Bruce Buffer has spent much of his adult life announcing the world's biggest combat sports events so it is fair to say it requires something pretty unusual to take him by surprise.
The "Veteran Voice of the Octagon" has become as much a fixture of Ultimate Fighting Championship broadcasts as the competitors themselves and has witnessed the sport's rise, fall and subsequent explosion in popularity.
Yet while there is little even in UFC's high-octane and unpredictable event program that would ruffle Buffer's feathers, the usually unflappable 54-year-old admits he was blown away by his recent involvement in a competition involving plastic cups, pingpong balls, screaming lunatics and beer.
Oh yes, beer. Lots and lots of beer.
Buffer returned for the fourth time to announce the finals of the World Series of Beer Pong this January, a raucous, rowdy, yet intriguingly entertaining event held at the Flamingo Las Vegas.
"It is impossible to describe to anyone who hasn't seen it," Buffer told ThePostGame.com in a telephone interview. "If you are looking for entertainment, it delivers it by the bucket load."
If you don't know much about beer pong, then I'm sorry, no offense intended here, but chances are that you are probably not still in the first flush of youth. The sport/drinking game/activity (whatever, not an argument I'm going to settle here) has taken colleges around America by storm during the past decade and can be found in bars, frat houses, backyards and garages all across the nation.
Forgive me here diehards, but for the benefit of the uninitiated a crash course in the rules in necessary. The game involves 10 plastic cups partly filled with beer set up in triangular formation at each end of a table. The players, usually in teams of two, throw a pingpong ball toward the arrangement, hoping to land it neatly into one of the cups. If successful, the cup is removed and the opposing team must drink the beer. This continues until one team has eliminated all 10 of their opponents' cups and claim victory.
"Everyone loves to play and everyone thinks they are good," says Vince Catizone, a soccer shop owner from Morristown, N.J. "But the reality is that the difference in standard between an average player in a bar and a world class player at this tournament is like a recreational soccer player trying to play in the World Cup."
Catizone and his partner were eliminated on the final day and were unable to get among the big money, but had still made enough cash from lucrative side games to pay for their trip from the east coast.
A small beer pong tournament circuit has sprung up during the past few years, yet the big one is the WSOBP, which moved to the Las Vegas Strip after two years in nearby Mesquite, Nev. By the time Buffer announced the title game the field of 440 teams had been whittled down to two, and an unfathomable amount of beer had been consumed.
However, despite the name, at the top level elite players rarely drink the beer, preferring to fill the cups with water instead. The result is a quality of play that is quite extraordinary. While in a bar setting there is an element of luck to seeing the ball disappear into the cup the practiced practitioners of the WSOBP have technique down to a fine art.
The eventual winners Matthew White and Ross Hampton, or Team Seek and Destroy, had a strike rate of around 80 percent, leaving their opponents from Georgia with little chance to get a foothold in the game. A first prize of $50,000, split between White and Hampton, may encourage more bar room boozers to start honing their skills in preparation for next year.
"I guess all those hours of drinking beer finally paid off," Hampton said.
While the action at the final table was serious stuff, the earlier action was somewhat rowdier. On Day 2, many players had realized they would not make it to the final day's championship rounds and the alcohol began to flow freely.
Fourteen nations were represented, with a quick walk around the Sunset Ballroom providing the chance to encounter an entourage of screaming Australians all decked out in "national team" uniform, a posse of Dutch players tending to a teammate who had somehow torn an ACL, and a Japanese contestant dressed in a duck costume.
Perhaps the best entertainment of all comes with beer pong's unique acceptance of what would be derided as gamesmanship in any other sport. Beer pong players are allowed to use pretty much any method to distract an opponent from his shot, either with words or actions. The results are often hilarious. As ThePostGame.com wandered around the ballroom, one player was seen repeatedly smashing beer cups against his head, another recited religious incantations while a third made a series of elaborate animal noises.
Such a scene may lead some to think that the competition is not being taken seriously, but far from it. Distraction is seen as a fine art and the tournament even comes with a prize for the player voted most adept at putting off his opponent.
The room might resemble a giant frat house scene, complete with booming music and a keg of beer never more than a few steps away, yet the beer pong participants are fiercely defensive over the level of skill required. Athletic ability, it seems, does play an important role. There was no shortage of genuinely proficient athletes in the room, with several college level swimmers, baseball and soccer players taking part.
Travis Parnell, a member of the Las Vegas Knights -- one of the best indoor soccer teams in the country -- was one of the favorites heading into the WSOBP. "I think that being a good athlete is vital if you want to be really good at beer pong," Parnell said. "So much of it is about focus, and pressure, and having that muscle memory to be able to repeat the same action perfectly time after time. Over time I think you will see more and more athletes playing ... and excelling."
Then there was Patrick "The Predator" Cote (left), a UFC fighter who took on Anderson Silva for the middleweight title in 2008 and is trying to rebuild his career after recovering from a serious knee injury.
"I think I am a pretty good athlete but I wasn't very good at this," Cote said. "But I can see what they mean. Concentration is a big part of it and holding your nerve. But you still have to be good at getting the ball in the cups and I haven't practiced enough for that. It has been great fun though. I'll come back."
Don't expect beer pong to be a gimmick that goes away. It's a part of college life, and attendance has gone up every year. The ceremony involved retrospective awards of dogtags (a play on poker's bracelets) to past winners an indicator that the organizers believe in the longevity of their event.
"For as long as people like beer, fun, noise and entertainment, this thing will be around," Buffer said. "I think that is a pretty good bet."
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