"Ladies and gentlemen, we...are...live!" Those are the familiar words Bruce Buffer utters at the start of every Ultimate Fighting Championship Pay-Per-View. Known as the “Veteran Voice of the Octagon,” Buffer is one of the most recognizable personalities associated with the UFC. Not only does he travel the world to various events, but he also runs the website Buffer Zone, the official voice of the Octagon, and hosts “It’s Time!” Radio.
Buffer stumbled into the professional poker realm after final-tabling the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational in Season III and finishing in sixth place. From there, Buffer became infatuated with poker, playing the World Series of Poker Main Event, appearing on Poker After Dark’s MMA Week (finishing second to Howard Lederer), signing a deal to have the Luxor Poker Room bear his name, and giving the traditional, “Shuffle up and deal,” at the 2010 WSOP final table.
Buffer became such a force in the poker world that he was even offered a deal by Full Tilt Poker as a “Friend of Full Tilt.” Recently, UFC commentator and comedian, Joe Rogan, spoke out regarding online poker and stated FTP owed Buffer a great deal of money. PokerNews recently sat down with Buffer to get the story on his start in poker, his upcoming duties at the 2011 WSOP November Nine, and the FTP situation.
How did you get your start in poker?
Poker is something I started at a very young age. My father, who loved to play blackjack and poker, taught me all about gambling, literally, when I was eight years old. He taught me how to play poker, he taught me 7-card stud, 5-card stud, and draw, he also taught me about blackjack and horse racing. He said the only way to follow a horse is with a shovel.
I started playing cash games when I was 14, and my brother Brian, who is one of the best 7-card stud players I know, we started playing with caddies from the local country club. We weren’t even members; we just knew these guys, and we used to have cash games. Brian made enough money to take himself to Europe at the age of 16, and I just saved my money. I began to understand a little bit about money management at that time.
I started playing a lot of 7-card stud hi/lo, and the usual stud games, but when Moneymaker won, I started dabbling in no-limit. In 2005, the first tournament I ever entered was at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City when I was there doing a UFC. I wound up bubbling the final table, so that sort of fueled my fire. Then one day I was invited to play in the World Poker Tour Invitational in 2005 against about 300 people, and I would up making the final table. I even knocked out Carlos Mortensen, which was a fun experience.
I made the final table with Chris Ferguson, Chau Giang, Alex Brenes, and I wound up getting sixth. I was on TV playing and that just set me off to the point where I knew now I had a chance to really make money at this, something I truly loved and enjoyed.
What really took it to the next level was I started playing tournaments, when Howard Lederer and Erik Seidel took me out to dinner one night after a UFC, about four years ago, and [Lederer] invited me to join the team at Full Tilt. They gave me a very nice deal, and it was just off to the races from there.
Speaking of Full Tilt, Joe Rogan mentioned in a recent podcast that Full Tilt Poker owed you some money. Is this true? Can you elaborate on that?
Yeah, like a lot of people, we didn’t know to clean out our accounts. We really didn’t get wind. I actually was told, through some attorney friends of mine, like three months previous [to Black Friday], not to keep a lot of money in Full Tilt. I had so much confidence in Full Tilt because I thought they were the 800-pound gorilla, along with PokerStars, of the online poker world, doing everything so wonderfully and perfect for everybody, so I thought, you know, what could they do wrong?
I was a very loyal supporter because I was on the team, but they told me to take the money out because they were going to have some issues, but I couldn’t see what those issues could be, and lo and behold the issues came down and surprised us all.
I had a decent amount of money in there, not as much as I know other people who had six figures in there, but I had a healthy five figures. Basically, I haven’t seen a dime of it since — like a lot of people.
Have you had a chance to talk to anyone from Full Tilt Poker, like Seidel or Lederer?
I saw a few people over at the World Series, but I really didn’t have the chance to talk to anybody. It was kind of like mum's the word. It seemed like everyone was rounding up their wagons in a circle, you know. I just thought I’d lay low and see what the outcome would be. I thought if anything, online poker was over, which was evident, but I thought they’d fulfill their obligation of paying back all the players. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m not pointing the blame at anybody because I’m not privy to everything going on.
Speaking of the Full Tilt situation, it was recently announced that the Department of Justice gave its consent for the Groupe Bernard Tapie to acquire FTP, which would help facilitate player refunds. What is your initial reaction to that?
I’m very glad to hear that because there are a lot of people out there that, whether they have $10,000 or tens of thousands, this is how they made their living. I hope all those people get their money back. The money I’m owed, if I have to take a loss, I can take a loss, but for a lot of these people, this is all they did, their sole source of income. So I want to see everybody paid back.
At the same time, I question if there’s any way to save Full Tilt’s image, because in the eventuality that the U.S. does legalize online play, which I can’t still for the life of me understand why they haven’t, the question is will they allow Full Tilt to continue after all this went down.
You had the poker room at the Luxor branded with your name and image. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it felt to have your own poker room so to speak?
It was a year deal that we put together, and the year is up, and they brought in new management. They’ve decided to whitewall the room again, not to brand it, which was OK with me. I really enjoyed the time at the Luxor, they did a beautiful job with what they called the Bruce Buffer High-Stakes Poker Room.
[It came about] when I was doing a signing session in a store at the Luxor and people were lined up. When management came in, they were pleasantly pleased with the turnout, and then the story came up about poker, and we started to talk about poker, which is one of my favorite subjects to talk about.
A week later I got a call, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to have my own poker room in Las Vegas, which I think only four other people had rooms named after them in Vegas, if I’m not mistaken. So to be able to say I’m one of the five, it was a great run, great for my résumé.
I wasn’t particularly happy with the marketing that was done during the course of that year . . . with proper marketing, anything can be successful. I was OK to let the contract lapse at that point and just know that I did have my own poker room, that they did a wonderful job, they treated me great, and on to the next one.
We understand that you have some duties this weekend at the 2011 WSOP November Nine, what can you tell us about that?
Last year, I came out and introduced the November Nine final table on ESPN, and I just got the call to arms this year. Now they’re doing it differently. On Sunday they’re playing down from nine to three, and from what I understand, on Tuesday they’re going to have the final three players play live all the way down to the final hand. So they’ve called me in to come in and introduce the final three live on ESPN, and again I can’t help but say it, I’m humbled and honored. These are just amazing experiences for me in something that I loved.
Who is your pick for this year’s November Nine?
I like all the players. It’s been fun to watch, as it always is, but I think it’s going to come down to Phil Collins and Ben Lamb. I just have a feeling that it’s going to be between one of the two of them. Ben Lamb — it’s hard to believe he’s just like 26 years old — he seems impossible to read, and he just plays such good poker. It’s a lot of fun to watch Ben Lamb play. I’m also impressed by Phil Collins’ play, definitely.