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Ken Buchanan in care

Ken Buchanan
The plight of Ken Buchanan, one of Britain’s greatest boxers highlights a grave issue we can no longer ignore, writes Matt Christie

KEN BUCHANAN is lost in his own world. Life is increasingly complicated for the 75-year-old boxing legend and he now finds himself in a nursing home in Leith. Fifty years ago he was at the peak of his considerable powers, headlining Madison Square Garden with the comebacking Muhammad Ali fighting Oscar Bonavena on his undercard. Ali was a late addition to the New York event in 1970, so much so that he was not given a dressing room. Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, approached Buchanan and asked if they could share his.

“No problem,” said Ken who had dethroned world lightweight champion Ismael Laguna three months before.

Buchanan spotted a piece of chalk and drew a line down the middle of the room.

“I warned him [Ali]: ‘If you don’t keep to your side you’ll get some of this’ and shook my fist at him,” Buchanan told the Daily Record in 2016. “The whole room went quiet – and then Ali and I both burst out laughing.”

America adored Ken Buchanan. Five times he wowed the New York crowds at Madison Square Garden. It became his home from home though he would lose his title there. It was his misfortune that the formidable Roberto Duran’s rise coincided with his own yet it took a low blow from the Panamanian to eventually break Buchanan’s resistance in 1972. A return was deserved and often discussed but it never occurred. Duran still names Ken as his toughest rival.

Buchanan’s most formidable opponent was retirement. Like so many boxers, he found life outside of the ring difficult to negotiate. Away from the routine of fighting and with the discipline it instilled suddenly absent, the Scot started to lose his way after his career ended in 1982.

In recent years he would spend days in pubs, losing hours and hours to alcohol, drinking too much but finding comfort and company in drinking holes that was not there while home alone. It’s easy to understand why he chose to live his life that way.  

Phil Jones of the Welsh Ex-Boxers Association did what he could. Every month he would travel from Wales to Edinburgh and spend time with Buchanan. The pair have been close friends since 1965, when Buchanan stayed with the Jones family at the start of his professional career.

“It’s very upsetting,” Jones told Boxing News. “His mental health has deteriorated in the last few months. I’m totally lost without him, we have always been like brothers.

“When he stayed with us in 1965, he was very quiet. He was totally dedicated to training, he was always concentrating on boxing. He would not go out at night, he would stay in with us every night and watch television.”

“I remember going to the Hall of Fame with him,” Jones continued. “Then you realise what he meant to America. It’s almost like he was regarded higher there than in his own country.”

It is understood that the lockdown hastened Buchanan’s demise. Visitors like Jones could not go and see him. Even the pubs could not offer a haven. Now he is in need of full-time care.

Buchanan’s case is incredibly sad. And all too common.

“I wish fighters could be managed after their careers as well as when they’re fighting,” Jones observed. “Not all of them need help but plenty need it more than ever in retirement.”

That grave reality was the inspiration behind Ringside Charitable Trust, the charity created by Dave Harris who continues to campaign and raise money for a care home dedicated to ex-boxers.

“Imagine if our home was open now,” Harris said. “Imagine if Ken was there being cared for by nurses who knew everything about his career and alongside other boxers he could reminisce with. He would be able to watch old films of his fights. Being in care is of course not what we want for any boxer but the truth is so many out there need it. So many would benefit from the kind of care our home would provide.”

The industry can no longer ignore this issue. The likes of Ken Buchanan – one of the greatest of all British fighters – deserve our attention. It’s the very least we can do.

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