There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier, who wandered far away.

The words of Andy Stewart’s song can seem sentimental, even mawkish but they garner substance and poignancy when applied to Ken Buchanan, the greatest Scottish boxer ever.

Buchanan, who has died aged 77, was the hero who had to embark on odysseys to the most forbidding arenas to slay genuine monsters of world boxing. He was extraordinarily skilful, teak tough and irredeemably thrawn. He would fight anyone, anywhere.

He was the ultimate pugnacious Scot but held global attention and acclaim. He was the perfect lightweight in mobility and in choice of shots and strategy.

He travelled for his glory. He won his first world title in Puerto Rico, another in Los Angeles, and he fought in Madison Square Garden six times. He earned his money the hard way in the hardest of sports.

His penchant was to take on the local hero in their own dens, regularly beating them and never being outclassed or outfought by any of them.

There are the famous fights against Ismael Laguna and Roberto Duran. They speak of Buchanan’s innate confidence in his ability to confound opponents and to seek trouble in the most unforgiving of sports. But there are spectacular examples of his defiance nearer to home.

In 1970, he fought Miguel Velasquez, a future world welterweight champion, in Madrid. The lad from Leith was at his most combative but lost a decision after 15 gruelling rounds. There was no dishonour in this. In those days one could knock out a Spaniard in the capital and only earn a draw.

He faced the enemy closer to his Edinburgh home, too. In January 1973, he travelled to Glasgow’s Albany Hotel to face Jim Watt in a British title fight. On this occasion, Buchanan took the decision but the bout probably marked the beginning of the end for him even as it signified the developing power of Watt, who subsequently became a world champion.

Buchanan will be remembered worldwide, though, for his duel with Laguna in Puerto Rico in 1970. The Scot was very much regarded as the second favourite in this two-horse race. He prevailed, however, with a mixture of exquisite talent and unbreakable will.

Apart from the prodigious challenge embodied by Laguna, it was thought that a sweltering San Juan, a howling mob and its effects on the officiating would conspire to undo Buchanan. They did not. He was masterly in both winning the title and defending it against Laguna in New York a year later.

Similarly, he travelled to Los Angeles in 1971 to defeat Ruben Navarro. He walked into the lion’s den and left the most hostile fan purring in pleasure at his gifts, adding another world title, the WBC, to the WBA belt he held, becoming the first Scot to be an undisputed world champion in the modern era.

The most controversial and perhaps most famous of his collisions with genuine greats came in Madison Square Garden in 1972 when he faced Duran, then undefeated and destined to become one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Buchanan was hit low by the Panamanian in the 13th round. There is confusion over whether it was a knee or a glove that reduced the Scot to a heap but the pain lingered long after Duran’s victory.

Buchanan always believed he had been beaten unfairly and that this fight marked a turning point in his fortunes. Most neutrals, however, had the Panamanian ahead on their cards at the time and Duran’s subsequent career shows that Buchanan went toe to toe with a pound for pound colossus.

A happier evening for Buchanan in the Garden occurred when a rising Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, was on the underbill to the Scot.

Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, was dismayed there was no dressing room for his fighter because of a mix-up and asked Buchanan if he could share his. The Scot agreed but jokingly drew a line in chalk across the floor, warning Ali to cross at his peril.

This spark ignited a friendship that was to endure until the death of The Greatest.

But Buchanan did not need such anecdotes, such physical proximity to greatness to imbue him with credibility. The Scot was voted fighter of the year in the USA in 1970. This was a stunning honour, complemented 30 years later by his induction into the boxing hall of fame.

Buchanan, with his tartan shorts and his Leith accent, was undoubtedly a Scottish soldier but he was a world-class fighter who was held in conspicuous regard. He was mentioned in dispatches to me in an interview with Budd Schulberg, that wonderful chronicler of the ring and screenwriter of On the Waterfront.

Buchanan was esteemed, too, by Hugh McIlvanney, a peerless and astute observer of the dark trade.

This country has been blessed by gifted boxers who have taken on the world and given it a bloody nose. Buchanan stands as the best. He outranks such as Benny Lynch, Watt, still woefully underrated by some, Scott Harrison, Walter McGowan, Jackie Paterson and Josh Taylor.

This assertion is bound to cause debate, but not from Taylor. He bowed his knee to Buchanan in a gracious comment last night.

Buchanan’s assurance in the ring was in contrast to the chaos that besieged him outside it. He followed that woeful, weary path of the great fighter who loses his reflexes, then loses his so-called friends, while losing all his money.

He was assailed, too, by the past. Alcohol could not dull some of the awful episodes he had been a victim of and that scarred him more obviously than any punch.

But he gained solace from the love and respect that was constantly shown by the boxing community and, indeed, the nation at large.

He was a remarkable character, capable of soothing charm and the stunning verbal jab, sometimes in the same sentence.

He was marked by the harms inflicted in life and in the ring. To paraphrase Paul Simon, he carried the reminders of every blow that cut him down. But he lived on. The fighter still remained.