The Triangle Choke: Bruce Buffer Interview
I recently spent some time with the Veteran Voice of the Octagon, Bruce Buffer. Bruce was very candid on his life growing up including not knowing Michael Buffer until later in life, his love for poker, his thoughts on the Brock Lesnar/Frank Mir matchup, Fedor’s arrival to UFC and Affliction’s MMA promotion.
TTC- You are a renowned poker player. How did you get started in poker?
BB- Probably around the age of 8 I was taught 3 things basically; poker, 5/7card stud and black jack. I was taught everything I needed to know about horse racing, the only way to follow a horse is with a shovel. Basically I never got into horse racing. Poker is my game. I was a professional black jack player for awhile. I made a living playing black jack for about a year. Now I solely play poker. You control money and treat it like a business. I love it.
TTC- Where do you find time to play poker along with your responsibilities with UFC?
BB- I think the easiest part is I never got married. That has allowed me to enjoy things and take the piece of pie in life whether it be a girl friend on one end, my business interests which takes up most of my time and taking care of my family. I also have my interests such as surfing; I’m a film buff, history buff and plenty of hobbies. The daily poker is something I like to do. I actually make what most people would consider a nice living playing poker. I could actually turn pro and make a living just playing poker. But, I only have so much time so the time I do get to play I really enjoy it and have a lot of passion for the game.
TTC- Explain your background in martial arts?
BB- My first art was when I was 12 which was Judo. I went into Judo and achieved a green belt. We moved from Philadelphia to Malibu, CA when I was 15. When we arrived all I wanted to do was learn how to surf and lose my virginity. Unfortunately, the surfing came first! I became a life guard and did the Baywatch thing out here. In Malibu, it is very territorial on the beach. There were a lot of fights, I had a number of brawls on the beaches and streets like a number of kids did but I kind of got a little crazy. Martial Arts was very big in Malibu. Chuck Norris was coming out there to train a guy who lived near me, about a mile away who is one of the top ten most famous action stars of all time, Steve McQueen. Steve and I were good friends right up until the day he died of cancer. Chuck’s fighting partner Bobby Burbich was teaching a Korean style of fighting called Tang Soo Doo in Malibu. I went into that when I was 16. One of his students named Joey Escobar gave me my black belt in Tang Soo Doo. I was also awarded a belt in Jiu-Jitsudo here in Santa Monica about 15 years ago. He would have me come in and train with his black belts. It was more of an honorary degree. I would consider that an earned belt from a training stand point. Traditional Karate was always something I loved and was interested in. Back then when I was growing up it was all about being Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris. The ground fighting techniques of today were not being practiced then. Had it been today, I would have taken the Mixed Martial Arts approach to my fighting style. I retired from Dojo Fighting. With the experience I was having elsewhere I wanted to go into a sport where I was either going to get knocked out or knock someone out. That is what brought me to kickboxing. I was into Muay Thai Kickboxing for 7 years. I had a number of 3 round smokers and did some pretty stupid things during that time too. I wanted to have a pro fight but not necessarily turn pro because there was no money in it plus I was doing well in business. I basically wanted to have a pro fight so I could say I did it, but I never got to do that.
TTC- Explain your relationship with your brother Michael Buffer (boxing ring announcer famous for “Lets Get Ready to Rumble”)…
BB- Most people don’t know this but Michael and I didn’t know each other growing up. Michael and I are long lost ½ brothers who only met around 20 years ago. I saw him on TV around 1987 when Mike Tyson was getting really huge. Michael was getting really big in boxing. Boxing in the late 80s and early 90s was what UFC is now. I saw this guy on TV and we kind of looked alike, he is definitely the pretty boy but we had similarities plus the same last name as Buffer which is not a common name. I started getting butterflies and said to myself “what the hell is going on here.” My grandfather was champion of the world in 1921 in boxing, he is in all the history books as a bantam/flyweight champion Johnny Buff. Fighting has been in my blood for years. I began to search Michael out over the course of the year. I saw he grew up close to where I grew up, about 60 miles away. Long story cut short, it turned out that my father had fathered a child before he went overseas during WWII. When he came back a divorce ensued, he was young, it was one of those mistaken marriages. They lost track of each other. Michael was raised under a foster name of Huber. When he went into the Army they told him, no you are Buffer. So he took the name back. He started announcing at the age of 37 as Michael Buffer. Had he been Michael Huber, I would have never made the connection and would have never ended up taking this route that I took which is the way life goes. You choose the paths and things happen. About 3 years after I met him I sold 2 companies where I was making a great living at but I wasn’t passionate about it. I told Michael I would make him more famous and richer than he ever dreamed, take his trade mark for video games and toys and hopefully make myself rich and happy in the same process and I wanted to announce. He said 2 things, first- How are you going to do that, I said I don’t know I will figure it out as we go along, second- we agreed I wouldn’t go into announcing boxing as there is no money in it. I said don’t worry I will find my spot, when it comes around I will know what it is. You can pretty much figure out the rest from there.
TTC- You started announcing at UFC 8. How did that process start?
BB- Back at that time as UFC came along, I basically had been managing Michael. My goal was to put him everywhere outside of the boxing ring. It was important to keep his image fresh and the phrase fresh. So I contacted the UFC. I was fascinated by it, it was a spectacle back then, the fighting was right up my alley. I contracted Michael for 6, 7 and Ultimate Ultimate. I had to pull him out of UFC because of a contract we had with WCW Wrestling. At that point I decided what I have to do is work my way into this. At UFC 8, you might remember a fighter called Scott “The Pitbull” Ferrozzo, who at one point had a brilliant, entertaining fight with Tank Abbott. Scott was my fighter I managed him to UFC 8 in Puerto Rico. I had an ulterior motive; I called Ron Meyer who was the owner at that time of UFC. I said look I’m coming down, I want to announce the UFC , I want to show you the job I can do, I don’t want to step on Rich “Gogo” Goin’s feet, I’m not trying to take his job etc, so let me announce the preliminaries. He told me to bring my tux. I walked out in front of 9,000 people and a few million watching and that was the first one. They called me back for UFC 10. Then they called me to co-star as myself on Friends on The Ultimate Fighing Segment. Again, I had an ulterior motive. The owner was there, I told him everyone will think I’m the announcer by co-starring as myself playing the Octagon announcer on the show. The thing to do is make a deal, I want to announce every UFC show from now on if I do this show. He agreed and boom here we go.
TTC- You have watched UFC’s ups and downs, like you mentioned at UFC 8 it was popular then, came close to dying as time progressed with bad publicity surrounding the sport. You have been in the very small arenas to the large arenas, would you have ever predicted the popularity UFC is experiencing today?
BB- I predicted it from the 1 st event I saw. I had a little bit of doubt when I saw where the old management team was going with it. As soon as Dana White called me and told me he was taking over UFC along with the Fertitta’s, I realized a breath of fresh air was going to make it happen. Key changes needed to be made. After watching Dana, Lorenzo and Frank and all the work they were placing into the UFC, I realized this was going to be the biggest thing happening ever. The only thing that got in the way at that point was UFC 33 which was a boring show as it was all on the ground. William Morris was there and all these big agencies, it was the key event. This event sent them back to the drawing board. They have done an amazing job. For the UFC fans out there, if you see Dana White just bow to him and say thanks to Dana for everything he has done. The man has worked his butt off to get us where we are today.
TTC- Personally, my favorite moment of you was at UFC 68 in Columbus, OH when you announced Randy “The Natural” Couture as the NEW Heavyweight Champion of the World when he upset Tim Sylvia in front of a sellout crowd. Do you have a favorite moment?
BB- I’ve had so many favorite moments. I can tell you though, when I announce Randy Couture, it’s always just so exciting for me. There are other fighters that for me. For instance when I announced Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock in their first fight at the MGM, that was an amazing night. December 27th of this past year was incredible with all of the big fights at that event. Every time I think it’s the greatest event ever, within a few events or maybe even the next event, I think that is the greatest night ever. UFC is an amazing experience. It’s not a job to me it is an adventure like they say in the Marine Corp. The adventure keeps getting recreated. I’m very lucky and honored to be in this position as is everybody that works for the UFC. The moment it becomes a job to me and I lose the passion will be the moment I consider stepping down.
TTC- One of the great things about the sport is there is no off season.
BB- Yeah, every time I turn around, every 2-3 weeks I’m off to another event. What is better than that, making great money and having the best seat in the house. The position I have inside the Octagon is incredible. I wish the fans could experience that just one time. Nobody knows what it is like except me. Being inside the Octagon with 20,000 fans going crazy for GSP vs. Penn or whatever the case may be is incredible.
TTC- What are your thoughts on Brock Lesnar and his upcoming bout against Frank Mir?
BB- My opinion of Brock is I like him a lot. He brings a lot to the UFC including WWE fans and more. Brock is an amazingly explosive, strong athletic individual. In my opinion he is still young enough to learn the sport. He really only has 25% of the skills of say a Randy Couture or GSP has but his athleticism and power help him stay where he is at. The upcoming fight against Frank Mir is going to be extremely tough for him. Not only is he going against a guy that he was beating and got caught by the great Jiu-Jitsu artist that he is in Frank Mir and was submitted, Mir has vastly improved his boxing skills. When I watched Mir face Nogueira, Frank looked like a heavyweight boxer. In fact, Freddie Roach stated he wants to train Mir because he believes he has better hands than most of the guys in heavyweight boxing today. Knowing Frank as well as I do, I know his head is on real straight and his focus is the best it’s ever been. The only thing that could lose this fight for Frank is his focus and conditioning. Brock is going to go in and give his best win or lose and will always draw fans. His attitude is cool because he stated he doesn’t consider himself the champion until he wins the next fight. That is a great humble attitude to have.
TTC- What are your thoughts on Fedor coming to the UFC?
BB- I think it’s questionable if Affliction will last another year much less another couple of shows. Even though they have all the great intent and they have the promotional backing of Donald Trump, which I don’t know what that brings to the table to be honest with you, and Golden Boy Promotions the fact is they are losing money every show. No matter how deep your pockets are or how many t-shirts you sell, there comes a point when you say we are obviously not making money here, are we branding this to sell t-shirts or are we doing this to be a player in the MMA industry. I think they will go for that 3rd event. I read where Tom Atencio is doing his best to get it off of the ground. This is a very rough business. Everybody thinks they can be the UFC coming out of the gate. Back when Star Wars was made in the 1970s, there wasn’t a space movie popular for 10 + years in Hollywood. Suddenly, Star Wars makes millions of dollars and all of the directors and producers have a great idea of making a space movie. It is the same thing but there is only one Star Wars. UFC is the Star Wars of MMA. It is the Xerox to the copier and the Kleenex to the tissue and always will be. Everything else is the Canadian Football League and the Minor Leagues. If you are going to take those losses you have to make some big money to recoup that. UFC has spent years creating many different revenue streams. I hope it makes it as I want to see the fighters have outlets to make money. Competition breeds success and success breeds competition. Fedor, I predict will wind up in the Octagon in 2010. That is a personal guess, maybe it will be quicker I don’t know. His people were very difficult to deal with and that was one of the biggest problems. It will be great to see him in the Octagon and see how he deals with it compared to a ring fight.
TTC- On a lighter note, Dana White has a boxing background. Do you ever spar with him?
BB- No I haven’t. My sparring days are pretty much over. I enjoy it so much I probably would if I was asked. Dana is a tough nut, a real tough nut. If I could kick him then I would like to spar him. Boxing wise, I guarantee you I would take some shots.
Thanks Bruce for your time.
By Scott Dryden