Ken Buchanan funeral: Edinburgh boxing legend remembered at St Giles' Cathedral memorial
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The life of legendary Edinburgh boxer, Ken Buchanan, was celebrated today at St Giles’ Cathedral in a service that saw hundreds of people come together to pay their respects to one of Scotland’s greatest sporting heroes. Family and friends were joined by boxing royalty to remember one of Edinburgh’s sons, who in the 1970s, ruled the lightweight division and became arguably the greatest boxer ever to emerge from the UK.
A hundred-strong crowd gathered outside the cathedral, listening to impassioned speeches that detailed the life and times of ‘The Fighting Carpenter’ who died peacefully in his sleep on April 1. Paying tribute to his dear friend of 50 years, sports journalist Jim Black said: “Ken was boxing royalty. His coronation as world lightweight champion in an age of truly great fighters was conformation that the self-styled tartan legend was indeed that – a legend of the ring.
“Life may not have always been easy or kind to Ken but we remember him today as a fine human being, a loyal friend, a good man who was never too proud to return to his trade as a carpenter when his fighting days were over.”
Close friend and former opponent, Jim Watt MBE said: “50 years ago Kenny and myself were bitter rivals. If you had told me back then that we would become the best of pals I would have said you’re crazy. You don’t go through what Kenny and I went through in January 1973, 15 rounds of torture, without leaving with a mutual respect, admiration and a bond.” Mr Watt added: “When you got to know Kenny Buchanan, you couldn’t help liking him. He was brilliant, full of fun and larger than life. I’m proud to say that I shared a ring with Kenny Buchanan and I was Kenny Buchanan’s friend.”
The greatest boxers, much like the greatest characters in literature, are ones who come through adversity, defy the odds and embark on a journey where they emerge richer for the experience. And in a career that saw the stylish boxer earn millions of pounds before retiring in humble surroundings in 1982, Buchanan’s real wealth is measured in legacy.
Two events in 1945 would shape the future of Scottish boxing forever; the establishment of the Sparta Club on McDonald Road and the birth of a future legend. And Buchanan’s career puts him firmly in the company of past greats who come along few and far between. Growing up in prefabs on Northfield Avenue, Buchanan was inspired to try his hand at the sweet science after his father Tommy took him to see a film about the heavyweight boxing great, Joe Louis, at the Capitol Cinema on Manderston Street.
Weeks later, Tommy would take his eight-year-old, boxing-obsessed son to the Sparta Boxing Club on McDonald Road in 1953. There, he would go onto become a decorated amateur that culminated in winning the ABA featherweight title and bronze medal in the European Championships in the mid 1960s.
Turning professional in 1965, the years that followed saw the North Edinburgh legend travel the world with his trademark tartan shorts, fighting across five continents, capturing British and European titles and become the undisputed lightweight world champion.
Armed with an educated left jab, evasive lateral movement, complemented with tenacity and his high ring IQ, Buchanan became a boxing attraction in America in the 1970s wowing audiences and topping the bill in New York with Muhammad Ali on his undercard.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. The British lightweight champion retired from the sport age 24, sending his Lonsdale belt back to the sports governing body (BBBoC) and returned to his trade as a joiner, stating he made more money as a tradesman than he did a boxing champion. But following the sudden death of Buchanan’s mother Cathy in 1968, he vowed to make a return.
Driven by a newly found desire, he returned to the ring to carve out a life that most can only dream of. His moment of truth would come in 1970 when he flew to Puerto Rico at short notice to take on Ismael Laguna, battling it out over 15 gladiatorial rounds in 50C temperatures to claim the WBA belt. That year saw Buchanan voted fighter of the year by the American Boxing Writers’ Association ahead of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier.
A year later Buchanan travelled to Los Angeles to claim the WBC title from Ruben Navarro. Now the undisputed world champion, the Portobello pugilist was welcomed back by thousands of people who lined the streets as he made his way through the Capital on an open top bus. Thrilling fights with Roberto Duran and Jim Watt soon followed.
Buchanan would also win the British Sports Writers’ Sportsman of the Year’, awarded an MBE in 1972, inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame 2000 and the recipient of the Edinburgh Award in 2016.
Kenny was formally diagnosed with dementia last year, moving into a care home, and enjoying visits from friends and family. A Leither who never fought in Edinburgh but whose talents inspired a new generation of boxers, his fists immortalised in stone outside the city chambers and his statue taking pride of place near Picardy Place, his monument looking over his beloved Leith and keeping watch over the site of his former boxing base where it all began, the Sparta Club.Kenny’s legacy will live on throughout the world, a boy from Northfield who first entered the ropes aged eight weighing 3st 2lbs, becoming a undisputed champion as he travelled the world and leaving the ring a legend.