Ken Buchanan, who became Scotland’s first undisputed world champion only to lose his title in controversial circumstances to Roberto Duran, has died aged 77.
The Ken Buchanan Foundation announced in a post on its Facebook page that the former lightweight champion “died peacefully in his sleep” on Saturday morning. His son Mark revealed last year that Buchanan had been transferred to a care facility after being diagnosed with dementia.
Born in Edinburgh in June 1945, he took up boxing at eight years old and won his first medal at 8 years old and 44 pounds. He won the British amateur title in 1963 and turned professional two years later.
He won his first 33 pro fights before being dropped and outpointed by Spain’s Miguel Velasquez in a tilt at the European lightweight crown. Eight months later, however, he went to Puerto Rico and scored a split decision win over hometown favorite Ismael Laguna to win the WBA world title. The following year, he added the WBC belt via decision over Ruben Navarro in Los Angeles to become, in the halcyon days of just two alphabet bodies, undisputed champ. He would remain the only Scot to hold that honor until Josh Taylor collected all four belts at 140 pounds in 2021. Taylor was among those offering his condolences following the news, posting on Instagram that, “I’m saddened to hear the news of the passing of my hero and Scotland’s greatest ever champ, whom I take such inspiration from.”
Buchanan lost his championship at Madison Square Garden on June 26, 1972, when he came up against the whirlwind of ferocity that was a 22-year-old Roberto Duran. Buchanan had lost most of the 12 fully elapsed rounds, but his stoppage defeat at the very end of the 13th was, to put it mildly, contentious. As described by the Fight City website:
“As the final seconds of round thirteen ticked away, the two boxers engaged in a lively exchange. Moments before, Duran had almost sent Buchanan through the ropes with a pair of right hands, but the champion returned fire with four big rights of his own and a left hook at the bell. Roberto attempted to counter and, after the bell rang, LoBianco pounced on him from behind just as he drove a right uppercut into Buchanan’s groin. The referee pulled Duran away; Buchanan fell back into the ropes and then sank to the canvas.
“There can be no doubt: Buchanan was fouled and badly hurt. There was no acting involved. He was punched in the privates, simple as that, and after the bell to boot.
“That the challenger was, up to the point at which he landed that low blow, clearly the better man on the night, there can also be no doubt … But that said, there can also be no doubt that Buchanan was the victim of a gross injustice.”
While Duran went on to dominate the lightweight division and become an all-time great, Buchanan would challenge for the title just once more, dropping a decision to Guts Ishimatsu in 1975. He retired later that year with a record of 57-3 before launching an ill-fated comeback in 1979 and ultimately retiring for good in 1982 with a final tally of 61-8 (27 KOs).
He would frequently revisit the Duran defeat, saying that “Every time I think of Duran, my balls hurt.” On one bizarre occasion in 1995, he reportedly left the building site where he was working and caught a flight to New York to confront the Panamanian, whom he had heard was training there. He didn’t find him; but they were reunited at an event in 2002, where the feud was buried with a long and warm embrace.
In retirement, Buchanan struggled with finances and with alcoholism, but he was feted in a 2021 documentary Undisputed: The Life and Times of Ken Buchanan.
Among those featured in the documentary was Taylor, who described a time the legend appeared at the gym where he was training.
“He walked in through the door one day. He started putting his wraps on and his old school white leather boots and he started hitting the bags - just watching him, it was absolutely brilliant.
"I stopped training and just watched him. He still had the moves, and I was like 'Wow, that's the undisputed champ, right in front of me'."
Buchanan himself was more circumspect about his achievements, stating in the same documentary:
“I'm just Kenny Buchanan, I was a world champion but that's all behind me, finished and done with. I've had a good life -- I've had a great life -- I've done things that nobody in this country has done and I enjoyed it."