Ken Buchanan: remembering the Edinburgh boxer on the anniversary of his World Championship win

Tomorrow (Thursday 26 September) marks the anniversary of one of the single greatest nights in Scottish sporting history.

Wednesday, 25th September 2019, 3:50 pm
Ken Buchanan, Scotland's greatest boxer. Picture: Contributed

On this day, 49 years ago, Ken Buchanan laid claim to the WBA World Lightweight Championship belt after a gruelling 15 rounds with Panama’s Ismael Laguna, becoming the first Brit to hold the belt since Freddy Welsh in 1917.

The only living British fighter with a place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he was voted Fighter of the Year by the American Boxing Writer's Association in 1970, ahead of both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

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Buchanan back in his amateur days, a long road before him. Picture: Contributed.

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He was later voted Britain's Greatest Ever Fighter by Boxing News in 1978.

It’s hard to overstate the achievements of the man from the Edinburgh suburb of Northfield. Wearing shorts of Buchanan tartan and serenaded with “Scotland the Brave” each time he entered the ring, Ken Buchanan has long been a true icon of Scottish sport.

After learning his trade in Edinburgh's Sparta boxing club, Buchanan made his professional debut in London with a victory over Brian Tonks in 1965.

He would continue fighting, mostly south of the border, until he had amassed 23 straight victories and was given a shot at the British title in 1968.

He won, and two years later he was eyeing up an even bigger prize.

The championship bout with Laguna was scheduled for Puerto Rico, a fact which most onlookers believed would give the reigning champ a clear advantage.

Reports at the time listed the temperature as just over 100 degrees, though the figure has been plumped to over 120 in more recent retellings.

Whichever version you go with, the undisputed truth is that it was damn hot - especially for a pale-skinned boy from Scotland.

On the night of the fight, Buchanan emerged from the locker room to find that the champ had already laid claim to the ring's shaded corner. To protect him from the full blast of the blistering sun, his father borrowed a parasol from one of the spectators.

The fight raged on for 15 rounds but, even in the scorching heat, Buchanan's spirit would not fail.

His vicious left hand leapt at Laguna time and time again, viper-fast and just as deadly. A flash of the arm and he was in behind Laguna's defence. A bounce of the heels and he was out of sight again.

For 15 rounds, he gave Laguna no peace. He sweated, suffered and grafted until, finally, the last bell rang and the judges declared him to be the greatest lightweight fighter on earth.

While the World Boxing Association celebrated a new champion, the World Boxing Council remained mired in a dispute with Laguna regarding a contract obligation to an American promoter. As a result, they declared Laguna's claim to the title to be void, and Buchanan's along with it.

Unbelievably, Britain's own boxing council sided with the WBA, refusing to acknowledge their own champion.

It would be another year, and another fight, before Buchanan would be acknowledged by all as the best in his division.

After that he would receive the heroe's welcome he deserved, greeted at Edinburgh airport by a joyful crowd and an open-top bus. But that night 49 years ago in Puerto Rico proved that he was worthy of the title.

It just took some people a little longer to notice.