Perhaps more than any other job in boxing, the ring announcer has the fewest resources available to learn how to ply his trade or break into the sport.
Budding promoters with a few dollars in their pockets, decent credit and the ability to post a bond likely will receive their license. There's even a promoters course they can attend in California.
Boxers can spend as much time as they need in the gym, learning their craft before entering the ring for the first time. Even the sport's back-office folk often start out with an internship or lower-level job before climbing the ladder.
But for wannabe ring announcers, there are no courses to take, no "Ring Announcing for Dummies" books and very few mentors. An announcer either has to be good from the opening bell or work for a promoter who has the patience to let him fake it 'til he makes it.
Michael Buffer started in the business by going to Atlantic City and persuading a promoter to give him a shot. "I loved boxing and wanted to see the fights, but didn't have money for a ticket," he says with a chuckle.
Buffer's polished and debonair performance you see today wasn't quite as smooth in the early days. "I wasn't very good [at first]," he says matter-of-factly.
UFC announcer Bruce Buffer originally wanted his brother, Michael, to get the job announcing for the MMA organization. "I thought he'd be perfect for UFC," he says.
Michael did work a few shows, but at UFC 8, Bruce asked if he could do the preliminary bouts. He did the main event for UFC 10 and has been the voice of that organization ever since.
Jimmy Lennon Jr. had a connection to the business in that his father, Jimmy Lennon, was a legendary announcer.
Jimmy Jr. claims that as a young man he had no plans to follow in his father's path. But after college, he was in need of some money and began doing undercards for his father.
Bob Alexander, the announcer for Warriors Boxing as well as other promotions, had an inauspicious start to his career, one that has taken him all over the world. The radio personality convinced a promoter to let him announce on a rainy night in 1989.
The tennis courts on Sanibel Island, Fla., where the fights were held, became flooded from the downpour. During the co-main event, the sound system went out and Alexander had to shout the introductions and results through cupped hands for the remainder of the night. "The place was full of drunks who were yelling and pelting me with beer cups," he says. "I figured this is as bad as it can get."
Lupe Contreras won a Top Rank/Univision contest to become "La Voz del Box" -- The Voice of Boxing, as he's been called. Although he was a huge boxing fan, before becoming an announcer, he had never stood in the squared circle in any manner.
If you're trying to build the perfect ring announcer, the attributes necessary are hard to pinpoint. The rich baritone voices of the Buffers and Contreras contrast with the higher tones of Lennon Jr.
One thing all the announcers agree upon is that you have to do your homework. It's not enough to show up sharply dressed and look at the bout sheet. Good announcers will go into the dressing room and learn the correct pronunciations of the participants' names, including the officials. They'll double-check trunk colors and make sure their information jives with what the television broadcasters have. And don't even think of climbing up those steps to the ring if you don't know the proper order to call a split decision or majority draw.
Another necessary quality is presence. It's something announcers can turn on and off.
While Ed Derian is just as personable and outgoing outside the ring as he is in between the ropes, many other announcers are more soft-spoken when they're in civilian clothes than you might expect.
Joe Tessitore, ESPN's blow-by-blow commentator, believes a good ring announcer not only delivers drama and excitement, but also can impact the fight by stirring the natural visceral reactions of the crowd. "Those are reactions that can play a big role in the style of fight and greatly influence the boxers' decisions," he says.
Often, an audience won't notice an announcer unless he's bad, like in the HBO telecast of the Samuel Peter-Oleg Maskaev card when HBO's Jim Lampley referred several times to the "local novice" announcer.
One thing that is consistent is that the announcers are passionate about what they do. Whether you're watching Lennon put some body language into his introductions, Buffer soaking up the crowd's adulation just before he utters his catchphrase or Mark Beiro climbing up on the ropes to challenge the crowd like a pro wrestler, it's clear that ring announcers love their jobs.
Yet at the same time, announcers need to keep their heads and be prepared for anything.
After Tank Abbott snatched the microphone from Bruce Buffer, the announcer grabbed it back and took several steps away, protecting his tool of the trade (and perhaps innocent ears).
Contreras had to rebound from the ultimate gaffe. While trying to pump up an audience before the television cameras started rolling, he instructed the crowd to "show them what Utah is all about." As he climbed out of the ring in deafening silence, an official approached him and corrected him: "Sir, you're in Idaho."
Potential hazards of the job include announcing unpopular decisions and becoming engulfed in the occasional melee.
Lennon Jr. says he's been in countless riots, including the Mike Tyson ear-biting incident as well as ring collapses. The only time he's been hit by flying debris is when he got pelted in the face with a seat cushion. "Luckily, it was a soft cushion," he says.
The perks of announcing are great. Front-row seats to the sports' biggest events. All announcers contend they are huge fans. Announcers also have the opportunity to have some fun and make some money on the side because of their ring notoriety. Lennon has announced a few weddings, usually introducing the newlywed couple "at a combined weight of ," while Buffer has announced birthday parties. Whether he's contractually obligated to stay for cake is unclear.
Ring announcing may not be rocket science, but for the tuxedoed gents who are fortunate enough to work in the profession, it is not something to be taken lightly. Whether it's watching video of himself as Bruce Buffer does or rehearsing lines in the ring moments before the introductions like Lennon Jr., all good ring announcers aim to heighten the drama of a show without becoming the focal point.
Every announcer wants to be noticed a little bit, but Lennon puts it best: "Understand it's not about you, it's about the fighters."
Marc Lichtenfeld, who hosts the nationally syndicated "Through the Ropes" boxing show on the Sports Byline network and Fightnews.com, contributes regularly to Boxing Digest and ring announces boxing and MMA events.