|Michael Buffer Interview: On Pacquiao, Cotto, Roach, Mayweather, Klitschkos, Ali and so Much More!
By David Tyler, Doghouse Boxing (Oct 1, 2009)
And now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching over the world, ladies and gentlemen, Let’s get ready to Rumble!
David Tyler Michael I know that you did not start in the boxing business until you were in your mid-30’s.
Michael Buffer Yeah, how about 40.
DT What started your interest in boxing?
MB I was living in Philadelphia in the late 70’s early 80’s and this was the beginning of gambling in Atlantic City. They began to have a lot of fights every weekend and plenty of weeknights. In Atlantic City boxing was a natural attraction for the Hotels and Casinos to bring in customers. As a fight fan I just thought it would be great to be part of it and I never had any thoughts about being a ring announcer. What happened is that I was watching a fight with my oldest son Michael who is now 41; he was like 13 or 14, at the time. We watched the ring announcer give a split decision where he announced both of the winning scores to avoid the drama of that third and deciding score. The one where everybody holds their breathe and waits for the final announcement of the winner. My son said boy I hate it when that happens, Dad you could do a better job than that guy. I began thinking about what he said and thought it might be interesting to try. I fought my way into getting a chance and I was pretty bad at first but as I continued on, I felt that I got much better.
DT Did you go directly to HBO?
MB No, actually the number one rated show on ESPN when I started back in 1982 was boxing. The events were held around the country every week, usually out of Atlantic City or Las Vegas and a few places in-between. I started doing the fights for Bob Arum and Top Rank and with that came a lot of exposure and of course the weekend network fights. The elevated exposure just really took off.
DT How did you create the catchphrase, ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’?
MB You know, I guess because of all the exposure, the ring announcers were introducing the entire commission which swelled to four doctors, five commissioners, an executive director, state chairman, then add to the mix the alphabet organizations with supervisors at ringside, you have been plenty deep in introductions before you say fighters names and you have just taken the wind out of the arena. I’ll give you an example, for a big fight the fighters come to the ring to music and the crowd is pretty amped up and the ring announcer which is just basically a PA announcer introduces teams that they could care less about. You go to a football game and you don’t hear the entire front office being introduced. But in boxing it is something that is done all the time. So I wanted a line or word or catchphrase, something that would bring life back to the crowd. Something comparable to ‘Gentlemen Start Your Engines’. When 400,000 fans live at the Indy 500 hear that they go crazy. The race is about to start, that’s what they have been waiting for and I tried,’ tend your battle stations’ and ‘fasten your seatbelts’ but they felt pretty flat. Muhammad Ali and Budini Brown they would get animated by saying ‘I’m ready to rumble’ and ‘rumble young man rumble’ and I kind of fine tuned that with ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’. Sal Marciano who was the blow by blow announcer for ESPN used to say ‘we’re ready to rumble’ from Resorts International, that was one of their favorite venues back then. It had a nice tune to it and I started saying it by accident, ‘Let’s get ready to Rumble’.
DT That may be the most famous catchphrase in any sport. Has anyone ever counted the number of times you have used that at major events?
MB Ha! Ha! No not me. I kind of wish that I had kept track of the number of championship fights I have done but I had no idea it would become so popular.
DT If I wanted to hire you to open my brother’s birthday party by using your catchphrase, how much would it cost?
MB Well, you speaking theoretically of course, my brother Bruce Buffer is actually my manager and business partner. He handles all those kind of requests. If you’re serious just call Bruce and he will give you a quote.
DT Michael, when they hand you the cards to announce the winner of the fight, what’s actually on the cards?
MB What we usually get now is the entire score sheet and all three judges’ scores with the individual judge’s name at the top and at the bottom the totals. The commission will circle the winning total of each one. They will usually make a note like ‘Jack Johnson by Decision’.
DT Have you ever made a mistake by announcing the wrong winner?
MB Actually, I made a mistake once. It was on an undercard fight, not on TV, it was in San Antonio, Texas. What happened was it was one of the early fights on a card where you have somebody with a lopsided record, maybe a local star, and they bring in an opponent who is not necessarily going to win but without naming names the fighter who had the winning record, something like 19-0 with 17 knockouts and his opponent was 415, very insignificant stats obviously. I did the introductions and sat down and was going over my notes for the rest of the evening. I heard the crowd explode and a fighter falls down and counted out and without looking to see who it was, I thought that was quick. I got up and got the time from the referee and I just assumed it was another victory against a guy who was a toe tagger and I’m giving a big introduction, ‘The winner by Knockout Victory’ and I’m starting to name the fighter who came in with the great record and a voice behind me said, Mr. Buffer, it’s me, I’m the winner. Here’s the guy in the Chuck Taylor sneakers and the borrowed boxing trunks that scored the one round knockout.
DT Michael do you work for HBO or the promoters?
MB I work for the promoters. I’m strictly freelance and have never had a contract. Primarily I work with most promoters that are seen on HBO. A lot of people associate me with HBO which is certainly no disgrace as they are the top network for boxing. I do have a contract with some German networks. Years ago I had quite a few fights with Showtime. A lot of people don’t realize that I was actually the first person that said ‘It’s Showtime’. It wasn’t my idea, Jay Larkin who is the founding father or the George Washington of Showtime came up with the idea when we did it with Tommy Hearns and Michael Olajide. There line that they were using was ‘It’s boxing, It’s Showtime’ so for the fight I said ‘It’s Showtime’ and I followed it up with ‘Let’s get ready to Rumble’. That’s actually the first time that it was used on the air. I had forgot about it myself until somebody sent me a video of the fight.
DT You will be working again for Showtime in the Super Six, Super Middleweight tournament.
MB Yes, the very first fight is out of Germany and a great one it is with Arthur Abraham and Jermaine Taylor. I believe that fight is October 17th and it will be a dual event, one in Germany and the other fight in England.
DT As a boxing fan, you must be excited about the Super Middleweight tournament?
MB Yeah, really because it is a great mix and because it is a great mix it will be a great tournament. I don’t think this has ever happened before where a loss is not an elimination from the event. It’s very compelling and I think it’s a good idea because so much emphasis is always put on fighters today that are undefeated. A lot of fighters with their first loss, especially if they are great fighters, become even better fighters after a loss. Sugar Ray Robinson won something like 80 fights in a row and his first loss was to Jake LaMotta and they had a re-match 21 days later and Robinson went on to run off a streak of 40 or 45 victories in a row. There is no disgrace in losing and it’s evolved that it is and I think this tournament will add a little something special because of the rules.
DT Speaking of undefeated records, did you first say ‘Somebody’s O has got to Go’?
MB I think I have heard that before when undefeated football or basketball teams have played. I would love to say I was the first but I don’t think so. It does play nicely when you have two undefeated fighters.
DT Mayweather and Marquez. You were there so what are your thoughts?
MB A lot is made of size difference. When Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought each other. Robinson was a welterweight who fought as a welterweight and Jake was a middleweight. The reason they fought was that they were just the two best fighters around, they were marquee fighters. To the best of my knowledge, people never made a big deal about the difference in weight especially since Robinson won all but the one time. When Robinson moved up to middleweight, he challenged Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight title even though he weighed only 159 lbs. because that’s the weight he fought at. So, making a big deal about a fighter’s weight difference, it’s probably a big deal when a fighter has to dry out three or four pounds that sort of thing seems to be happening a lot. With Marquez and Mayweather obviously Floyd picked up right where he left off and there were a lot of questions about that, he was over 30 and sometimes a fighter can train so hard and cheat his body. What turned out to be a 21 month layoff was not that big a deal because Floyd stayed in shape while he was out of boxing. Ray Leonard came back and stepped up to the middleweight division after a three year layoff because he always stayed in shape and he prevailed in a close fight. I wish more young fighters would pay attention to their bodies year round.
DT I know that Manny Pacquiao stays in shape year round…….
MB- That’s because Freddie Roach will not tolerate any of his fighters that don’t stay in shape. Freddie was a fighter who never had great skills but he had heart and stayed in shape. This is what makes him a great trainer because he recognizes the need for a fighter to stay in shape.
DT- Come November 14th you will be the fourth man in the ring for the Cotto/ Pacquiao bout. Your thoughts?
MB That’s a tough one because in my house, my wife Christine and I are both huge Pacquiao and Cotto fans. I just don’t know, I can’t make any kind of prediction but other than saying it, there has got to be fighting here, a full size hard punching guy with skills to go with his stalk and kill style. Pacquiao right now is in his zone. This is a tough one; I don’t know what size gloves they are going to wear. I know Nevada uses 10 ounce gloves for 140 and up and they do have waivers but I don’t know what’s been decided in that fight. I don’t know who would have an advantage if it’s a 10 or 8 ounce glove. It will be a great fight. I look at this fight as a 12 round war, a real back and forth fight. So many variables to consider. I am a big fan so when I get out of the ring I just love to sit there and watch the fight. I already can’t wait to get my job over with to see this fight. It has fight of the year written all over it.
DT I like it when you get back in the ring after a great fight and encourage the fans to give both fighters a round of applause.
MB You know that comes from being a fan and it’s just spontaneous. The other night Chris Arreola was clearly outgunned by Vitali Klitschko. I think because of his four year absence a lot of us forgot what a devastating power puncher he is, 38 years old and his style; you think who is this guy, John L. Sullivan? His style, herky jerky old fashion looking and you don’t see the skills but you begin to realize he knows how to use his size, his legs, and his balance. The worse thing is to pull away from punches, only Roy Jones Jr. and Muhammad Ali had that ability. Klitschko does it because he is six feet seven you almost have to climb up a ladder to hit him on the head. He fought a great fight but there was just so much heart for Chris Arreola. He was in great shape for this fight but there was just nothing he could do. I would say he is in the top six and he will be a world champion. I said it that night because I wanted the crowd to know it takes a lot to get hit with those punches. Broadcasters are wearing headsets and I don’t think they really pick up on that fact. And once again, the Klitschko’s stay in top physical shape. As heavyweights, they don’t even gain three or four pounds.
DT Having spent time covering the brothers exclusively, I can tell you that they are also very intelligent fighters.
MB That’s why I added the Doctor title in front of their nicknames, Dr. Ironfist and Dr. Steelhammer.
DT Michael, how do you see the overall state or health of boxing?
MB I think it’s great. Occasionally I read these things where people call this a marginalized sport but if you go to the internet and find a fight schedule you’re going to see fights taking place every week in countries all over the world. I think a lot of people are under the impression, because the MMA is making a huge mark, primarily the UFC is the flagship of that sport, and they have a really hard core devoted following. People are thinking that those numbers are subtracting from boxing. It’s not, two completely two different fan bases but its two separate hard core fan bases. With boxing you still have so many amateur shows in small towns and it’s growing in that respect. There are not as many stars because the nature of the sport limits your lifespan of competing. I see boxing as quite healthy. I work in Europe a lot and they have sold out arenas all the time. Some of them are just small towns where they have an arena that seats 5,000. You have to struggle to fill a 5,000 seat arena in Las Vegas. The Klitschko brothers sell out 60,000 seat arenas in Germany all the time. I will be going over for Valuev and David Haye, another big heavyweight contest. Very interesting fight.
DT- Michael did you do the King Arthur Abraham / Edison Miranda fight in Germany? In America would they have stopped that fight?
MB Yes, it was incredible but the fight would not have been stopped if they had the same referee.
DT I believe the ref was Randy Neumann. I have watched that fight about 10 times and what an amazing performance by King Arthur.
MB- What was unbelievable, his jaw was broken and he couldn’t close his mouth. He had a laceration on the inside of his mouth; I believe it was on his tongue. He had a split lip in the middle. The blood was literally running out of his mouth like a faucet. I just couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t quit, because every little punch had to hurt like crazy. He also took some tremendous shots from the right hand of Miranda directly on the broken jaw. Every time Abraham landed a shot he almost knocked Miranda out, he is a devastating puncher. Miranda did not fight a smart fight and he landed some punches south of the border and the intentional head butt was just enough to swing the fight to Abraham’s way. I can guarantee you that the first five rounds between Jermaine and Arthur are going to be incredible.
DT Do you have a favorite fighter through the years that you have most enjoyed watching perform?
MB I probably can’t narrow it down to one but as a fan I have to go back before I was in the business. I got hooked in the 50’s by watching the final stages of Sugar Ray Robinson’s career. I was also a big fan of Floyd Patterson’s career. He had a lot of humility and the fact that he came back and beat Ingemar Johansson. There was also this youngster in the 1960 Olympics named Cassius Clay, by then I was totally locked into the sport. As for fighters that I have had the privilege to announce, that’s a long, long, list.
DT Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and one of the great heavyweight champions and a great ambassador for our sport.
MB He literally became this fighter because of an era of unbelievable political problems, an explosion of how the world looked at music, the morals in the 60’s, the war, he was an unbelievable figure that became a world icon. He did create a whole generation of fight fans that never existed before. Most of us remember the first fight between the two undefeated fighters, Ali vs. Joe Fraizer. It was not called pay for view back then but closed circuit TV. I remember the blow by blow announcer was the legendary Don Dunphy and Burt Lancaster did the color commentary. That was a cross over super mega event that created a whole niche of boxing fans.
DT Don’t forget that Frank Sinatra could not get a ringside seat so he cut a deal with Life Magazine to let him be the photographer for the event. Ali was something special.
MB Yes he was and when I see him he likes to call me aside and whisper in my ear, You’re still not prettier than I am!
DT Michael Buffer, this has been a blast. You’re a great person that has contributed a lot to boxing over the last 25 years. God bless, and thanks many times over for allowing me the privilege of an interview with you.
MB It has been fun. Best of luck to you in your career!
***David Tyler replies to all his e-mails and loves to hear from the readers. Comments, Questions, Suggestions, E-mail David now at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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