In this Corner …
Between rounds with Michael Buffer, the voice behind “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
by Bill Donahue


Michael Buffer’s career wandered, from car salesman to fashion model, before fate stepped in and had him sharing a stage with—and setting the stage for—some of the world’s greatest athletes. And he did so by using his rich baritone to utter a signature phrase that has become boxing’s equivalent of “Gentlemen, start your engines.”


Although Buffer is best known for stepping into the ring to fire up pugilists with his now trademarked adage—“Let’s get ready to rumble!”—his celebrity transcends the world of professional boxing. His voice has kick-started games for Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Hockey League, as well as high-profile events such as the Indy 500, World Championship Wrestling matches and an episode of “American Idol.”


Buffer, a Philadelphian by birth who became a fixture in Atlantic City, N.J., boxing rings beginning in the early 1980s, has cultivated an image that now permeates pop culture; his likeness recently made an appearance in the Disney Channel hit, “Phineas and Ferb,” and he has even been immortalized as an action figure, thanks to his role in the 2006 Sylvester Stallone film “Rocky Balboa.”


Suburban Life caught up with Buffer in between rounds at his home in Los Angeles.


Suburban Life: You took a rather circuitous route to fame. How did you make the transition from car salesman to fashion model to ring announcer?

Michael Buffer: My segue into ring announcing came … when me and my oldest son, who was 13 at the time, were watching a fight on TV, and the ring announcer delivered what was a very amateurish split decision. My son said, “You could do that, Dad.” … I’m a sports junkie, and I thought it might be a great way to get in and see the fights. I contacted each of the hotel casinos in Atlantic City and sent them a head shot and letter telling them I had experience as an announcer, which may have been stretching the truth 100 percent. I suggested their image would be enhanced by having—and I actually wrote these words—“a James Bond type” making the ring presentation on behalf of their hotel. A couple of them got back to me, and one of them gave me the list of the boxing promoters to contact. It was 1982 when I got my foot in the door, at the Playboy Hotel and Casino, and my performance was quite horrible. I was probably 37 at the time.


SL: From baseball to hockey to wrestling to “American Idol,” you’ve announced just about everything. What is your sport of choice, either as a viewer or a participant?

MB: It’s my primary source of income, so I’m supposed to say boxing. My favorite sports would be college football and pro football, but I’m still a Phillies junkie. Now, courtesy of DirecTV, I would say I probably haven’t missed an Eagles game in 50 years, even when I was in the Army stationed at Fort Knox [in Kentucky]. And when I moved out here [to Los Angeles], I never imagined life without the Phillies. … I still tune in and listen to Angelo [Cataldi] and the guys on 610 WIP.


SL: Based on where your career has taken you, I imagine you’ve seen some interesting things, both in and out of the ring.

MB: Decades ago, no one was ever going to go to China, but I’ve been to Beijing, worked in Moscow and gone to places that I never dreamed I’d get to. Some of craziest things I’ve seen … well, there was a full-scale riot in Madison Square Garden when Andrew Golota kept punching Riddick Bowe below the belt in a fight he was winning, and all hell broke loose. Then there was the time Evander Holyfield was fighting Riddick Bowe in a classic rematch at Caesars Palace, and some idiot—Fan Man was his name—comes flying into the ring on a kite.


SL: You’re a citizen of the world at this point, but do you still consider yourself a Philadelphian?

MB: I’m still a Philadelphian at heart. I grew up in Roslyn, and I can’t imagine having a better childhood. It was a decade to decade and a half after World War II, and everybody on my street called their neighbors by Aunt or Uncle. We were the kind of very tight-knit community you never see anymore—the true American “Leave It to Beaver” childhood, where every morning I threw a ball against the wall till the sun went down, making believe I was Robin Roberts striking out the entire Cardinals lineup.


SL: You were diagnosed with throat cancer a few years ago, which had to be terrifying for anyone, but especially for someone in your line of work.

MB: I don’t know if the word is “ironic,” for someone like me to get throat cancer, but it’s almost like an Olympic fencer who gets a disease that affects his right hand. I thought retirement was right around the corner and that was it, and I even did a farewell letter. My wife worked the phones and found the best surgeon and I went to see him … and 30 days after the surgery I was back in the ring [announcing a fight] in Las Vegas. … It probably was a turning point in my life where you respect what you have and how you look at life. At this point I look at it like it was almost an exhilarating experience.


SL: What’s next for you?

MB: I’m going to be 67 in November, so I think I’ll keep going for a couple more years. This year I’ve had only three or four weekends off, and I’m booked for the rest of the year. The future looks good: I’m married to a beautiful woman; I have five dogs and a cat; and I have a beautiful home that’s paid off. I’m looking forward to doing a little less.


Photography by Ethan Miller/Getty Images