Friends, family and fans applauded legendary Leith boxer Ken Buchanan as he stood to accept the prestigious Edinburgh Award at a City Chambers ceremony yesterday.
The former undisputed world lightweight champion was first reunited with his gold hand-prints which have been set in a flagstone outside the council headquarters.
Lauded not only for his sporting prowess, the Lord Provost Donald Wilson praised the man, known throughout the city, for inspiring and supporting up-and-coming young boxers.
“It’s been a long journey to get here today,” he said. “Over the years Ken’s legacy has inspired many young boxers to take up the gloves including fast-rising Edinburgh star of the Commonwealth Games champion Josh Taylor – keen to emulate Kenny’s amazing record.
“Ken’s strength and determination both in the ring and out, his self belief and resilience all demonstrate an important message for us all and it’s for this reason I’m so delighted to be able to present Kenny with the award an honour which he truly deserves.
“This has been a long time coming and to be presented in tablets of stone and also written on the wall of the Chambers, the civic heart of the city, shows we have taken Ken close to our hearts and we will ensure his legacy lives on for generation to come.”
Established in 2007, the annual award honours an outstanding individual who has made a positive impact on the city and gained national and international recognition for Edinburgh. And joining Ken at the ceremony were previous winners judo champion George Kerr CBE and city philanthropist Thomas Gilzean.
And amongst the guests was Bradley Welsh, former boxing, gym owner and T2 Trainspotting actor. “Above all Ken is a true gentleman. He has been an inspiration. His humility and what he does for people in the community is what a true sporting icon should be. He is the elite of the elite in sporting terms – within this country, the best post-war fighter that has ever existed.”
Edinburgh Makar Christine De Luca recited a poem written for the occasion before Ken was presented with his award and a Loving Cup.
Leith-born Ken, 72, was once voted Britain’s Greatest Ever Boxer by the Boxing News, but was denied the chance to fight in his home town where he said city officials failed to recognise the draw of the sport.
Friend and fellow boxer Owen Smith, 52, said repeated attempts to stage a fight in Edinburgh failed. “He did his best to get a fight here. It all came down to politics – Edinburgh was never known as a boxing city unfortunately.”
But now his name will be inscribed on a plaque and his hands forever embedded in the Old Town.
Owen said the “fantastic honour” was a long time coming. “He’s now getting recognition for what he did 45 years ago and I am just delighted for him.
“And it’s a coincidence that he’s now had his hands set in stone as he lost his title to Roberto Durán, nicknamed the Hands of Stone.”
Owen also praised the support of the Lord Provost, who has helped to champion the work of the Ken Buchanan Foundation which has raised £11,500 towards a target of £50,000 to build a statue in Buchanan’s honour.
Ken first drew on a pair of gloves at the city’s Sparta boxing club aged just eight and turned professional in 1965 at the age of 20. Brought up in Northfield, he was the first British fighter to win the world lightweight title since 1917 when he claimed the crown in 1970. His success followed a steady climb up the lightweight rankings culminating in his defeat of world champion Ismael Laguna in Puerto Rico.
Critics had called Laguna for the win claiming the Scot would suffer from the heat but Buchanan won by a 15-round decision to take the title.
He famously fought on the same bill as Muhammad Ali in Madison Square Garden twice and twice successfully defended his world title.
He suffered a controversial defeat to Durán in 1972 when the fight was stopped after the 13th round when Buchanan was struck by a below-the-belt punch just before the bell. A promised rematch with Durán failed to emerge and the Panamanian later acknowledged Ken as the toughest of his foes.
Bill Lothian, former sports correspondent at the Evening News, spoke at the ceremony commenting on Ken’s commitment to his community and his “humility and true class”.
He said: “This award has been won by the great and good of the Capital’s society.
“And Ken is undoubtedly a worthy successor and true ambassador for Edinburgh. Ken would be first to acknowledge he has had his own trials and tribulations. But what can only be admired is the way he has always come batting back to stand at the top of the pantheon of Edinburgh sporting superstars – Ken stands right up there with the very best our great city has produced. Only four British boxers have ever have officially been considered undisputed world champions – Lennox Lewis, Lloyd Honeyghan, Alex Minter and our Ken.”
Ken retired from boxing in 1982, 17 years after his first professional fight.