Josh Taylor’s undisputed quest rekindles memories of Ken Buchanan glory days
True story: A lit cigarette jetted across the ring and struck Mexican-American contender Ruben Navarro in the chest in round six. It was unsavory behavior from a fan of his opponent, whom he’d just struck with a low blow. Shortly after the fight resumed, Navarro went below the belt again, and this time the missile of choice was a whisky bottle. Luckily it missed its intended target and violently thumped the ring apron. Scotland’s Ken Buchanan was over 5,000 miles away from home, at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, but that didn’t stop his rowdy fanbase from having his back, even if those reactions were more than a little over the top.
On February 12, 1971, Buchanan became the undisputed lightweight champion of the world courtesy of a 15-round unanimous decision win over Navarro. The future Hall-of-Famer had overcome a shaky start to outclass the game brawler from East Los Angeles, who had stepped in at 72 hours’ notice when original opponent Mando Ramos pulled out with a groin injury.
Buchanan brought The Ring Magazine 135-pound championship and the WBA title to the table that night. And despite the short-notice opponent switch, the WBC elected to put their vacant title up for grabs because Navarro was highly ranked and he’d been preparing for a fight.
In truth, Buchanan had proved himself the best lightweight in the world when he toppled Ismael Laguna in Puerto Rico five months earlier, but he sought complete supremacy and earned it. The Navarro bout was over half a century ago, and it was the last time a Scotsman reigned as undisputed champion in any division.
“I love to watch Kenny, he was quite a poetic boxer,” said the reigning Ring Magazine junior welterweight champion, Josh Taylor. “He was light on his feet; he moved around so well, he had a piston-like jab; jabbed to the head and to the body. He was just beautiful to watch and had a great boxing IQ. The jab was never out of his opponent’s face, but he was a very spiteful operator.
“You’ve got to have that [spitefulness]. I could box to the best of my ability and nobody would be able to live with me, boxing-wise. But I also like to go in there and fuckin’ hurt you as well. If I can get the fight over as quickly as possible, then I’ll do it. I’m not just gonna jab and move if I can go in there and fuckin’ take you out.”
Taylor, who faces Mexican-American Jose Ramirez for the undisputed junior welterweight championship at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on Saturday, has been following in Buchanan’s footsteps since he was a teenager. There’s a sense of destiny about his quest in that he, like Buchanan, hails from the city of Edinburgh, and, in something of an uncanny twist, his first boxing coach was the great former champion’s son.
Should Taylor defeat Ramirez, he will be knocking on the door of becoming the greatest Scottish fighter that’s ever lived and that is no mean feat given the quality of his predecessor. Among others, Buchanan beat Laguna twice, Carlos Hernandez, Carlos Ortiz and Jim Watt, and it took a prime Roberto Duran to dethrone him as world champion.
“Buchanan was very good, and he kind of schooled Navarro,” said Los Angeles resident and fight historian Dave Schwartz, who attended the bout live. “He was an excellent boxer, he was really good at [controlling] distance, and he was in incredibly good shape. He didn’t hit that hard, but he moved around brilliantly.
“He wasn’t really popular on the West Coast because boxing was more of a mainstream sport then; it wasn’t just hardcore fans that were following it. I was 35 years old at the time, which is pretty scary, but it was great to see Buchanan live.”
Schwartz also watched Sugar Ray Robinson knock out Bobo Olson, in their fourth meeting at Wrigley Field in LA, and he saw Muhammad Ali four times between 1962 and 1973. Robinson and Ali are unanimously lauded as two of the greatest fighters in boxing history, whereas many believe that Buchanan is criminally overlooked.
“I feel like he’s the forgotten champion, especially in Scotland and the U.K.,” said Taylor without a moment’s hesitation. “He doesn’t get talked about, which I think is a crying shame because he’s one of the best British boxers ever.
“It motivates me to keep his legacy alive. There’s a great story and a great piece of history between us. To become the first Scotsman to be undisputed champion since him will be fairytale stuff. It’s such a big motivator, and I’ll do myself proud and cement my name in history as one of Scotland’s greats. I’ve really got the bit between my teeth.”
Taylor, who is currently rated No. 9 on The Ring’s mythical pound-for-pound list, is the favorite to lift his opponent’s WBA and WBO belts. However, Ramirez is unbeaten, and his savage and relentless attack may force Taylor to dispense with his superior skillset and engage in a dangerous shootout.
“I’m improving in every aspect of the game,” countered Taylor with extreme confidence. “It’s going to be really hard to beat me, and unless I have a bad night, I cannot see me losing this fight.
“It’s got the makings of an absolute firecracker, and I know exactly what he’s gonna do. He’s gonna come in and try and overwhelm me and push me on to the backfoot. It’s all down to me and what I decide to do. If I decide to fight fire with fire, then it could be an absolute war and more of a 50-50 fight. I will stand there with him because it’s in my blood, it’s in my nature, but I’ll fight him when it suits me. That’s when he’ll come unstuck.”
A triumph will take Taylor’s reputation to even greater heights and fully secure his fistic legacy. And just maybe a new era of fight fans will go on to research the great former champion who pulled off undisputed glory before him.
Ramirez vs. Taylor will be broadcast live on ESPN + in the U.S. and will stream live in the U.K. on FITE for £9.99 (coverage begins at 1:30 a.m. U.K. time).
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Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing