Q&A: UFC announcer Bruce Buffer
Bruce Buffer's career with the UFC predates the sport's newer name of mixed martial arts. He was there, inside the cage when it was less sport and more spectacle. He was there when "ultimate" and "fighting" were both upper- and lower-case words.
After 17 years, the "Voice of the Octagon" traded his microphone for a keyboard, albeit temporarily, to write a memoir. Buffer's "It's Time! My 360-degree view of the UFC" (Crown Archetype, $25) will be released Tuesday.
Buffer took some time to talk with Newsday about the book, the 180, the 360, the torn ACL, the signature phrase and more.
Q: Your announcing is more like a performance than an introduction. Where does that approach come from?
Bruce Buffer: It comes directly from my heart. It comes directly from my soul. It's pure passion that I'm throwing out, with 150 percent of what I can put into it of my body, my lung power, my energy, my voice. I'm introducing the greatest warriors in the world. I've had my own experiences standing across form an opponent ready to throw blows in my amateur days kickboxing. I basically want to introduce the fighters the way I would want to be introduced if I was fighting.
The moment is so exciting at that point. Both for the fans watching and for the fighters stepping into the octagon that I really truly believe that it's my job to enhance that moment. And I do consider it a performance. I just don't consider myself a one dimensional announcer just standing there, wanting to look poised.
With all respect to all announcers. I have to do it my way. I have to do it in a way that I can create that excitement, not just for them, but for my own personal enjoyment as a fan first. When you travel 33 weeks or more a year, being away from your home and your loved ones for three or four days a week, well, I better enjoy what I do and throw my passion into it, otherwise I think it would be time to retire.
Q: By the time you're done announcing a fighter's name, you're like a foot away from his face. Why do you move around the octagon so much?
BB: In the beginning, I used to stand still, because most announcers spent time copying my brother, Michael Buffer, the great boxing announcer. I never wanted to be Frank Sinatra Jr. I wanted to find my own style, otherwise I was not going to continue to do this. I didn't want to be another announcer getting a nice seat to the fight and pay day and watching one of his favorite sports. I wanted to build it based upon my passion and respect for these great warriors and the UFC itself. I realized I needed to move, and it worked. In boxing, when they announce, there's a hundred people in the ring. I'd be knocking people out in the boxing ring with my arms if I moved the way I do in the octagon.
You've introduced thousands of fighters. Who's your favorite fighter to introduce?
BB: The longer the name, the more syllables the name, even the more foreign the name, the more difficult to say, the better for me -- because it's more meat to work with. But as far as great fighters to introduce? Introducing Randy Couture, with all his credentials, the former light heavyweight champion, the former two-time heavyweight champion, on and on and on, the Octagon Hall of Fame warrior, I put all that into the introduction and then Randy "The Natural" Couture. And in his last two fights, I even did what they call the "Buffer Bow" -- that's not me naming it, the fans name it. I could probably scratch my ear and it's the "Buffer Scratch." But I bowed to him because at that point in his career, achieving what he achieved, grabbing the heavyweight championship in his mid-40s and going on further beyond that, he's royalty to me when he steps into the octagon. And when you're facing royalty, what do you do? You bow.
Standing in front of Chuck Liddell and getting a couple of feet from his face when I roar his name, it's like standing in front of the Kentucky Derby gate and the horses are blowing snot and spitting and salivating to get out there and run that track. Chuck is such a warrior. He can't wait for that bell to ring. He probably wants me to shut up because he just wants to get out there and fight his opponent.
Q: Is Dan Hardy the fighter who most gets into your introduction?
BB: Announcing Dan is like singing a rock concert with Dan. It's like two singers doing a duet on stage staring at each other's face because he's mouthing the same words I'm saying as I'm saying it. It's awesome.
Explain where the "Buffer 180" came from.
BB: When I first did a 180, that was created out of accident. I happened to be moving and I looked at the red corner and as I was about to say "Fighting out of the blue corner," my left brain said to my right brain, "Uh, you're going to screw up here. You're facing the red corner, you've got like a millisecond." So, I basically threw a spinning bottom fist, and totally reversed my body 180 degrees and in perfect timing with my voice saying "Fighting out of the blue corner." And that created the "Buffer 180" move, which the crowd reacted to. I sat down in my chair and thought, "Wow that works. Let me build on that."
When's the next 360 coming? That's what fans really want to know.
BB: Well, the airborne 360 that I did at UFC 100 is retired. Try doing that in front of 15-20,000 people, in a tuxedo, in street shoes, holding a microphone and standing in front of a monster named Brock Lesnar? It's not the easiest thing to do. But I pulled it off. I have done 360s since then, but they've been grounded.
It was only two years ago that I blew my ACL announcing Georges St-Pierre after doing a grounded 360, after doing two 180s, one of which was an aerial 180 that I never tried before. Then I just did a simple bunny hop back, and with the ankle injury I was suffering at the time, I wobbled and my knee blew. It was such a simple move and such a devastating injury. So, I'm very careful about that now. You can never say never, but it is retired. People do come out of retirement though.
Q: Do you practice your cadence with fighters' names beforehand?
BB: It's all improvised and fresh. It has to be. You'll never walk by my hotel room and hear someone singing in the shower. I don't do it. I have to keep it pure. Otherwise, I think there are two voices. I think there's the rehearsal voice and I think there's the announcing voice, the live voice. I find that if I can just do it raw, it works much better for me. No pressure. Just get out there and do it. Enjoy my work, dislike my work, say what you want, just spell my name correctly because I'm going to do it as best I can and that's all I can promise you.
Q: Where did your signature phrase "It's Time" come from?
BB: I was never phrase-driven. I just wanted to go out and get into my style, the physicality, the energy, the passion. But I used to start out the shows, "It's time to begin the Ultimate Fighting Championship." That was the top of every show. So my saying was really "It's time to begin." I even had business cards with that on it. But then knowing marketing and knowing everything else, I didn't think that was really a marketable phrase so I didn't pursue it. But then in the main event, I condensed it.
Because "It's time" was something that I was saying to myself and still do every single day when I wake up and look in the mirror. When I look in that mirror and I'm shaving or whatever, it's time. I don't live on my laurels. If I had a great day yesterday or a great show last week, it doesn't matter. I'm only as a good as I am today. I firmly believe this. I have to prove myself to myself every day whether it's in business, personal life, love life, whatever. So, today it's time. It's time to have a great day.
Q: And on fight night . . . ?
BB: Here we are in the arena, five hours in, it's come to the main event. The warriors step in the octagon. They've been training eight to 10 weeks. Everything's on the line here, including their blood, sweat, tears, health, everything that goes with it. The audience is watching, the fans have been anticipating. Zuffa has spent a gazillion dollars advertising, It's time. It's all about this moment.
Q: Are you over the Jim Miller stuff yet?
BB: I was over it after I did it. I had a perfect record of about 3,000 fights and I blew it three weeks ago. People are looking at me to make excuses, because I was reading where they were making excuses for me on the Internet. "They both have red beards. They both were sponsored by the same people. They look alike." Forget all that. I made a mistake. I flubbed. I'm the first one to admit it. I probably got more laughs than Joe Rogan did that night from the audience. I have to grin and bear it and move on. I'm the first one to admit my mistakes. Now I have to start the record all over again. Trust me, it's not going to happen again."
Q: We've seen you stretch outside the octagon, walk around, shake our your arms and legs and the like. What's with that?
BB: I'm very into the fights as they happen. I've also been sitting there. Based on the physicality and the way I announce, I want get my blood up. I want to get my head into it. Especially for the main event. I do an average of 11 fights a night. From the very first fight, it's a tempo that builds. I don't announce the same way every fight Each fight is a build up to the opening of the main pay-per-view or Fox card for the last five or six fights leading up to the main event, which is a crescendo in honor of the entire night. So, if I'm going to walk in there and give it my all, then I'm going to loosen up my legs, because again, I don't know what I'm going to do but I want to be loose. Remember, I blew my knee. I don't want to do that again. But I've always done this. It's my way of getting my adrenaline up. I'm getting into the fight. I just don't want to stand there and be a stiff. I want to get that crowd into it and I want to get into it.
Q: How many times have people asked you to leave their outgoing message on the cell phones?
BB: Happens all the time. The fans are the reason we are where we are. And they deserve every ounce they get, as long as they follow man law and don't follow me into bathroom, which happens once in a while.
I've done about a hundred weddings in the last few years. I'll introduce their wedding parties for the reception - "Walking down the aisle of love forever" and that kind of stuff.. Yeah, they pay a few bucks, but I don't gouge them because they have enough to spend. I just want to make them happy. Then when I see they YouTube videos they put up - you look up Bruce Buffer and weddings, it will crack you up."
Q: How have you seen the crowds and fans evolve over the years?
BB: In the early days, the crowds may have been rawer at times. Now, the demographics are not just the 18-34 male demographic. Now you've got girls coming, three, four or five in a group. No boyfriends. They understand the sport. They buy their own tickets. You've got the older demographic coming in, the entertainment, the sports community. It's just a wide, diversified demographic, an eclectic array of fans."
Q: How have you seen the sport of MMA, and the UFC in particular, evolve since you started?
BB: From 1997 on, I've done every show except for two. One thing I can put basically into a nutshell is, it basically went from spectacle to mainstream sports. The changes that were made from the time that it was a spectacle back then, the addition of the rules, the commissions coming on board, all of these were important moves for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts to be able to gestate and evolve into the magnificent fastest growing sport it is today. I actually think the McCain era where he used the term "human cockfighting" back in '97 or so, was really beneficial to us. It was horrible back then because it caused In Demand to take us off pay per view to their some 70-million homes they had at their fingers tips at that time. DirecTC kept us alive. The Internet, thank God, the fans and the Internet kept us alive with blogs and forums.
Q: Who picks your suits?
BB: I have an incredible tailor named David August . . . I met him at the Fox show we first did in Anaheim. I've always had my suits handpicked and hand-tailored.
I actually have to go through multiple fittings. He knows how I move. He knows that I need to go to the ground. I might want to jump up in the air, I might even want to kick head high, whatever, a 360, whatever happens. He'll literally tailor-make these so I can do just that and still look well tailored. We'll pick out the fabrics, or he'll suggest fabrics, it's the most money I've ever spent for clothes, but it's worth every single penny. He'll even cut out the lining in the knees so I can go down to one knee and not endanger tearing the pants.
That's all a tax write-off, you're fine. Well-played.
Yeah. I love tax writeoffs, but it's still cash out.
If you want more Buffer, follow him on Twitter @brucebuffer.