WHEN Barry McGuigan was preparing for his first British title fight, in 1982, his manager introduced him to Ken Buchanan, the one-time undisputed world lightweight champion.

The man from Portobello had not long retired after 17 distinguished years in the ring, during which he won no fewer than 61 of his 69 fights, 27 of them by knockout. Sparring now with McGuigan, he showed that he had lost little of his power as a boxer.

"It was a painful education", McGuigan reflected recently. "He hit me everywhere. If you switched off he would jab the head off you. He could hit you with 10 punches in 10 seconds. It was exhausting".

To McGuigan, as well as countless others in boxing, Buchanan, who died earlier this month, aged 77, was one of the greatest British fighters of all time. "Had he not run into the greatest lightweight of them all, Roberto Duran, he would have defended his WBA world title 20 times", the Irishman added.

A memorial service is being held in honour of Buchanan at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh at noon on Tuesday, April 25. It will pass the former site of Sparta Boxing Club, which Buchanan joined at the age of eight, and a statue of him, which was unveiled last August.

Read moreBuchanan travelled world beating best to become Scotland’s greatest 

Interviewed in 2021 about his earliest days he said:  "I got bullied a wee bit at school because I was skinny. I had a wee bit of a chip on my shoulder but only because guys wanted to fight me, and then his brother would want to fight me because I would knock him out. It was just a left jab I gave him, and that was it. All I wanted to be was the champion of the world - the best fighter in the world."

He had his first professional bout at the National Sporting Club, in London's Piccadilly, in September 1965, when he outpointed Brian Tonks.

He continued to make short work of opponents and in February 1968 he got his hands on the British lightweight crown after an 11th round knock-out of Maurice Cullen, the defending champion who was rated the fourth-best lightweight in the world.

"I think I cried, but I can't remember right," Buchanan would recall in later years. "It was such a powerful moment in my life. I looked over at my dad. How must he have been thinking? Here was his son, a stick insect at eight - skin an' bone. Three and a half stone at his first fight. Here he was winning the British title".

In January 1970 Buchanan suffered his first defeat in a European title bout when he lost to Miguel Velazquez while contesting the EBU European Light crown.

Eight months later, however, the Scot, still only just 25, travelled to Puerto Rico where amidst searing heat of 52C (125F) he took on Ismael Laguna for the Panamanian's World Boxing Association lightweight title.

"Ken has the ideal temperament for a title bout", his trainer, Eddie Thomas, said on the eve of the fight. "It doesn't matter whom he boxes or where. He won't be upset by the environment or the crowd". Buchanan himself declared: "I'll prove it's not impossible to bring a crown back to Britain".

He was as good as his word, but it took every last measure of his reserves to overwhelm Laguna. The Glasgow Herald said that he had “produced what was probably the best performance of his life to win [the title]”. To his dismay, however, his superb feat generated little publicity in the Scottish press.

The Herald:

In 1971 he successfully defended his title, against Ruben Navarro (in Los Angeles) and Laguna (at Madison Square Garden), acquiring the vacant WBC belt to become undisputed world lightweight champion. Blood was streaming from cuts near both Buchanan’s eyes as he staged a sustained rally in the last five rounds to overcome Laguna. Indeed, one eye was so badly swollen that the Scot’s vision was impaired. Eddie Thomas, unseen by the referee, used a razor blade to cut the swelling open. Blood poured out, but the ruse worked, and Buchanan’s sight was restored. He won, and came home to a hero’s welcome in Edinburgh.

Read moreBoxing legend Ken Buchanan honoured by home town 40 years on

In 1971 he was the British Sports Writers’ Sportsman of the Year, having previously been voted fighter of the year 1970 by the American Boxing Writers’ Association ahead of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier.

In June 1972, however, he lost his world title in controversial circumstances to Panama’s Roberto Durán at Madison Square Garden. Buchanan would assert that Durán had illegally got him with a low blow, punching him in the groin to end the fight in the 13th round. Reported the Evening Times: “Buchanan had been dropped by a right uppercut that seemed low – and a punch that to most ringside observers seemed to have landed after the bell”.

"Everybody around me was seething with anger," Buchanan later reflected. "The whole place knew I was robbed." His sense of injustice was not aided by Durán failing to honour a contract for a rematch. (A few years ago the Irish boxer-turned-actor John Duddy played Buchanan in a re-enactment of the epic fight for Hands of Stone, a biopic of Duran that starred Robert De Niro).

Buchanan, undaunted by this defeat, continued to show his power in the ring, beating opponents such as his fellow Scot, Jim Watt, at Glasgow’s Albany Hotel to regain his British lightweight title in January 1973.

He was British lightweight champion until 1974 and European champion until 1975.

The Herald: Jim Watt hugs Ken Buchanan after their title fight in Glasgow in January 1973Jim Watt hugs Ken Buchanan after their title fight in Glasgow in January 1973 (Image: Newsquest)

His last fight, after a series of defeats, came in January 1982 at the National Sporting Club in Piccadilly – the venue where his professional career had begun back in 1965. As he left the ring after losing on points to George Feeney, Buchanan, by now 36, was given a standing ovation. “I was really touched by it”, he said. “I have had 17 years as a professional and have no regrets”.

In Buchanan’s later years many journalists would interview him about his illustrious career and his chequered personal life. In the words of one writer, in 2020, there had been a "long run of negative publicity over ending his career in unlicensed fights, recurring issues with alcohol, business failures and the loss of his Edinburgh hotel in a costly divorce”.

But Buchanan was a spirited and amiable interviewee. He remained proud to have been awarded the MBE, back in 1972. And when in 2000 he was added to the International Boxing Hall of Fame he told a US reporter: ''I could die tomorrow and I would die a happy guy; this is the icing on the cake”. Two years later he acknowledged that that accolade had given him back a wealth of self-respect.

The Herald: Ken Buchanan with Glasgow's Lord Provost Donald Liddle in October 1971Ken Buchanan with Glasgow's Lord Provost Donald Liddle in October 1971 (Image: Newsquest)

Something of a raconteur, he made people smile with his recollections of Muhammad Ali, whom he met seven or eight times. “The best one”, he said, “was when we were both on the same bill at the Garden. He'd just returned to boxing after being jailed for dodging the draft.

''I was world champion at the time and therefore top of the bill. Angelo Dundee came up and asked if Ali could share my dressing room. Imagine that. He came in with about 17 minders and I told him they'd have to stand outside.

''In jest, I chalked a line down the middle of the room. The room went dead quiet. 'Hey, man, what are you doing?' Ali asked. I told him I wasn't going to be messed around and, if he stepped over the line, he was going to get my right fist in his face. For a few seconds, all was quiet then everyone burst out laughing”.