Exit Interview: Michael Buffer

The Roslyn ringmaster is still ready to rumble

If you were worried about how ring announcers were holding up in these tough economic times, there’s good news  —  at least for Michael Buffer, who coined the catchphrase “Let’s get ready to rumble.” The Roslyn native didn’t seem poised for global stardom, but then came those five words. Now, whether you sell mac-and-cheese or you’re a young Jew coming of age, if you want the 64-year-old to lend you his pipes, it’s gonna cost you. You can hear Buffer on July 18th as he hosts Floyd Mayweather’s comeback fight on HBO (pay-per-view, of course).

What were you like at Abington High? I imagine you doing the morning announcements  —  “Let’s get ready to TAKE ATTENDAAAAAAAAAANCE!”Not the best student in the world. Pretty much a class clown. I came out of the service at 23 and was married and had a child. Sold cars for different dealers around the Philadelphia area. Worst car salesman in the world. I evolved late as far as having any kind of decent appearance, and started modeling at 30. I did tons of print work for Wanamaker’s, Strawbridge’s.

Any regrettable gigs in your modeling portfolio? Oh yeah, there were lots of underwear ads. Sometimes they would just cut your head off, so it didn’t make any difference. [laughs] When Atlantic City had its big boom for gambling in the early ’80s, as a fight fan, I made up a false résumé and gave it out to the casinos. I sold them on a James Bond image. I heard back from the old Playboy casino, and it just took off.

What’s the origin of “Let’s get ready to rumble”? I don’t know the exact date  — ’83, ’84. I wanted something that had that same effect as “Gentlemen, start your engines” at the Indy 500  — everyone goes crazy. I tried “Man your battle stations” and “Fasten your seatbelts,” and it was pretty bad. “Let’s get ready to rumble” didn’t take off all of a sudden. I just stayed with it. [laughs] Now it’s a trademark.

Can I say that phrase without owing you some money? We don’t have a problem with editorial use. [laughs] It would pop up in ads and radio spots, and it dawned on me that I made this part of the boxing scene. I got a hold of lawyers and got it registered.

You had a cancerous lump removed from your tonsils last year. Were you afraid you were done rumbling for good? When I did a fight two weeks before my surgery, I figured it was going to be my last time. I said, “For the thousands in attendance and the millions watching around the world, the most famous phrase in the history of boxing: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble.” I hadn’t really told anybody [about the cancer], so I instantly got texts, like, “Hey Michael, you’re pretty famous, but that was a bit too much.” Then I put out a press release to my friends and people at HBO to let them know what was going on, and they said, “Oh, now I get it.” When I woke up in recovery, the first thing I did was say out loud, “Ladies and gentlemen.” Thirty days later, I was back to work.

You’re best known for boxing, but have you worked any eating contests or weddings? I haven’t done a bar mitzvah or wedding in a while, but we’re always surprised when somebody calls and we give them a price that’s absolutely ridiculous, with first-class airfare, and they go, “Okay.”

Do you tailor your act to the event? “Let’s get ready to mitzvah”? No, but I’ve done commercials  — Kraft had a cheese commercial where I said, “Let’s get ready to crumble.” I actually trademarked that phrase when they blew up the Hacienda Hotel, which became Mandalay Bay. We know all the angles. So when they said, “We’d like Michael to do a voiceover,” it was fun to get five times the amount of money because I owned the words.

Will boxing ever make a comeback in terms of popularity? I’ve been hearing about boxing dying since I was a kid. I’m not as busy as I used to be  — I was doing 100 shows a year. Now I do maybe 30 and make 20 times the money. I work in Europe a lot these days.

You are to boxing what David Hasselhoff is to music. Yeah, I just got back from Helsinki, and I was shocked at the amount of people who knew who I was. The phrase works.

Well, Michael, thanks for your time. Much appreciated. Do I get the cover? Just kidding.

It’s going to cost you.