Millions to be Made with Your Words

Michael Buffer has probably made more money than anyone else on Earth by stepping inside a boxing ring — and never throwing a punch.

Buffer is no wimp. But his manicured hands, perfectly coiffed hair, and gleaming white teeth attest to a life based on something other than his fists.

He comes to every fight dressed in a tuxedo. And once he's inside the ring, he does what pacifist parents tell their children when facing a fight. He uses his mouth.

So before the fists start flying, he lets out the one cry that earns him his living. It's a cry that he can do like no one else — by not only by virtue of his golden lungs and throat, but by law.

And it goes: "Let's Get Ready to Ruuummmmmmbbbbllllle!"

Let's Roll and Rumble

With those five words, Buffer and his brother have established an empire that's made millions. Wholesale licensing revenues have grossed about $150 million over the last three years, his brother-manager Bruce said.

For a brief announcing engagement that takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, Michael Buffer makes in the range of $15,000 to $30,000, his brother said.

The money comes from far more places than boxing. Buffer's trademark "Let's Get Ready to Rumble" slogan has allowed him to branch out into announcing all matter of events — from sports, to entertainment, to corporate functions and private parties.

Buffer has also extended to licensing products, among them video games, toys and movies. He received a commission for the 2000 Warner Bros. wrestling film Ready to Rumble.

His personal success is a particularly strong reminder of what's at stake in the tug-of-war over another utterance, the Sept. 11-inspired "Let's Roll."

"Let's roll," for anyone who doesn't know it by now, is believed to be the last known phrase mouthed by suburban dad Todd Beamer before he and his fellow passengers on the doomed United Flight 93 took on their hijackers on Sept. 11, forcing the plane to crash in a field.

Since that tragic day, those two words have been immortalized as a symbol of American bravery and defiance in the face of terrorism. It has shown up on novelty items of all sorts; singer Neil Young used it in an anthem, and the president even tried to make it a rallying cry for the nation.

Now, Todd Beamer's wife is trying to seize the phrase as her own, fighting makers of floppy hats, keep-the-beer-can-cold foam holders and other backyard-barbecue paraphernalia from hijacking the memory of her dead husband.

"Let's roll" is seemingly as innocuous and ubiquitous as "Let's Get Ready to Rumble" — and it could be as profitable and defensible as well.

"'Let's roll' has a ring to it," Bruce Buffer said.

Careful Choosing

It's takes plenty of work to stay in charge of million-dollar words, however. "It's not easy," Bruce Buffer said.

Buffer told ABCNEWS he has been involved in "maybe over 100" legal actions over the phrase — ranging from suing Iran-Contra figure Oliver North because he led his talk show with it, and to asking radio broadcaster Don Imus to cease-and-desist using the phrase as well.

Sony's Columbia Pictures and New Line Cinema also heard from their lawyers when they used the phrase in promos of the movie Booty Call and Rumble in the Bronx.

Buffer says he had "never, ever lost" one of these cases. Awards have ranged from four figures to a "healthy" six-figures.

The key to their success, lawyers say, is the Buffers' trademark on the phrase, and their willingness to use the law to defend it.

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