It was a few days after I was laid off from Apple that I decided to book a last minute flight to Arizona to attend the final WEC card. I was writing about MMA on Unintelligent Defense but for the most part I was lost and didn't know what would be the next step for me. I didn't really have a plan and spent most of those days trying to decide my next career move while sitting on my couch. The trip to Arizona would serve not only as a distraction but also as a chance to mentally reset.
For those that remember, WEC 53 was a night filled with emotion. There was an electricity in the arena, a concept that I'd often written off as a nothing more than a cliche people say to romanticize an event. But after Anthony Pettis stunned the world by jumping "off the cage like a ninja", I was riding an emotional high.
I decided to skip the after parties and instead headed to the fighter hotel's lobby bar. While reflecting on the incredible night of fights that I had just witnessed over a pint, a guy in a tailored suit sat down on the barstool next to me and ordered a Johnny Walker Black with one ice cube. It was the "Voice of the Octagon" Bruce Buffer. For the next hour or so, we talked about the fights. His passion about MMA and genuine interest in what I said to say made me feel like I was part of a greater community.
I boarded my plane back to Austin the following morning knowing that I wanted to pursue MMA journalism full-time. As luck would have it, I received an email from Kid Nate that night saying that HeadKickLegend.com was mine if I wanted it, and the rest as you say is history. I viewed it as a sink or swim type of situation as Dave Walsh and Fraser left some incredibly big shoes to fill. Looking back I can say that year was one of the best in my professional life. I had decided to go all-in and live off my savings so I could give the website my entire focus.
It ultimately paid off but not without sacrifice. Not only was there a huge financial burden with having to pay rent and bills, but I also had to convince my family that I had a future as a writer. Fortunately, my parents were supportive and told me that if I was going to do it, I had to pour myself into everything I wrote.
I tell this story for two reasons. The first is that the most rewarding moments often come with the greatest sacrifice. The second reason is that the chance meeting with Bruce Buffer at the fighter hotel indirectly made me want to enter the world of MMA journalism.
Since that night in Glendale, Arizona, I've had the opportunity to speak with him numerous times while traveling to events. But for the most part, it has always been a "how's everything going" while passing through arena hallways or hotel lobbies. So when I heard that he was doing press for his book entitled "It's Time", I jumped at the opportunity for an interview. His publicist overnighted me a copy and I dove right in. I finished it in a single night, partly because I had to prepare for our interview but mostly because there were a lot of parts that hit some personal emotional chords.
The book is a memoirs of sorts with various "Bufferisms" sprinkled in. Those adages act as life advice from a man who has worn many hats both professionally and personally. But while they are interesting and a nice way to break up a story, it's the chapters of his life before the octagon that truly captured my attention. Bruce recounting the day his father told him that Michael Buffer was his brother is a special moment. His mother selling her wedding ring so their family could eat is another.
It's those chapters focused on his family that got me excited for the interview.
The Biggest Sacrifices Yield the Greatest Rewards
The son of a former Marine drill instructor, his father taught him many lessons that have lasted to this day. Advice such as never bet on horses and "walk into a room like you own it" are ones that he carries with him to this day. But the most important was that the only way to be successful is by being willing to dedicate everything into achieving that objective.
"My dad instilled in me a warrior like spirit that I've applied towards life. There's good sides and bad sides to life and you're going to come up against obstacles. The only way you get through them is your passion level for the path that you choose. To me it's not about how much money you make or the car you drive, it's about what kind of person you are and how much pride you take in what you do. I try and apply that same level of passion to every path I choose in life."
Early success in sales gave him a financial stability in his teenage years, but two events shaped his future in both life and business. The first was connecting with his half-brother Michael Buffer, who was quickly becoming the most recognizable announcer in combat sports. The other was his father's decision to leave the corporate world to pursue his dreams of becoming an author.
He decided to follow his father's lead and left his job to put his everything into building his brother's image. The skills he developed in sales provided the hustle to trademark and market his brother's catchphrase (Let's get ready to rumble) which made him a star not just in the boxing world, but in the realms of video games and professional wrestling as well. But managing his brother's career had a second effect. It created a desire to become a ring announcer in his own right.
"When I started in this, I had no intention of being Frank Sinatra Jr. And what I mean by that is that the great Frank Sinatra's son, no disrespect to him, but he followed in his father's footsteps and basically carried on his father's legacy as the icon that he was performing. I knew that if I couldn't announce and develop my career in the UFC octagon, even though I'd announced for a hundred other events and people, my interest in pursuing was not to be anywhere but the UFC octagon. If it wasn't going to be there, it wasn't going to be for me. If anybody could have copied someone it would have been me with my brother. I wanted to do it my way and with my own style and energy."
That Frank Sinatra reference is no coincidence by the way. Those that know Buffer are aware that he embodies the very essence of the Vegas hustle. The empire that he created with his brother has earned over $400 million, which is a testament to his hard work when you consider that it was started when they invested $5000 a piece to start up the company. In those days it was just him, some promo materials, and knowing that failure just wasn't an option. But he exemplifies Las Vegas in other ways as well.
The proclaimed "Fight Capital of the World" has been home to some of the most important events in combat sports history. And he's played a major role in creating that memorable and electric atmosphere in those arenas.
"It's pure adrenaline and love for the sport. First and foremost, I'm a fan. I'm honored and lucky enough to have one of the best seats in the house for one of my favorite sports. I get to feed off the energy of the crowd and stare eye to eye into some of the greatest warriors on the planet before they put their blood, sweat, and honor on the field of battle. It's an awesome experience that I'm on a very natural high, not only for that evening, but after and the excitement that I feel before. It's why I feel so humbled that I have this position and working for Dana White and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. It's amazing with what they've done. I'm able to a part of a historic locomotive moving uphill which is a grand experience."
The Highest of Highs and the Lowest of Lows
He's been a major part of the UFC brand long before the Zuffa era. His first interaction was negotiating a three-event deal for his brother beginning with UFC 6. But there were issues with the UFC branding that threatened Michael's deal with WCW, namely "if it's not in the octagon, it's not real." So instead he pitched himself to UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz as the new ring announcer. The only issue was that Meyrowitz wasn't interested.
But opportunity came when Rich Goins, the announcer at the time, was unable to be make it to UFC 10 because of a death in the family. Buffer got the call to fill in for the night but didn't get the call for UFC 11. But as they say, the world works in mysterious ways. When the writers of Friends penned a UFC-themed episode, Buffer was asked to be the UFC announcer. He finally had the leverage needed to become the permanent UFC announcer.
Those fast paced early events soon led to the "dark ages" when the UFC lost iNDemand PPV and was dubbed "human cockfighting" by Senator John McCain. The sale to the Fertittas came soon after. So it's safe to say that he's seen the company at it's highest and lowest. He told me three fights, both negative and positive, that stick out in his mind as the most important in the brand's history.
"I remember back when Kevin Randleman, the monster wrestler, was going to be the main event of UFC 24. We were down in Lake Charles, Louisiana. When I started, we were in front of crowds of 9,000 or more people. But that night we were down to 1,800 people in the audience. I had the mic in my ear and I was told that Kevin Randleman had slipped in the back and concussed himself and was on the way to the hospital. I had to announce to this unruly crowd that there was no main event that they paid to see. That was when I really started to worry about where we were going. This was before Dana and the Fertittas bought the UFC, it was the ultimate low point."
"But then you get to the high point, which was the culmination of the Stephan Bonnar/Forrest Griffin fight at Ultimate Fighter 1. It's not so much that it was a great fight, which it was. It was just the fact that this was the $10 million dice roll when the UFC was in the hole trying to pull itself out. It was a major breakthrough that night. That fight was the culmination of a great first season into a crescendo of an ending. It stuck in the mind of all those people that watched and catapulted the UFC into a position to market the PPV formula monthly."
"The highest though was UFC 100. It was a culmination of that night and everyone pushing me thanks to Joe Rogan to pull off the 360 that night. I don't think a movie script could have went any better with how it went for everybody with how monumental that evening was overall. I can honestly say that when I attended my first event at UFC 6 in Wyoming, I knew that this had the chance of being one of the biggest sports ever. Just like I knew when we were at that down point that it wasn't something we couldn't get out of, we just needed the proper direction. So when Dana and the Fertittas came in, I gave them my full loyalty because I knew we were going to get there. I never lost faith."
The Fans Make It All Worth It
I concluded the interview where this story began with a discussion of the fans and accessibility of the personalities and fighters. I didn't bring up my own experience, but reading his book, it's apparent that he remembers those kinds of encounters with fans. Here is a guy that has worked essentially every UFC card as the "voice of the octagon", runs a multimillion dollar entertainment empire with his brother, and plays poker professionally, yet he still finds the time to interact with every fan that approaches in person or reaches out to him by email.
"I think one of the key reasons and it's something that Dana White is really great at, is just interacting with the fans and allowing the UFC to be approachable all the way up to the highest level."
He continued, saying, "one of the reasons the sport is growing so fast is because of that approachability which you don't find normally with the NBA. You can't just walk up to Lebron James in a crowd of players and talk to him the way you can walk up to Jon Jones. Not that Lebron isn't a great guy because he is, but some of the level of those athletes, they don't intertwine with the fans. The fans recognize that."
"What's wonderful is that during the darkest days when we almost disappeared, back in the McCain ‘human cockfighting' era, it was the fans that kept us alive. They're what keeps us alive and pay our paychecks. The fans that love MMA are uniquely the greatest fans that I've ever seen in the world."
With the interview over, I took a moment to reflect and reread the questions I had for Bruce. It's been almost three years since I set out on this path. It's one that hasn't always been easy and yet has been filled with some great experiences with some talented individuals. "It's Time" drew me in because it's not about an elite level athlete recounting life in training and past fights. It's a story that speaks to the reader better than those tales of championships won and beautiful women bedded. Those stories just aren't relatable. It's about a guy who had a goal and accomplished it with hard work and persistence.
And it's why I'll remember that night in Glendale, Arizona. The night when I decided that going all-in was the only way to make a name for myself in this business.