I’m very good at. I actually made my living playing black jack for six months between companies. And he taught me about horse racing. He said the only way to follow a horse is with a shovel; don't bet on them.”