It wasn’t long before Raymond started telling me all about his dad, Ken Buchanan. At that point, I’d never heard of Ken before. Apart from my grandad, none of my family had really been into boxing so the sport was never discussed much at home. I don’t remember my grandad talking about Ken Buchanan.
But as I started training more regularly with Raymond, he started telling me all about his dad, and with great enthusiasm. He taught me all about Ken and often showed me videos. ‘Watch these tapes, they’re of my dad fighting,’ he would say. They were old video tapes and I always remember the one of Ken fighting against Ismael Laguna, when he won his WBA lightweight title in 1970. I remember watching that and thinking ‘wow, this is amazing. Who is this guy?’ And Raymond said ‘that’s my dad. It’s Ken Buchanan and he was the undisputed world champion’.
From then on I was a bit hooked on finding out more about Ken. I started looking up YouTube and watching fights and asking Raymond for more tapes of his dad. I used to watch them all the time. They were great. I loved that he was so light on his feet. He was fast on his feet but he had a piston-like jab. He could jab for days. He was a beautiful boxer but, in the blink of an eye, he could be inside and really scrapping it out and fighting, putting horrible, vicious punches and combinations together on his opponents. He could do everything. He could fight, he could box, he could box on the back-foot, he could sit on the ropes and duck and dive. He was just marvellous to watch and his style was amazing.
That was my introduction to the great man and, as a fresh-faced 15-year-old, that’s when my love for him started. I started to find out more about his story; about becoming undisputed world champion and how no one was at Turnhouse Airport to greet him home after the Laguna fight; and how his career had kind of gone under the radar. It was fascinating to learn all about Ken’s career.
My own career started to progress. I moved to a different gym and Raymond moved away to Glasgow. Then, when I was training at Lochend Boxing Club at 17 or 18 years old, Ken Buchanan came walking into the gym one day. I spoke to him for the first time that day but I didn’t know it! I was hitting away on the pads with my coach, Terry McCormack, when this older guy came in and watched what I was doing. He was sharing some advice on how I should be hitting the pads. We started chatting and he was giving me lots of advice on how I should be training and how to live life. It was a really inspiring chat and at the end of my session I asked Terry, ‘who was that in the gym earlier?’. ‘That was Ken Buchanan,’ said Terry. All the old footage I’d watched of Ken was of him as a really young boxer. The face looked familiar but I didn’t realise it was him. I said, ‘wow, I can’t believe I’ve just met Ken Buchanan and I didn’t even realise!’ I couldn’t believe I missed the chance to get my phone out and get a picture with the great man.
But he often came into the gym at Lochend after that and we got to know each other well. He was always giving me bits of advice. He would watch me sparring and training and would tell me I had the talent to succeed. ‘You can be world champion one day, son’ he told me. ‘You’ve got the talent.’ I took massive amounts of inspiration from him telling me that I could be the world champion. Ken didn’t just talk on those visits to the gym, either. He would whack away at the bags and still do a bit of pad work with Terry. Wow, I was standing back just watching one of my heroes. I was just in awe of him.
I was making great strides in my career and, in 2019 in Glasgow, I won my first world title with a victory against Ivan Baranchyk. Then, in my next fight, I became a unified world champion with a win against Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena in London. After that fight against Prograis, Ken came to my home in Prestonpans and paid me a visit. It was a great occasion. I had pictures taken with him alongside my belts. He gave me his Buchanan tartan scarf and I draped it round all my belts and trophies. I’ve still got the scarf there to this day.
In May 2021, I went over to the United States, to Las Vegas, to face Jose Ramirez for all the belts – to become the undisputed junior welterweight champion of the world – and I won. Ken spoke to me before that fight to give me some encouragement. ‘Go and do it, son. I know you can do it. Go and do me proud,’ he told me. That victory made me realise how our careers have gone down fairly similar paths. I also didn’t have any welcome at the airport following my big victory against Ramirez. No one was allowed to come and greet me because of the restrictions in place due to the Covid pandemic!
As he had done after the Prograis bout, Ken paid another visit to my house when I returned from Las Vegas. We didn’t get any photos with the belt that time, just a couple of quick pictures and then we sat and had a cup of tea and a bite to eat. We had a great chat about boxing and he shared some of his old stories again. He told me that he was proud that I had achieved what he had achieved. That gave me an amazing sense of pride and joy to think that I had half-followed in his footsteps. ‘I’m so pleased to have done it just like you, champ,’ I told him. Unfortunately, that was the last time I saw him.
On that last visit, I could see that the dementia was starting to take hold. He was still there, he was still funny but I could see he was starting to go downhill a little bit. Then on Saturday morning I saw the news of Ken’s passing on social media. I tried to phone my coach, Terry McCormack, to find out if it was right but there was no answer. Then Andy Burke from BBC Scotland phoned me and he confirmed that, sadly, it was true. It was certainly shit news to wake up to. I was gutted, but I have nothing but great memories of him.
He had such great stories, like the time he topped the bill over Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden and shared a dressing room with Ali. Ken drew a line across the middle of the changing room as if to say ‘that’s your side, this is my side and if you come over here you’re getting it big man!’ He had great wisdom and great experience, too, and was an amazing man.
For me, he was the greatest Scottish fighter we’ve had. Others may argue differently – we’ve had Benny Lynch and Jim Watt, of course – but I think Ken Buchanan is the best ever. He was a hero down in Leith, a hero in Edinburgh and a hero in the whole of Scotland. A very well respected and loved man who will be dearly missed. Goodbye, champ.