Europe

Stretches, Poker and Jars of Honey: How the U.F.C.’s Announcer Revs Up

As two bare-chested mixed martial arts fighters stared at each other across a bloodstained canvas at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, a man in a $4,000 shimmering silver-and-blue jacket perched at the edge of the caged octagon.

Bruce Buffer, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s official announcer, was already wearing the extravagant tailored suit when he arrived at the arena at 4 p.m. About seven hours later, he was jumping up and down, preparing to ignite the crowd ahead of the night’s 13th and final brawl.

“You build them up and then you explode,” Buffer told a reporter before entering the cage.

Bruce Buffer inside the octagon at the Ultimate Fighting Championships at Madison Square Garden. In his career, he has torn an A.C.L. on the job and worked a fight with a 103-degree fever.

As he walked to the center of the octagon, he lowered the microphone he had previously held over his shoulder. Soon he was animatedly shouting his signature phrase in a baritone growl as 19,000 fans echoed it in near-perfect synchronization.

“It’s time!”

After returning to his seat, Buffer reflected: “It’s amazing that they still say that.”

As the U.F.C. evolved from a ragtag fighting league into a corporate colossus, Buffer’s status also ballooned. He has appeared in several movies and is a playable character in video games. He has introduced the teams before a National Football League game and can be hired to virtually announce a wedding or an infant’s birth.

Nazim Sadykhov, top, and Viacheslav Borshchev, grappling on Saturday in front of 19,000 fans.

Dana White, the U.F.C.’s chief executive, said, “I’m all about production — in-house, live event and on television — and he’s a part of that with the energy and the goose bumps you feel.”

The New York Times trailed Buffer last weekend at U.F.C. 295, the organization’s fight card in Manhattan that has become one of its most important events of the year.

On Saturday, he was featuring the same silver-and-blue suit — he estimates he has about 70 similar outfits in his closet — that he wore in 2016 when Conor McGregor, the U.F.C.’s biggest star, headlined the company’s first card in New York, the last state in the country to legalize mixed martial arts.

Clockwise from top left: Close-ups of Buffer’s earpiece, suit buttons and U.F.C. ring. He ate pasta before the fights and finished off the night with a fruit plate and red wine.

Buffer, 66, refueled with a carbohydrate-filled pasta dinner several hours after arriving from Los Angeles on a red-eye flight. His hand, adorned with a U.F.C. ring, twirled the spaghetti with a plastic fork. Buffer said he hoped his aesthetic established a professional tone.

“We went from spectacle to mainstream very quickly,” Buffer said.

Once deemed “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain, the U.F.C., which began in 1993, is now valued at $12 billion and is broadcast partners with ESPN. Endeavor, the media conglomerate and Hollywood talent agency, bought the company in 2021 and recently merged it with World Wrestling Entertainment.

According to a news release, U.F.C. 295 generated $12.4 million in ticket sales, the second-highest-grossing event in Madison Square Garden history. U.F.C. 205, the inaugural event in New York, was the highest.

Buffer stretches between announcements. He has pants tailored without seams to allow more mobility.
Buffer color coordinates the large index cards that contain the names, weights and records of fighters.

Buffer, whose half brother Michael is the renowned boxing announcer known for yelling “Let’s get ready to rumble!,” was born in Oklahoma but raised in Texas, Pennsylvania and California. He fell in love with mixed martial arts and trained in judo, kickboxing and other forms.

Despite his repeated attempts to become the U.F.C.’s full-time announcer, Buffer was often relegated to smaller assignments or asked to serve as a replacement. In 1997, he was recruited to participate in the third season of “Friends,” where he played the octagon announcer for a U.F.C.-themed episode. He started doing full U.F.C. events shortly after and has since missed only one fight.

He tore his anterior cruciate ligament during an octagon introduction in 2011 and said he once worked a fight with a 103-degree fever.

“Even if I’m not 100 percent, I will always perform like I’m 100 percent,” Buffer said.

Shortly before Saturday’s fights began at 6 p.m., Buffer finished his preparations in a room with the U.F.C.’s team of commentators: the outspoken podcast personality Joe Rogan, the former fighter Daniel Cormier and the veteran broadcaster Jon Anik.

As part of his in-ring responsibilities, Buffer must read off the names, weights and records of the fighters from large index cards. He color coordinates them and cuts a small hole in the corner to enhance his pinkie’s grip.

Cough drops and honey jars keep his vocal cords fresh.

He double-checked the pronunciation of some fighters’ names with Rogan and then relaxed. As Rogan searched for coffee, Buffer played poker on his phone, one of his favorite pastimes.

“It keeps my mind active,” he said.

As Buffer set up his table near the octagon, he grabbed the cough drops and small honey jars that keep his vocal cords fresh throughout the night. Between announcements, he often stretched his hamstrings. Some of his pants are tailored without seams for his frenetic style.

In the octagon, he will crouch, twist, spin or whatever else his instincts suggest. Sometimes, he will introduce a fighter with his forehead nearly pressed against that person’s face.

“They’re putting their lives on the line, so I need to give them every ounce of energy and passion to hopefully take them to that next level,” he said.

The U.F.C. is now valued at $12 billion and is broadcast partners with ESPN.
Borshchev against the cage during U.F.C. 295.

As celebrities arrived throughout the night, Buffer began to socialize. “I’ve made a lot of friends in that section,” Buffer said, referring to the seats adjacent to White’s.

He conversed with the comedian Bill Burr and the entertainer Steve-O. Buffer said he still needed to frame an autograph from Tom Brady, the retired N.F.L. quarterback, from a previous event. When the fights ended, former President Donald J. Trump, a close friend of White’s, walked past Buffer, tapped his shoulder and said, “Good job.”

Around midnight, Buffer decompressed in a private lounge with a fruit plate and a glass of red wine.

“They’re putting their lives on the line, so I need to give them every ounce of energy and passion to hopefully take them to that next level,” Buffer said of the fighters.

“It’s tough to come down from these things sometimes,” he said.

Buffer said that he normally would eat a postfight meal with Anik, but that Anik had additional broadcast duties because of the event’s brighter spotlight. The two bonded while traveling and working the U.F.C.’s pay-per-view events in places like Miami and Abu Dhabi, often going on long walks together the day of fights.

Whenever he returns home to Los Angeles, Buffer manages his many business ventures. He has a branded bourbon and cologne, among other products, and will announce the names of drivers in a parade ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 race in Las Vegas.

As he exited for his hotel in a chauffeured car, fans lining a barricaded section of the street pointed their cellphones at Buffer. One could be heard shouting his catchphrase.

Related Articles

Back to top button