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A Poker Life: Bruce Buffer

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


Poker is just a part of life for modern Renaissance man Bruce Buffer, but that in no way reflects a lack of passion for the game. Buffer simply has many interests competing for his time. He is the president and CEO of “The Buffer Partnership,” with his half-brother and boxing ring-announcer Michael Buffer. Both are the grandsons of former world champion boxer Johnny Buff, so a background of competitiveness inspires the family even today. In addition to his business interests, Buffer is best known as the official voice of the octagon at Ultimate Fighting Championship events. He travels the world promoting and announcing for the UFC, which leaves him little time for one of his passions — poker.

Buffer has racked up $221,793 in prize money on the felt, and also has appeared on Poker After Dark. The Bruce Buffer Poker Room at the Luxor in Las Vegas honors him, so his accolades in the poker world have been adding up since his breakout tournament performance in 2005, when he made the final table of the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational.

He is also a sponsored “Friend of Full Tilt Poker,” and promotes the brand on his weekly radio show, which can be heard at Poker celebrities like Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Laak, and Norman Chad make guest appearances on the show, along with movie stars and UFC stars.

Another upcoming project for Buffer is that he will be the voice of, and one of the poker personalities who give lessons at, the Poker Player Academy, which will launch this year. Random House recently purchased his memoirs, and will be publishing his autobiography, which is set for a Christmas 2012 release. Buffer said that the autobiography will be filled with poker stories, in addition to his business and UFC pursuits.

Despite his busy schedule, he tries to play as much poker as he can. During our interview, he was playing a satellite on Full Tilt Poker. “It’s going well; I have 2,000 in chips,” Buffer said between questions. Without further ado, here is a slice of Buffer’s poker life; when someone is called the “Veteran Voice of the Octagon,” it is best to get out of the way and let him tell his story.

Ryan Lucchesi: When did you first start playing poker?

Bruce Buffer: I started playing poker at the age of 8, when my father taught me how to play. I was playing cash games from the age of 14 with my brother Brian. In those days, we played five-card stud, seven-card stud, and jacks-or-better draw. I constantly played those games, and then in later years, I put on collectible gun shows at Hollywood Park Casino here in Los Angeles. When a show would calm down, I would head down to the casino to play, and I fell in love with $20-$40 seven-card stud high-low. I played that for years, and then hold’em started taking over.
The first tournament I ever played was at the Borgata, when I was doing a UFC event there, and I actually bubbled the final table. The second tournament I ever played was the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational in 2005, and I made the final table. I was hooked at that point. I really enjoyed watching poker on TV, but it really took off for me when I got a taste of the potential of going for a bracelet, being the competitor that I am.

RL: Is that competitiveness a reflection of your grandfather’s background as a world champion boxer?

BB: That competitiveness was in the family blood for years. Obviously, it runs in my blood. I have been involved in fighting since I was a kid. My dad was a drill sergeant in the Marines, and he served in both World War II and Korea. He was teaching me street-fighting techniques when I was literally around 5 or 6 years old. And then you have my grandfather, whom I never got a chance to meet; he was the champion of the world in 1921.

Genetically, it gets really crazy when you consider the fact that I did not grow up with my half-brother, the famous boxing ring-announcer Michael Buffer. I met him when I was in my early 30s, after I saw him on TV when he got really popular in the ’80s, and then found out that he was my half-brother. I started managing his career three years after we met. I sold two companies and had a dream of making him more famous than he ever dreamed by properly trademarking that phrase [“Let’s get ready to rumble!”]. To date, I have developed and sold more than $400 million in products with the brand, so I’ve been in the fighting world a long time before getting involved with the UFC.

RL: How does it feel to come over to the poker world from the world of UFC, where you already are well-established? What are the similarities in the two worlds?
BB: It’s a lot of fun. My work in the UFC was based on one thing — my belief that the sport would be huge someday. I have been an announcer for over 15 years, and the passion of the great fighters in the sport and the incredible fan base that we have internationally have made it the fastest-growing sport in the world. You now can see the UFC on 500 million TV sets throughout the world.

That competitive spirit is why fighting and poker are very similar mentally — knowing when to go in for the knockout but realizing that you could get knocked out, knowing when to be defensive and when to be offensive, and reading people in the way that you read a fighter and the way that he moves. I find the mental similarities very strong. Being involved in martial arts and actually having fought myself, I apply those same mental strategies on the green-felt battlefield.

If you’re playing poker and get knocked down by a bad beat, and now have a short stack, that’s like getting knocked down to the canvas as a fighter. That’s when you have to say to yourself, “I’m going to get back out there and kick that guy’s butt.” That’s when you have to start all over again and do it right. That kind of strength comes from within. I know some fighters who would make very good poker players, as witnessed by Danny Anderson appearing on Poker After Dark. He was playing poker like he fights. It wasn’t until I saw a weak opening that I was able to take him down, and I’m sure that Howard Lederer would say the same thing about him if you were to ask him.

RL: How much does your business acumen help you at the poker tables?

BB: It’s huge in my ability to read people. I don’t pretend to be anywhere close to someone like Daniel Negreanu, but I have a great ability to read people and then leave it up to the cards. I love winning with the worst hand, as it’s all about playing the opponent. The two best statements in poker are, “Five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master,” and, “Don’t play the cards, play the player.”

RL: What poker achievement are you most proud of?

BB: I’m lucky to say that I’ve had a number of them, but the most recent would be that I made the money in the 2010 World Series of Poker main event, and was in the top 12 percent for four of the five days that I played. That was quite an achievement for me. I went out hard with pocket aces, getting beat by flopped quad eights. It was only about a week and a half later that I took first place at the Hustler Casino Grand Slam Championship in Southern California, and won $75,000. Even though that $75,000 was almost three times as much as the $27,500 that I won at the World Series, the feeling and the adrenaline rush that I got at the World Series just can’t be equaled.

In addition, being honored with my own poker room in Las Vegas, when only four other people have had poker rooms named after them, is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me in poker. I’m in awe of that. And when I appeared on Poker After Dark, that was a real highlight in my poker career, a sincere highlight.

RL: What are some of your future plans and goals in poker?

BB: Obviously, my goal is to win a WSOP bracelet, but I was thinking the other day that my biggest problem is my schedule. I’m constantly on the road all over the world, announcing the UFC, so I’m timing out the World Series right now. I would like to play a seven-card stud high-low tournament, as I think I would do well in one of those tournaments, but I’m going to concentrate mainly on hold’em, because I think that is where my first bracelet will come from when I have the honor of winning it. I’m really taking a serious approach to this year’s WSOP, as I do to everything that I do. Every waking moment that I can play, I will be there. ♠