“Let’s get ready to rumbleeee!” Sports announcer Michael Buffer has made a career out of those five words, including a few major movie appearances.
If you don’t yet know Michael Buffer’s name, then you surely know his work. Across 40 years in the business, he’s become known as sport’s most famous hype-man, introducing fights in both combat sports and the movies with one of the most famous catchphrases ever thought up.
Buffer began his career as a boxing announcer in 1982, at a time when announcers were usually local talents rather than celebrities in their own right. His national profile grew when he became the announcer on all boxing matches broadcast by ESPN, and further still when he hit upon “Let’s get ready to rumble” in 1984, partly inspired by one of Muhammad Ali’s pre-fight interviews.
Towards the end of the decade, he had a lucrative gig as the exclusive ring announcer for boxing bouts in Donald Trump’s casinos, and also announced for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) main events.
With his unmistakeable baritone and dapper tuxedoed appearance, Buffer was dubbed “the 007 of boxing” in some quarters, but it was his catchphrase that made his name. And so, he soon began a lengthy process of trademarking it, which was successfully completed in 1992.
Since then, the trademark has reportedly netted him more than $400 million in licensing fees, so he’s understandably protective of it. He’s openly talked about winning cases against the producers of Rumble In The Bronx and Booty Call, which used the phrase in their marketing without licensing it.
And for UK readers of a certain ages – yes, that’s why the PJ and Duncan single “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble” has the extra “h” in the title, even though the track itself also features an audio sample of Buffer doing his thing.
The man has one of the most famous voices in sport and he’s turned that to a few acting appearances over the years as well. While he’s most often credited either as “Himself” or “Ring Announcer”, Buffer has made a variety of appearances in all sorts of films, ranging from boxing’s biggest film franchise to a post-modern cameo in a remake of a family classic. Let’s get ready to ramble…
Buffer made his screen acting debut in the 1988 Mickey Rourke boxing drama Homeboy and also provided “Ring Announcer” duties in Eddie Murphy’s one-and-only directorial outing to date, 1989’s Harlem Nights.
It was really only a matter of time before he made it into a Rocky film, and he snuck in before the franchise took a 16-year hiatus with a cameo in 1990’s Rocky V. He’s also turned up in every Rocky and Creed movie released since then (the only actor to appear in all of them bar Sylvester Stallone) as well as the 2014 Stallone vs Robert De Niro comedy Grudge Match.
As you’d expect, given his control over that phrase and his indelible delivery of it, he’s never been short of work in boxing movies. He plays “Himself”, “Ring Announcer” and/or “Fight Announcer” in films ranging from The Fighter and Against The Ropes to films with minor boxing scenes like 2012 and Holmes And Watson.
On TV, he’s lent his announcing patter to animated shows like The Simpsons, South Park, and Phineas & Ferb. He even introduced a cooking contest between Gordon Ramsay and the Swedish Chef in the 2013 Muppets webisode Food Fight, but we’ll come back to his weirder Disney gig.
Before that, he also licensed his trademark to a 2000 Warner Bros wrestling comedy called Ready To Rumble. Set in the world of WCW, the film was designed revive the wrestling promotion’s flagging fortunes. David Arquette and Scott Caan star as fans who urge Oliver Platt’s former heavyweight champ back into the ring, while Buffer naturally appears on announcing duties.
The film wasn’t a hit and WCW itself was out for the count by 2002 in the wake of its parent company Time Warner’s merger with AOL. Nevertheless, the trademark has still made plenty out of merchandise and video games over the years.
While we’re on the subject, Buffer also had the honour of being made into an action figure as part of Jakks Pacific’s Rocky Balboa line. Measuring 7 inches tall and clad in the announcer’s signature tux, the toy is probably about as good for playing with as Paulie and Drago’s wife from the same range, but as odd collectables go, we’re sure it’s made some completists very happy.
Outside the ring
In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, Buffer said: “I don’t know if I receive (cameo) requests on a daily basis. I’ll get two or three a year for movies. I’ve been in about 20 movies. Most times, I’m playing myself in films, like Rocky or Creed.”
That said, he’s also had a couple of major acting credits beyond the usual ring announcer roles and – let’s be totally honest – it’s these that spurred us to write about his unusual screen career.
First, there’s his very off-kilter role in 2008’s You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, in which Adam Sandler plays a hyper-competent Israeli agent who quits counter-terrorism to go and become a hairdresser in New York. In this wackiest of Sandler’s daft Frank Capra remixes, he plays the Mr Potter – his villainous corporate magnate, Grant Walgreen, wants to level the neighbourhood where Zohan works to build the world’s first mall with a rollercoaster in it.
This is hardly the weirdest bit of casting in an Sandler movie – and there’s no line that reviews his latter-day comic filmography better than the custody hearing near the end of 1999’s Big Daddy, where a lawyer (played by Ready To Rumble co-writer and Sandler’s long-time collaborator Steven Brill no less!) stands up and objects that he’s “simply parading his buddies up there.”
Buffer counts this as his favourite acting role because he got to be someone other than himself, and later suggested in a 2018 tweet there might be have been playing someone in particular in his role as “a greedy NYC real estate mogul who treated minorities like shit”. A former boss, maybe?
Another performance with an unsubtle debt to that same mogul is Michael Keaton’s turn as ruthless entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere in 2019’s Dumbo. And that brings us to the real Buffer cameo that sticks with us and is frankly the most insane quirk of Tim Burton’s live-action Disney remake.
After Vandevere buys the circus where Dumbo has been delighting families, he transfers Dumbo’s show to his theme park, Dreamland, and zhuzhes up the show with a bit more spectacle and hype. That includes a character called Baritone Bates, played by Buffer, and if you either haven’t seen this or don’t already know where we’re going with it… well, best to let the clip speak for itself.
Buffer’s reported fee for 10 to 15 minutes of announcing is anywhere between $15,000 and $30,000. If Disney gave him that to come and yell “Let’s get ready for Dumboooo”, it was money well spent. There’s much to be analysed about Burton’s surreal use of Americana and nostalgia creeping around to the time in which he was actually making films, but mostly, it’s just a funny, properly bizarre pull and probably the only reason I still think about Dumbo 2019 a couple of years later.
Despite a serious bout with throat cancer in 2008, (he fully recovered after a successful surgery) Michael Buffer is still going strong with his sports announcer work at the age of 77. Looking forward, it’s a fair bet that he’ll appear in Creed III, on which Michael B. Jordan is stepping up to the director’s chair, and in whatever other boxing movies (or even boxing scenes in movies) are in the pipeline.
In the meantime, you’ll also have heard him in the trailer for Paramount Animation’s long-delayed monster-wrestling movie Rumble. That one’s currently due in cinemas early next year and we can probably guess the extent of his role. But while Michael Buffer may not have had the most extraordinarily varied range of roles, you’d definitely know him if you saw or heard him even if you don’t follow boxing or wrestling…
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