PETER BUCKLEY was known as “The Professor of Pugilism” and here’s a quick lesson from him in how to lose a fight. “The art of it is to not fight for three minutes of every round,” said Buckley. “I knew how to break a round up because if you can break a fighter’s rhythm, that’s half the battle won.
“You have to buy a bit of time by pushing them off, having a walk around, hitting them on the blind side of the referee. If you can gain 10 to 20 seconds, that can break a fighter’s momentum. I respected the referees, but knew what I could get away with.”
Better than anyone, Buckley knows how to lose a fight. He lost 256 of his 300 fights (there were also 12 draws), boxed 1,686 rounds and nearly nine years into his retirement, he’s a talkative interviewee with only a slightly squashed nose the only obvious souvenir from a sport he still loves.
The boy from Acocks Green in Birmingham, the youngest of nine children, has done well – and perhaps could have done better. “I think I could have fought for the British title,” said Buckley, now 48 years old. “I was at that level. I held my own with drew Docherty and got a draw with Alan McKay.”
There was talk of a shot at Hugh Forde when his fellow Brummie briefly held the British super-featherweight title in 1990. The fight didn’t come off and Buckley went back to fighting for money for Nobby Nobbs, the market trader, doorman, lorry driver and head of Losers Ltd.
“I didn’t like the label,” admits Buckley, “but Nobby was anti-establishment. He didn’t give a f**k. His attitude was: ‘As long as you’re earning, who cares what anyone says about you ?’”
Buckley was steered towards Nobbs, and away from his pubs-and-prison lifestyle, by pro Rocky Lawlor.
Lawlor remembered Buckley showing promise as an amateur with Talbot and Ladywood ABCs. He claims a 50-4 record and lost an NABC final to Mark Tibbs in 1985, but following the death of his father a few months later, Buckley went wild and spent the next five years “in and out of prison for thieving, robbing shops.”
He had a couple of spells in hospital as well. Twice Buckley was stabbed – he spent three weeks in hospital with a punctured lung after having a screwdriver plunged into him – before Lawlor found him.
“I saw Rocky in the pub,” said Buckley. “He said: ‘Get back in the gym.’ I was a bit drunk at the time and agreed. The next day, he knocked on my door. I thought I might have a few fights to keep out of trouble. I was stabbed twice, so wasn’t really bothered about anyone in the boxing ring.”
Lawlor took Buckley around a few gyms – and introduced him to Nobbs.
“Nobby taught us to slip the right hand, block the left hook and keep your chin down,” said Buckley. “He used to say: ‘Boxing is simple. You hit and don’t get hit’.”
There were other defensive techniques that Buckley picked up along the way: “When I boxed Brian Robb the second time (a 10-round points loss for the vacant Midlands Area super-featherweight title in June, 1991), I tore my shoulder muscle.
“I was supposed to have six months off, but I just carried on and sometimes when I was warming up in the changing room, my shoulder would go pop and I would have to push it back in. That’s how I learned my cross armed defence.”
That cross-armed defence helped keep Buckley safe in the best of company. The record shows he fought 42 British, Commonwealth, European and world champions and Buckley says that “without a doubt” Duke McKenzie was the finest.
“The first time we boxed [in January 1991] I wasn’t a journeyman,” he said. “I thought: ‘I can beat him or at least give him a good fight.’ He was skinny, but getting hit by his jab was like having someone shove a broom handle in your face. He was the first to stop me, amateur or pro.”
“The first fight [a six-round points loss in November, 1992] was a piece of p**s and they never should have stopped the rematch [in four rounds in January 1994].”
The fight with Brazilian knock-out specialist and future two-weight world champion Acelino Freitas, in Liverpool in December 1998, was tougher. “I had never heard of him,” said Buckley, “and when he got in the ring, I thought there had been a mistake. I thought: ‘I can’t be fighting him, he’s huge.’ Then they read out his record: ‘18 fights, 18 wins, 18 knockouts…’
“I thought: ‘Oh f**k.’ He hit me with a body shot that just about broke me in half.”
Buckley didn’t do his research on Freitas, but he did his homework on others. He said: “I read the Boxing News from cover-to-cover every week – I was in it most weeks – and Nobby would ring me up and say: ‘What about this match? What’s this kid like?’ I would look him up and get back to him.”
Buckley worked as unofficial matchmaker for stablemates including Brian Coleman, Mark Ramsey and Paul Wesley.
“There were Sky shows when the right-hand side of the bill were all Nobby’s fighters,” remembers Buckley. “They knew we weren’t going to just fall over. We knew what we were doing.”
Nobbs’ fighters were tough, crafty and always ready to box. “I remember Nobby pulling up outside my house one evening and shouting: ‘Come on, you’ve got a fight in London tonight’,” said Buckley. “He knew my kit was always ready, so I jumped in the car, lost on points to Marlon Ward and came home without a mark on me.”
Many times Buckley boxed the objective was to lose on points and come home unmarked.
“When I started out, I wasn’t a journeyman,” he said. “I had more wins than losses and I was fighting decent kids. I went up to Scotland a few times and never got the decision up there. I battered Donnie Hood and still lost.
“Sometimes I went in there thinking: ‘F**k it, I will just have a move around. I’m never going to get the decision.’ There must be 70 fights that I drew or lost by half a point that I won really. “Referees gave decisions against me, but I never slagged them off. I knew I would be seeing them again in the next week or so.”
There’s a 12-round points loss to Harald Geier for a meaningless bauble in Vienna in February 1993 that Buckley found harder to shrug off. “I knocked him down in the ninth, had him out and the referee did everything apart from wipe his arse to get him through the fight,” he said. The Austrian went on to fight for European and WBO titles – and Buckley returned to the domestic circuit to give prospects rounds.
“After I got to 292 fights, I was going to pack in,” he said. “I went up to Scotland with Anthony Hanna for a show, [promoter] Tommy Gilmour put me on the top table and said: ‘You should have 300.’ “I thought: ‘Yeah, why not’?” The 300th fight went ahead at Aston Villa Leisure Centre in October 2008 on a Sky Sports show topped by Don Broadhurst defending his Commonwealth super-flyweight title.
The 39-year-old Buckley marked the occasion with a four-round points win over novice Matin Mohammed, his 33rd win and first for five years. “We had drawn before,” he said, “and I beat him easily. I knew that was the right time to knock it on the head. The motivation wasn’t there anymore.
“People thought I would box again, but by then, I had had enough of the game. After I packed up,
I ran Heartlands Amateur Boxing Club for a while and then worked with [journeyman] Sid Razak.
“Sid had the same mentality as me. He didn’t give a f**k.”
Buckley still holds a trainer’s licence and perhaps 21-year-old nephew Billy will offer him a way back into the sport. “Billy weren’t a bad kid in the amateurs,” said Buckley, “but he lost a close one in the championships and drifted away.
“He’s back in the gym now and I’ve been working with him over the last few weeks. “It’s just a matter of finding the time to train him.”
Buckley is busy. He pays the bills with “a bit of carpet fitting here and there, some labouring, a bit of painting and decorating” – and could be heading to Hollywood. Stateside Pictures have plans to put his story on the big screen.
“I thought it was a wind-up when they got in touch,” said Buckley. “They sent me a script that was a bit Americanised, it wasn’t really me. The second one I read still wasn’t 100 per cent me, but it was alright. We will see what happens now. I’m not holding my breath.
“I might write a book. [Author] Mark Turley asked to interview me for his book, The Journeymen, but if there’s going to be a book about me, I will do it myself. There would be some great stories in it – and they would all be true.”