The call, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” has appeared in countless boxing matches, WWE events, movies and video games. Most people recognize it as an announcement for something big. What they may not know is that the phrase is a trademarked sentence whose owner has turned it into a $400 million business.
How It All Began
Michael Buffer is one of the world’s best-known sports announcers. His elegant appearance and deep, rolling voice have made him a familiar figure to sports lovers all over the world.
Buffer was born in Philadelphia in 1944. He was raised by foster parents after his parents divorced. In a later interview, he said his childhood was enormously happy and that he considered his adoptive parents his true parents.
Buffer’s adoptive parents were named Huber, but when he enlisted in the Army, he had to show a birth certificate. Since the name on it said Buffer, which was his birth parents’ name, the Army said he had to use it. He went by Buffer ever since.
Before becoming a ring announcer, he sold cars and then had a successful career as a model.
In 1982, Buffer began working as a ring announcer for local boxing matches. Initially, he did it because he loved boxing, and this was the only way to see the bouts for free. Although he seems like a natural for the job now, he said his first attempts were amateurish. He clearly improved, and by 1984, he was invited to announce on Bob Arum’s Top Rank on ESPN.
A Popular Announcer
Buffer’s popularity skyrocketed. Donald Trump selected him as the exclusive ring announcer for all Trump-owned casinos. He was also the exclusive announcer for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) until that organization folded.
Buffer appeared in several movies and TV shows, including Rocky, South Park, Mad About You, The Fighter and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
Buffer has announced for the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals and NFL playoff games. At the 2008 World Series of Poker, he announced the finals with a modified, “Let’s get ready to shuffle up and deal.”
How the Rumble Started
As his popularity grew, Buffer felt he needed a phrase that would get the crowd excited for the match. He tested several lines, but all of them fell flat.
He thought about popular boxers and their sayings, and remembered that Muhammad Ali used to say, “Rumble, young man, rumble.” Famous announcer Sal Marchiano also sometimes said, “We’re ready to rumble” when announcing a fight. Buffer put those phrases together to create his famous one.
A friend who was a professional singer coached him on his delivery. He learned to deliver the line dramatically and then pause to let the crowd go wild. The phrase was an instant hit, and Buffer became inextricably linked to it.
Hearing It Everywhere
In 1992, Buffer made an extremely smart move. Seeing the phrase everywhere, and knowing it was still associated with his voice and image, he decided to trademark it. He also formed a corporation he named Ready to Rumble LLC.
In a 2009 interview with ABC News, Buffer said, “I realized it was popping up everywhere…And they were, like, using my line. And I checked with attorneys and found out that this could be considered what they call intellectual property.”
The trademark, issued in 1995, lists the word mark “Let’s get ready to rumble” as a protected phrase owned by Ready to Rumble LLC.
He made another smart move. He hired lawyers who continued to file renewals to ensure nobody else could claim they had a right to use the phrase.
Related: Trademarking a phrase
The trademark has made Buffer a multimillionaire. He used the trademark to secure payment rights for every use of that catchphrase in a song, video game or movie. Merchandise from coffee mugs to tee shirts that sport the phrase must pay him a royalty. He also makes money with guest appearances, where he delivers the famous line in person.
The trademark applies in the U.S. and internationally. Combined with personal appearances and licensing deals, it has helped Buffer attain a net worth of $400 million.
You Have To Show You Value It
Buffer has shown what a simple phrase and a simple trademark can do.
In the same ABC interview, Buffer talked about the power of a good trademark attorney, saying, “We have a pretty good batting average, a 1,000 because we’re very aggressive, in a sense that we have to be. You can’t just sit around and wait for some huge company to use your trademark. You have to always show that you value it and that you’re willing to fight for it.”
In 2008, Buffer was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was a devastating blow for a man who built his fortune on his voice. In a press statement, Buffer said he suspected it may have been caused by smoking when he was younger.
Doctors warned him that surgery and chemotherapy would change his voice. After surgery, however, he found his voice was just as strong as it had been.
Late in life, Buffer reunited with his birth parents and his half-brother Bruce. Bruce Buffer is now an announcer for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts. His own famous catchphrase is, “It’s time!”
Still Ready To Rumble
At 77, Buffer still travels the world telling boxers and audience members to get ready to rumble. He has occasionally talked about retirement, but he continues to sign deals and make live appearances. It seems clear he is having too much fun to stop rumbling now.