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.