The article in the paper carried a picture showing the unmistakeable battered friendly countenance of Ken Buchanan; delivering a straight left for the camera; as has been the case several times before; my heart sank, and the usual questions sprang to mind, is it good or bad? has he won an award, opened a boxing club or; is he in jail, is he in hospital and most inexplicably why should I care? I sometimes ask myself that; I remember some time ago something similar happening with a man who could hardly be more different from the great boxer; Stephen Fry the great polymath, writer actor, comedian etc. went missing on the eve of a West End opening for several days, I’ve never met Fry and yet I was very worried about him, I like him he seems decent, a bit fragile and good natured; it’s strange when this happens, and you say what has it to do with me why should I care, it’s part of the human condition, that’s why.
Stories emerged that he had sold his 5 boxing belts; Lonsdale, European, WBC, WBA, & the Ring. Buchanan vehemently denied the story but; the journalist knew it would run because it was Ken; needless to say he never bothered to speak to the boxer, the belts it turns out are headed for permanent display in a museum. Ken it has to be said has inflicted more harm on himself than most of his opponents in the ring ever did; a fact that he is painfully aware of and something that he continuously struggles with; his problem is he’s always been good copy for the lazy gutter bastards of the tabloid sports sections and gossip columns who like nothing better than twisting the knife in the back of someone who was a genuine great, as well as being a man with ‘no sides to him’ He was compared to the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson by that most cynical of world sports institutions ;the American boxing press, nuff said!
I remember watching the slim young ‘peely wally’ kid in the ring clad in tartan shorts and wondering at his courage and nerve; I might be wrong and I’m not about to check now but he always seemed to be in against guys who were physically stronger and mainly bigger; countering that disadvantage though was a classic boxer; you can teach boxing and classic boxing is the easiest of all to teach, 90 % of boxers fight in the same style, the way they were trained and coached, notwithstanding Ali who doesn’t really count; no boxer approaches an opponent with arms at his side; this similarity in style makes it difficult to rise above the crowd but Buchanan did just that. He managed this through speed, composure, native intelligence and the aforementioned courage, my old man who loved boxing once described him thus “he’s quick and he has the nerve of a burglar” no matter how rough it got, when the fighters were mauling and wrestling; when the ref. pulled them apart Buchanan sprang like a wound up robot into the immediate classic stance with guard up and feet dancing, tremendous discipline.
He was the real world champion when there weren’t 3 versions of every weight and he fought everyone, he was never anything other than approachable and friendly, to friendly to some whom he treated regularly and who exploited his good nature. There is no doubt that he has come through hard times and had his share of trouble mainly because of that opponent which many great fighters never managed to beat; booze, but he is still doing OK and still fighting that particularly remorseless opponent. I recall two incidents concerning him which make me smile at his character; one was when he had been out of boxing for a while and was back on the tools as a joiner on a large building site, (he tells this in his book) sitting drinking tea at dinner time with a couple of young joiners high up on the site structure; a couple of older workers approach and ask for his autograph, he obliges and they leave, one of the young joiners turns to him and says “f**k me Kenny you must be some F*****g joiner” on another occasion I was in a restaurant in Leith having dinner with my daughter when the unmistakeable figure of Buchanan came through the door, he was clearly ‘feeling no pain’ and in good form; the passageway was narrow and being rather large I stood and moved my chair to let him and his mate pass, he fixed me with a smile as he approached and offered his hand I shook it and said “howye doing Kenny” he fancied that he knew me and stopped for a chat; he asked about my companion and on hearing she was my daughter he said “ listen hen; me and yer Da go back a long way and if anybody ever gies ye bother let me know OK? I won’t be able to do anything aboot it but let me know anyway” he was clearly welcome to the diners and was great ‘craic’
I would like to see Edinburgh recognise him in some way; I hope he continues to soldier on for years and I hope he remains fit, he was a great champion; I know he would disagree with what I’m about to say but I pay him great respect when I recall that awsome night when he lost to the great Roberto Duran at Madison Square Garden. The fight became notorious because of the controversial ‘low blow’ which stopped the fight but; I recall it for a slightly different reason and that was his bravery bordering on foolhardiness. After 3 rounds it was clear that we were watching something pretty special in Duran who won each round, this went on until round 13 and Duran won every round; I think that he almost stopped Buchanan in each round from 4 to 13 when he eventually did stop him with ‘that punch’ After 3 or 4 rounds it was obvious that he would lose and he took a savage beating from one of the all time world greats, he would not allow his corner to throw in the towel, he was the world champion defending his title and he was taught to believe that a real world champion only goes out beaten one way, on a stretcher, he lost a brutal war that night and spent 3 days in hospital after it but; he never quit; the boxing world watched in wonder then stood to applaud, he is now in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
He is not the first and won’t be the last great sporting champion to fall from grace, boxing alone has many of them; too many and too painful to mention in fact. When boxing fans get together the old debate usually takes place about who was the best ever it’s good fun and never reaches a conclusion, in this case IMO as far as Scotland is concerned he stands shoulder to shoulder with Benny Lynch “the Gorbals Boy” I can pay him no greater compliment and sadly; like Benny, he has no recognition from his native city, no memorial, no statue, it’s tragic.