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Ken Buchanan - Scotland's Finest Fighter Revisited

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

26th June 1972, Madison Square Garden, New York

WBA Lightweight Title

Ken Buchanan Vs Roberto Durán

World champion Ken Buchanan was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 28th June 1945. He became ABA champion in 1965, turning professional on 20th September that very same year, stopping Brian Rocky Tonks in the second round in the lightweight division. In his seventeenth bout, he became the British Scottish Area lightweight champion, outpointing John McMillan over ten rounds for the vacant title.

On 19th February 1968, he beat Maurice Cullen for the British lightweight title with an eleventh round knockout, taking his unbeaten record to 24-0 with nine KO's. Nine more victories put him in line for the vacant European lightweight title.

He travelled to Madrid, Spain to take on Miguel Velasquez. The bout went the full fifteen rounds and the Spaniard was given the decision 72-69 by Italian referee and sole judge. Buchanan leaned dejected against the ropes as the home supporters invaded the ring to lift their man aloft their shoulders before the verdict was announced.

Buchanan then had two points victories before putting his British lightweight title on the line against Brian Hudson. The challenger was over-matched, but he did manage to get off the canvas in round one and cut the champion's eye, forcing the bout into a desperate punch-up. A right hand from Buchanan saw off Hudson's challenge in the fifth round.

On 26th September 1970, Ken Buchanan challenged WBC and WBA lightweight champion Ismael Laguna, hailing from Panama. Laguna regained both titles from Mando Ramos (Laguna originally won the two belts from Carlos Ortiz in April 1965, then lost them in a rematch to Ortiz seven months later).

Laguna was making his second defence against the Scot and the bout took place at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan in Puerto Rico. The WBC had stripped Laguna of their belt on 15th September 1970, as he refused to face Mando Ramos, meaning the World Boxing Association strap was only up for grabs.

The British Boxing Board of Control didn't recognise the WBA title and ordered Buchanan not to face him. It fell on deaf ears and even though the Scot wasn’t fancied to beat Laguna, or the sweltering Puerto Rican heat, (the temperature was 100℉ or 37.78℃) an intimidating Hispanic atmosphere and suffering badly cut eyes, he won the title with a fifteen round split decision, 145-144 & 144-143 (Buchanan), 144-143 (Laguna).

Buchanan next defended the belt against Ruben Navarro on 12th February 1971. The vacant WBC title was also on the line and the WBA champion became undisputed lightweight champion with a unanimous decision in Los Angeles. The champion was then stripped of the WBC crown on 25th June 1971, electing to face Laguna in a rematch instead of Pedro Carrasco.

The Laguna rematch took place in September 1971 at Madison Square Garden, with the champion winning a unanimous decision. Buchanan had two more non-title fights, one in Britain and then in South Africa, before returning to The Garden to face Roberto Durán. Ken Buchanan had taken the hearts of the New York fight fans with a series of impressive displays in America.

The Scot was 43-1 with only sixteen knockouts, with his sole defeat to the Spaniard Velasquez being hotly disputed. It was ironic that the American boxing public appreciated Buchanan so much more than the fans at home, considering that he had a classic English style, building everything from a flashing left jab, unlike the other British lightweight Jack ‘Kid’ Berg who was loved by America, but not so much in Britain. Berg’s tearaway style was more suited to the American circuit. 

What Buchanan lacked in all-out aggression and power, he more than made up for in the quality of his work and the honest grit that trademarked it, which earned America’s respect, especially the fans at Madison Square Garden, more so than in Wembley or Scotland.

Durán had an unblemished account of 28-0 with twenty-four KO's and predicted he would flatten the champion inside nine rounds, with Buchanan, two days shy of his twenty-seventh birthday, being unimpressed by the comment.

The capacity crowd of 18,000 watched as Durán shot out like a sprinter from the blocks and nailed the champion with a right hand. Buchanan, the 13-5 betting favourite, was on the canvas within the opening 20 seconds. The champion got up straight away and indicated that he wasn't hurt, as referee Johnny LoBianco issued the mandatory eight count.

Durán, looking for his eleventh win inside the first round, swarmed all over the WBA lightweight champion. Buchanan showed his cool boxing skills to frustrate Durán for the remainder of the round and the next, although the fiery aggression of the challenger won him the opening two rounds on the judge's cards.

The champion started to get back into the fight in the third, using his flashy jab and landing left hooks off the jab. Buchanan was scoring well, but the power was with Durán. In round five the Scot landed a cracking left hand that knocked Duran's gum-shield out of his mouth, but the challenger kept punching back.

Buchanan was a defensive master, ducking and rolling to make the challenger miss, but when Durán did land his punches were more hurtful. With the champion constantly on the defensive, it meant that the Panamanian was winning round after round.

By the eighth round Buchanan was cut by the left eye and it was beginning to swell. Durán was all action and didn't care what he used to land on the champion, head, elbows, anything counted for the challenger, and time and again he would viciously catch Buchanan low on his tartan shorts.

Buchanan was a proud champion, who won the title the hard way and wasn't about to concede it cheaply. In rounds nine and ten he put up a display of some vintage boxing, bringing the crowd to their feet, as he slammed jabs into Durán's face and timed his charges with some well-timed counter punches.

Durán entered the eleventh round for the first time in his career and it appeared that the champion's experience was beginning to play a major role in the contest. The Scot made the challenger miss, sending him sprawling and almost through the ropes.

It looked as if the challenger had shot his bolt, but in the twelfth round, he dispelled that notion as he shook the champion early with a left hook and kept Buchanan under severe pressure. The Scot tried to grab a breather on the ropes, but Durán rocked him with a right to the head. As the bell sounded the WBA lightweight champion looked a spent and beaten man.

Round thirteen was quiet, but as the bell signalled the three-minute mark both men traded punches. Duran finished the exchange with a wicked right to the groin. Buchanan's face contorted in agony and he sank to the canvas. His cornermen, including his father Tommy, rushed to help him. Referee LoBianco and the ringside Doctor walked over to the champion's corner as the ten-second warning buzzer sounded for the fourteenth round, with LoBianco crossing the ring and raising Durán’s arm in victory.

"There was no low blow," said the referee. "He was just badly hurt and I stopped the fight." Though photographic evidence disputed LoBianco's statement.

Duran's manager, Carlos Eleta, refused to honour the contract's rematch clause. Many years later, the Observer columnist, Hugh McIlvanney asked Durán who his hardest opponent was. "Buchanan!" Durán replied without hesitation.

On his return to Panama, Durán was greeted by a crowd of five thousand people at the airport. As he made his way back to Chorillo, thousands more lined the streets as he waved to them from an open car. Not only had he escaped the gutter, an accomplishment in itself; he also became a national hero. Another reward for becoming a world champion meant he was now exempt from paying tax.

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