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Why Peter Buckley was truly extraordinary

Peter Buckley
ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Buckley, who fought Acelino Freitas and Lehlo Ledwaba back to back within his 300 fights, deserves his own special place in British boxing history, writes Steve Bunce

THE truly extraordinary Peter Buckley met a Duke, a Prince, a King and in his 300 fights never refused an opponent. He last fought in 2008, a win at Aston Villa Leisure Centre, which was a week after a six-round loss on points to Lee Selby, who was having his second fight. I calculate that he met 161 unbeaten fighters, had about 70 fights with champions and met something like 20 world belt-holders. And, before you ask, it was Duke McKenzie. Yep, Duke was his best opponent and the hardest. There will never be another fighter with Buckley’s record, never.

“No, no regrets,” he told me at Bar Sport in Cannock over the weekend. It was yet another launch for his book, King of the Journeymen, written with Chris Akers.

Buckley was in fine form and easily slipped from his first fight, to his biggest fights and to his last fight. A draw, a loss for certain and a win. His first opponent, Alan Baldwin, never fought again; Buckley went on and had 299 more fights. So many nights, so many names, so little money for the anonymous fights.

I asked about the night in Cardiff when he was stopped by Naseem Hamed and asked why he had complained so much? “I was not hurt, not even a little bit and I had fights lined up,” he insisted. The stoppage meant he would lose work. At one point he had six fights lined-up, back-to-back shows and travel. Paisley, Mansfield, Cleethorpes, Bethnal Green in a three or four-week run.

It was a different time, but he might still be in the pub the night before a fight, still travelling with other fighters under the Nobby Nobbs banner; getting in rings at short notice and helping a kid with a winning record stay unbeaten. Buckley’s recall of fights is amazing, not just the names, but the subtle details about the best, the worst, the most protected and the stupidly hyped. He is a walking almanac, a man with unique knowledge of a generation of champions. “I used to watch all the fights,” he told me. “I would watch before my fight and watch after I fought. I knew all the fighters; Nobby would call me up and ask me how I thought a fighter would go with a certain fighter.” That’s proper knowledge, as ancient as a resin bucket.

There were some great cameos on great nights, buried early before the venues filled and he always pushed the local unbeaten man. On the Steve Collins-Neville Brown undercard in Millstreet, near Cork, Buckley lost to Paul Griffin over six rounds. Griffin by the way, was sandwiched between Patrick Mullings and future WBO featherweight belt-holder, Colin McMillan, in early 1996. It was a couple of months after the Griffin loss that Buckley, who had lost 58 times, was told he needed a win; in South London he stopped Matt Brown in the first – Brown was unbeaten in seven at the time. The win meant the Board was off his back. I’m not sure the modern Board would allow another Buckley to fight and lose so many times against such towering opposition. Kristian Laight, who also had 300 fights and retired in 2018, met totally different level fighters.

There is no chance his back-to-back fights against Acelino Freitas and Lehlo Ledwaba in December 1998 would happen now. Both won world belts in the months after beating Buckley. According to Akers, Freitas still praises Buckley’s defence.

“I nearly went to Australia once,” he continued. “The money was bad, but I just wanted to go.” The fight fell through. On too many other nights it was Buckley who saved the night when a fight fell through. Short notice, no sweat. He reckons that he could have got the decision 60 more times and, naturally, he won all 12 of his drawn fights. He is probably right, but there were nights where nothing would have helped him and there were too many nights when he understood fully his role. The nights when he did just enough to lose should always be balanced against the nights when he had to do everything possible not to get hurt. Buckley was fearless.

“In the first fight with Duke [McKenzie] he made me understand about the levels in the sport,” Buckley insisted. “He stopped me and I had never been stopped amateur or pro at that time. He hurt me.” He started to get a lot wiser after that loss and in short: He started to understand the business he had chosen. Buckley finished with 32 wins, 256 defeats and 12 draws.,

At Bar Sport, the audience listened as Buckley rattled off the list of fighters that he had shared a ring with and, talking to him, he always seemed to add a compliment: “Duke McKenzie, great jab… Naseem Hamed, good guy… Acelino Freitas, good fighter.” Listening and talking to Peter Buckley is like taking a cherished walk through 20 years of British boxing history, taking an in-depth tour with one of boxing’s greatest survivors. Buckley told a lot of managers and promoters the truth about their prospects and some of those truths remain hidden.

Today, a real craftsman like Buckley might struggle not to win – so many young fighters load-up with their shots, it is impossible to not imagine Buckley pinging away with his jab, tucking under a looping hook and nicking four and six round fights. However, the Buckley-Nobbs business was not about turning over promoters and fighters. Buckley’s phone went dead after the Brown stoppage.

“You know, some refs would say to me, just before the last round, ‘Good round here, Pete, and it’s a draw.’ I knew then I had won,” Buckley added. “It was never about winning and titles with me; it was about earning. That is what it was with me.” And on his long journey he became a fighting legend. If you get a chance, go and meet Peter Buckley and get an education from a fighting master.

The Life of Peter Buckley: King of the Journeymen by Peter Buckley, with Chris Akers is out now.

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