Lefko on UFC: Buffer’s book like a hustler’s manual

Bruce Buffer.

On Saturday night for UFC 162 in Las Vegas, Bruce Buffer will provide introductions for the fighters with an about-face that is uniquely his way of creating hype and excitement, but he will not do a full spin.

In his 15-plus years announcing the fights, Buffer has done the "360" only twice, and as special as Saturday’s card may be with veteran middleweight champion Anderson Silva, one of the most revered fighters in UFC history, there will not be any spins to salute the man known as The Spider. The reason is it’s hazardous to Buffer’s health.

Buffer, famous for his catchphrases "We are live!" to herald the start of the main card and "It’s time!" to lead into the main event, suffered a serious knee injury the second time he did the 360. It happened in 2011 at UFC 129, the company’s historic debut show in Toronto, which attracted a record crowd of more than 55,000. Buffer did the 360 for UFC 100, amid great expectations that he would go full circle for the first time, and there had been inklings he may reprise the move at UFC 129. In his recently-released autobiography It’s Time: My 360 View Of The UFC, Buffer begins by explaining he twisted an ankle a week before the card at a poker tournament in which he won $30,000. Buffer, who learned to play poker at a young age courtesy of his father and happens to be quite proficient at it, did the 360 after saying "it’s time." Although it should be noted, he never says it quite succinctly. It’s more like "Iiiiiiiiiit’s tiiiiiiiiiiiime!!" with a heavy emphasis on the second word. It’s almost lyrical in a way.

After the 360, he did a 180 to address challenger Jake Shields. Then he did a 180 to address welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who leaned forward to him, but when Buffer took a step back his injured ankle wobbled and he felt a searing pain in his right knee and knew instantly he’d torn ligaments. It may have been the first and only time an announcer suffered such an injury worse than the fighters, although he did his best to disguise it. Buffer was told by a doctor he’d be sidelined six months to a year, but the UFC had a card in three weeks. He had worked almost every card since he started doing it regularly in May 1997, and what he did to physically rehabilitate himself to be ready for the next card is nothing short of amazing.

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The 360 began as a 180, which happened quite by accident. Buffer once mistakenly announced the fighter of the red corner instead of the blue and corrected himself by quickly doing a split-second, full-body spin.

Both the 180 and 360 are metaphors for Buffer’s life and the various turns it took to come to the present. His many accomplishments include becoming a successful salesman as a teenager fresh out of high school because of his ability to sell himself and his product, and managing his half-brother Michael, the world-renowned announcer famous for saying "Let’s get ready to rumble!" He didn’t know the announcer was his brother until in his ‘20s when someone told him he looked like him. They eventually met and Bruce convinced him to take a chance on hiring him as his manager. Bruce monetized his brother’s catch-phrase into $400 million in licensed products and ventures in a relationship that has lasted more than 18 years.

Buffer’s father, a onetime tough Marine who morphed into a corporate salesman and later a writer, became the biggest male influence in his life, teaching him self-defence at a young age. Buffer’s grandfather, John Lesky, was a world-champion boxer in 1921, fighting under the name Johnny Buff. Somehow Buff became Buffer, one of the more interesting anecdotes in the book.

Another one is about legendary actor Steve McQueen, whom Buffer got to know because he was the father of a friend. Buffer regarded McQueen with awe and respect.

Perhaps the funniest story is the time Buffer and Frank Trigg, who had had five bouts in the UFC at the time, fought in an elevator in the presence of UFC president Dana White. Buffer, who is an experienced mixed martial artist, applied a rear naked choke on Trigg. The brawl ended when the elevator doors opened.

After graduating from high school, Buffer became wealthy selling products on the phone and developed a passion for fast cars, stylish suits, real estate and exquisite ladies. He attributes it to bsc: balls, skill and self-confidence, which he explains in one of his Bufferisms that are sprinkled through the book and are essentially his tools for success.

Buffer developed a passion for training in various forms of MMA and in later years became acquainted with Royce Gracie. He is one of the members of the Gracie family whom Buffer says are like the Kennedys of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He met Gracie through a family friend, John Milius, who became a Hollywood producer, director and screenwriter whose credits include Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn and Conan The Barbarian. Milius is credited with helping to design the Octagon, the brand-name for the UFC cage, which he wanted to surround with a moat with dangerous fish.

Buffer landed his brother an announcing gig with the UFC, but it didn’t last long because his services were conflicting with a business relationship he had with a professional wrestling promotion, WCW. Bruce Buffer had announced for an MMA/kickboxing event and wanted to pursue it further and his opportunity came as a replacement for the UFC 10 card in July 1996. He hustled his way into becoming the full-time UFC announcer in UFC 13 about a year later. He loved doing it, even though it didn’t pay much because the company fell into financial disarray. He actually contemplated buying it.

He credited Dana White and brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta for purchasing the company in 2001 and turning it into a multi-billion-dollar empire. Buffer says everything White and the Fertitta brothers have done since the purchase has been "unerringly savvy." He says White is "not a guy you want to mess with … He’s a guy with a code. You work with him on his terms, and if you try to push him, he shuts you down."

You can say Buffer is subjective and is speaking as an employee with respect to his employer, but he made his own fortune independent of the UFC and his announcer persona has been a contributing factor to the company’s evolution.

His two catchphrases, which he only started using in the past few years, happened organically. He said from the start of his career he tried not to be phrase-driven, but in a way his two phrases are to the UFC what "Let’s get ready to rumble!" is to boxing.

Buffer has missed only two UFC fights in 16 years. He is as much a part of the show as the fighters. Personally, I wish the camera would focus more on him during his introductions. It is funny and entertaining and the fighters seem to enjoy it. He once bowed to Randy Couture, while announcing his list of accomplishments at UFC 102 in 2009, knowing his career was nearing its end. He has never bowed to any fighter since and said it will be a long time before he does it again.

"You only do it in the presence of MMA royalty," he writes.

Anderson Silva is MMA royalty, but it is unlikely Buffer will bow to him on Saturday or do a 360, before his title defence against Chris Weidman. But you never know.

Speaking of “360,” Saturday will mark the debut of televised UFC preliminary fights on Sportsnet 360. Watch four UFC 162: Silva vs. Weidman prelims from 8-10 p.m. ET / 5-7 p.m. PT on the new rebranded Sportsnet channel Saturday night. In addition catch two online prelims on sportsnet.ca starting at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.

Buffer’s book is like a hustler’s manual. He has made his living through believing in himself and the MMA world, in particular the UFC. Through its growth, there have been countless books written, many biographies or autobiographies of the star competitors and personalities. There is only one announcer, but there are many aspects to Bruce Buffer’s life, which makes this a captivating read.

At times it’s a little disjointed, particularly when the narrative veers from its chronological flow, but there are so many stories it’s understandable why he weaves in and out of sequence before applying the finish.

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