BRITISH boxing lost one of its greatest ever fighters last weekend when Ken Buchanan, the former world lightweight champion, passed away at the age of 77. He had been suffering from dementia in a care home.

Best known for beating Ismael Laguna to win the championship and his defeat to Roberto Duran while losing it, Buchanan was, in the early 1970s, both one of the best boxers on the planet and a darling of New York, as he headlined at Madison Square Garden on five occasions, wowing audiences with his majestic skillset.

Born in 1945, young Ken was raised on a working-class council estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Though it would be untrue to say he was living in poverty, the Buchanan family were nonetheless forced to be very careful with the money they had. Buchanan’s home life was happy and stable where he lived with his father, Tommy, his mother, Cathy, and his younger brother, Alan, who would later win the Scottish featherweight title as a pro.

But Buchanan exhibited a love of fighting from an early age, as he found himself scrapping on the streets and getting into trouble at school for being too expressive with his fists. When he was eight years old, he watched The Joe Louis Story at his local cinema and later pleaded with his father to take him to a boxing club. Within days, Tommy and Ken walked into top Edinburgh boxing gym, the Sparta Club.

Buchanan adored his experience there and made progress quickly. As a teenager, he served his apprenticeship as a carpenter but the only thing he truly wanted to do was box. Supported by his family, Buchanan became known as one of the leading amateurs in Scotland; at the age of 17 he competed in the European Championships in Moscow, by the age of 19 he was ABA featherweight champ and won a bronze at the Europeans in Berlin.

When he announced his plans to box professionally, there was great interest in securing the young Scot’s signature, with former British champion Bobby Neill expected to be the manager to guide him. But Neill had expressed concerns about Buchanan’s style, believing it too upright for the professional code. So Ken – in a nod to the stubbornness he was known for until his dying day – decided to look elsewhere, eventually signing with Welsh manager, and former European champion, Eddie Thomas. But Thomas was in the thick of a disagreement with the ‘cartel’ – Mickey Duff, Harry Levene, Mike Barrett and Jarvis Astaire – meaning that Buchanan would find it hard to generate the publicity and exposure his talent deserved. He made his debut in September 1965, stopping Brian Rocky Tonks in two rounds.

Predominantly fighting in front of the cigar-smoking suited and booted clientele at Piccadilly’s National Sporting Club, Buchanan’s talents were recognised within the industry but barely anyone in the outside world was paying attention. Even when he fought at bigger and grander venues – like Earls Court Arena and Wembley’s Empire Pool in the summer of 1966 – he was barely noticed on the undercards of Muhammad Ali (versus Brian London) and Howard Winstone.

In February 1968, Buchanan – by now 23-0 – challenged Maurice Cullen for the British lightweight title, winning in 11 rounds at Mayfair’s Hilton Hotel. But in his next bout Buchanan found himself back in an eight-rounder at the National Sporting Club, battling with lavish gravy dinners for attention from the wine-swilling crowd. By now married to Carol, Buchanan was outraged that, even as British champ, he was struggling to find the money to provide for his family. Disillusioned with the sport and the failure of his manager to secure contests more befitting of his talent, Buchanan sent his Lonsdale Belt back to the British Boxing Board of Control while demanding he be allowed to discontinue his contract with Thomas.

But the pair would reunite in emotional circumstances in October 1969. Ken’s mother passed away at the age of just 51 and, at the funeral, he and Thomas shook hands and vowed to work together to win a world title.

Within four months, Ken was on his way to Madrid where he challenged Miguel Velazquez for the European crown only to lose contentiously on points. Three wins later, in September 1970, secured a shot at WBA lightweight belt-holder, the great Ismael Laguna, in San Juan. The chance had been masterminded by great London promoter, Jack Solomons, who, by then, was not the force of old but he had retained enough of his old influence to persuade Laguna – along with New York fixer, Bill Daly – that Buchanan would be a worthwhile stay-busy defence.

What followed is one of the greatest performances by a British fighter. In the blistering heat (Solomons even found a parasol from somewhere that he used to shelter Buchanan from the sun between rounds), Ken survived Laguna’s fast start and even finished the gruelling 15-rounder in the ascendancy to take the title via split decision.

Even after that, Buchanan struggled for attention. Only his immediate family welcomed him back to Edinburgh airport and the BBBofC, because they did not recognise the WBA as a legitimate body at the time and was only affiliated to the WBC, refused to call Ken the king, nor would they allow him to defend the belt at home. It was shortly thereafter that his love affair with New York began.

In December 1970, in his first appearance at Madison Square Garden, the Scot decisioned the unbeaten Donato Paduano over 10 rounds in a non-title affair. Two months later, he added the vacant WBC title to his collection when he outscored Ruben Navarro over 15 rounds in Los Angeles. When he returned home this time, the celebrations were far more appropriate, with Buchanan greeting his fans on an open top bus that was driven around Edinburgh.

In boxing, though, things rarely run smooth and it wasn’t long before the WBC had stripped Buchanan for failing to defend against Pedro Carrasco. No matter, said Buchanan, as he returned to New York, and, in arguably the best performance of his career, decisioned Laguna in a rematch at MSG while enduring a swelling above his eye so extreme, Thomas sliced it open with a razor blade to restore some of his charge’s vision.

The next time he fought at that venue, in June 1972, Roberto Duran was his challenger in a bout that would draw a $223,901 gate – then a record for a lightweight title fight staged indoors.

Buchanan had angered Duran at the press conference to announce the fight when the Scot ate bread and butter, washed down with coke, rather than watching footage of the Panamanian beating Hiroshi Kobayashi that played on the big screen behind them. “This fool doesn’t know the shitstorm that’s going to come down on him,” Duran would write in his autobiography, I Am Duran.

And it was true. Buchanan couldn’t possibly have prepared himself for what was to come. Duran was the better fighter, but Buchanan – plucky in the extreme – battled back as and when he could, until, at the end of round 13, a brutal right hand, plainly delivered below the belt, left Ken writhing in pain. “He said I hit him with a right hand in the nuts after the bell,” Duran later remembered. “That’s a lie. Even the referee Johnny LoBianco said it was a fair blow.” Not strictly true; the referee admitted his view of the offending blow was blocked. On TV, the foul is as clear as Mike Tyson’s was many years later, when he chewed off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Inexplicably, the result was and remains a stoppage victory for Duran.

“But I give him [Buchanan] credit for being strong the whole fight,” Duran remarked. “Another fighter would have been knocked out in four or five rounds, but he took a lot of punishment.”

Duran wouldn’t fight Buchanan again, twice pulling out of negotiations for the mandated return. Ken would go on to beat former champ Carlos Ortiz and Chang Kil Lee in MSG showcases before returning to the UK to outpoint future WBC champ, Jim Watt. That feisty Glasgow affair saw Buchanan regain the British championship.

Buchanan remained one of the best lightweights in thew world for much of the decade but, despite winning the European title, he failed in a 1975 bid for the WBC strap, when he was outpointed by Guts Ishimatsu in Japan.

At the end of the decade, Buchanan lost the EBU title to fellow Scot Charlie Nash and, though still a sublime and intelligent boxer, his peak was long gone. He fought on until 1982 and retired after losing to George Feeney, his fourth defeat in a row.

Retirement wasn’t particularly kind to Buchanan as business ventures failed, his booze consumption soared, and he endured a sexual assault that haunted him for the rest of his life.

Inside the ring, though, there were few better and he was rightly inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000.