In March of 2008, Michael Buffer, the man known for igniting boxing crowds with his electrifying trademark phrase, “Lets Get Ready To Rumble,” was lying on an operating table at the USC Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles receiving career-, if not life-saving neck and throat surgery.
The operation removed a lymph node attached to his tonsils — the source of a cancer called squamous cell carcinoma — but before the procedure, Buffer was shaken enough to plan his own will.
“When I started getting the information about the type of cancer that I had and what was going to have to be done, I was told that quite a bit of my neck and throat was going to have to be removed. God bless my wife. She just manned the telephones and tracked down one of the top surgeons in Los Angeles,” said Buffer, who has since married the former Christine Prado, to whom he proposed on “The Tonight Show.”
“Literally, a week before I went in with a doctor who was just going to go in, whatever I came out with was what I was going to have left, plus, with plans for radiation and things, I found a surgeon who took one look at the MRI and the CAT Scan and all of the other stuff that they looked at, and he said, ‘I’ll take care of this, and you won’t need any radiation.'”
Buffer joins Thomas “The Hit-Man” Hearns, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and trainer Freddie Roach, among others, as the most notable newcomers who are listed on the 2012 ballot as potential inductees to the International Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.
The other newcomers include former light heavyweight and cruiserweight beltwinner Dariusz Michalczewski of Poland, German promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl of the powerful Europe-based Universum Box-Promotion, Showtime Sports color commentator Al Bernstein.
“It’s really simple: I’m overwhelmed. It’s a real honor just to be nominated. The International Boxing Hall of Fame, you know, that’s like Cooperstown. That’s the real deal,” said Buffer.
“Certainly it’s not just flattering, it’s overwhelming. To be on the same card with a man like Tommy Hearns, The Hit-Man? That’s a real honor. My wife, my family. Everybody is really, really excited.
Buffer told RingTV.com on Saturday that he credits Dr. Dale Rice for his efforts, which helped him to return the ring for Joe Calzaghe’s 12-round unanimous decision over Bernard Hopkins at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in April of 2008.
On Oct. 15, Buffer will again be in the ring calling a Hopkins fight, only this time, it will be as the 46-year-old RING and WBC lightheavyweight titleholder defends his belt against Chad Dawson at The Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Hopkins became the oldest man to win a significant world title with his unanimous decision victory over Jean Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs) in May of this year.
But Buffer recalls being the announcer when Hopkins’ rose two weight classes for his lightheavyweight debut and what was to be his last fight — a dominating unanimous decision over former titlewinner Antonio Tarver in June of 2006.
“I actually introduced Bernard by saying, ‘And, tonight, we turn the page to the final chapter of the Philadelphia fighting legend…’ What was that, four years ago? That was supposed to be the last time,” said Buffer.
“He had promised that when he turned 40 that he was going to retire. But then, he wins it, and he wins it big. He’s just remarkable. He’s never overweight. He’s eternally young. Bernard Hopkins is an amazing, amazing character in boxing. What a legend he is. I mean, he is a true legend.”
The same could be said of Buffer, whose first professional fight was at the Playboy Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City in October of 1982, a bout that was coordinated by Brad Jacobs, who is now a matchmaker with Top Rank Inc.
“I don’t remember who the fighters were on that show, but I will tell you this — I was really, really bad. I was terrible,” said Buffer. “I wish that I could find every tape that has ever been made of that performance and make sure that it’s burned.”
Buffer said that he first introduced the phrase, “Lets Get Ready To Rumble” in late 1983, “when I realized that ring announcers have to introduce all of these officials that like to hear their names on television.”
“That’s a crowd-killer, especially for a big fight, and I wanted something that would be comparable to ‘Gentleman, start your engines,’ to let the fans know that now they’re going to meet the stars, and to get the electricity back into the room,” said Buffer.
“You can suck the air out of the room when you have to introduce 19 people after a Larry Holmes, or a Thomas Hearns, a Ray Leonard or a Marvin Hagler have just entered the room. What I was looking for was something to bring the energy back.”
Buffer said he tried, “Man your battle stations,” and, “Fasten your seat belts, but that neither of those seemed to work.”
“Then, of course, I remembered Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble, Young Man, Rumble,’ and how he was always ‘Ready to rumble,'” said Buffer. “That kind of stuck with me, so I used it during the introductions. I had a few people initially say, ‘What are you crazy?’ But then I stuck with it, and I guess that the rest is history.”
Since then, Buffer has become internationally known, the catchphrase has been legally trademarked and copywritten, and his impeccable dress code — from his carefully coifed hair, youthful appearance and tuxedo — imitated.
“I really wish that I knew how many fights I’ve done in my career, because if you usually ask a referee or a judge, they always know how many title fights or whatever that they’ve done. But when I started doing this, 29 years ago, I just thought that it was going to be something that I was enjoying as a fan,” said Buffer.
“I just wanted to be a fringe player and be able to watch the fights. But with the power of television, it just took off, and I just thought that, ‘You know, maybe I ought to do the best that I can and step up my act.’ I guess that technically, I’m the first person who could do this as a fulltime job and actually make a living.”
One of the last fights Buffer worked before his surgery was the second clash between current eight-division titleholder Manny Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KOs) and Juan Manuel Marquez (53-5-1, 39 KOs), the latter of whom lost his WBC junior lightweight title by 12-round, unanimous decision at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on March 15, 2008.
“After the operation, there was no guarantee that I would still have my voice left,” said Buffer. “They still had to take out part of my throat, and my tonsils, and all of the lymph nodes on my left side. But sure enough, I was back in the ring some 30 days later for Calzaghe and Hopkins.”
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com