A Walk Through History: Ken Buchanan vs. Roberto Duran
By Jose Muradas: On June 26, 1972, Madison Square Garden would witness one the most controversial fights on record. Ken Buchanan (61-8,27 KO’s) would fight the young Panamanian Roberto Duran (103-16,70 KO’s) for the WBA lightweight title. Buchanan entered the fight as the seasoned veteran with two world titles, and a wealth of big fight experience.
Buchanan came from behind to win a fifteen round split -decision, and secure the WBA lightweight title against Duran’s countryman Ismael Laguna (65-9-1,27 KO’s). He also won the WBC lightweight title from the tough East Los Angeles fighter Ruben Navarro( 32-8-2,14 KO’s) in fifteen rounds.
Buchanan would later be stripped of the WBC title for failing to fight Spain’s Pedro Carrasco (106-3-2,66 KO’s). Duran had not faced such named opposition. He was primarily fighting out of his native Panama. Duran did make an earlier trip to the Garden, knocking out Benny Huertas (20-32-5, 6KO’s) in the first round. It was to be the young brawler from Panama with the lethal right hand against the slick-boxing Scotsman from Edinburgh.
On a summer night in 1972, both men entered the plain white canvased ring, the ropes that enclosed the ring were of a reddish velvet color. Buchanan wore plaid trunks which resembled a Scottish kilt. Duran wore blue trunks with red stripping. The bell sounded for round one, and Duran immediately attacked Buchanan. He offered Buchanan very little room to use his left jab. Duran worked Buchanan’s head and body, tying up the champion by grabbing him in hopes of wearing him down early. Duran landed a right hand that staggered Buchanan, causing him to touch the canvas with his gloves. Buchanan balanced himself and shook his head signaling to referee Johnny Lo Bianco that it was a slip. LoBianco ruled it a knockdown, and gave Buchanan a standing eight count. It was more of the same in the following rounds. Duran would bounce moving both fists, and then once again charge the champion. He would hit To the body work his way up looking to land his murderous right hand. It looked like Buchanan was wrestling a bear, and his chances of creating distance and boxing were slowly fading into the New York night.
The fight looked like it could have taken place in a phone booth right outside the arena.
Duran entered the fifth round with the same strategy, smothering Buchanan and looking for a big shot. In the aforementioned round, it came. Duran rocked Buchanan with a series of combinations and he still managed to escape without visiting the canvas. Buchanan was game, and actually fired back after Duran’s assault. In rounds six thru eight, Buchanan was still trying to allude the challenger’s grasp. However, found himself suffocated by Duran’s attack. Duran looked like an overcoat draped over the champion, and there was no getting him off.
Buchanan entered the ninth round exhausted, and was looking for an opportunity to get back in this one-sided affair. Duran was growing frustrated, and wondered how Buchanan was still on his feet. Duran didn’t charge Buchanan, he seemed tired. This allowed the champion to work the jab, and give him the distance he wanted. Buchanan was landing with regularity in rounds nine and ten. He felt like he was back in the fight. Duran would have to regroup, and negate the champion’s new found space.
The bell sounded for round eleven, and Duran was back in control. He locked up Buchanan in handcuffs or so it seemed. It appeared that suddenly, any progress that the champion had made was gone. As both men entered the twelfth round, Buchanan’s eyes were puffy, and he was beginning to show the effects of Duran’s blows. In that very same round, Buchanan was again caught in a buzz saw. The champion was staggered with three overhand rights and resembled a pinball rattling in the corner. The champion again held his ground, and stayed on his feet. Duran was beside himself. He could not fathom that Buchanan was able to withstand such punishment.
The thirteenth round was underway and both men came out as they had done in the previous twelve. There was no indication that this round would be any different than the others. The challenger heard chants of Duran! Duran! Duran! He had the crowd behind him, and was surely ahead on the cards. The round continued with Duran wearing out Buchanan, beating him to the punch and smothering the very little offense the champion could muster. In the waning ten seconds of the round both men seemed headed to the fourteenth round. As the bell sounded both men were still throwing punches, and in a split second Buchanan hit the Garden canvas writhing in pain. He was in agony and managed to get to his corner. What transpired next was nothing short of confusing to the casual fight fan. Buchanan was still in some pain, but as he preceded to answer the bell for the fourteenth round, referee Johnny LoBianco stopped the contest, and Duran was declared the winner by a technical knockout.
The two men never met again, Buchanan has always felt some bitterness about never receiving a rematch. He also said the pain he feels around his groin is a constant reminder of that fateful summer night. The blow was said to have hit Buchanan’s protective cup, causing it to dent and cut Buchanan. Buchanan was said to have undergone surgery because of the incident. The referee, Johnny Lo Bianco maintained that it was clean blow to the abdomen, and he stopped the fight due to Buchanan’s inability to continue. In reviewing the fight one could see Duran duck down and land a punch. It’s hard to say where the punch landed. One could only go by Buchanan’s reaction.
It safe to say that the fight should have continued, and If Buchanan showed signs of any pain, it should have been stopped. I also believe that a rematch was in order. It still didn’t change the fact that Duran would have won the first fight anyway. Perhaps, a rematch would have written a different chapter in both men’s career. It’s one of those fights that just didn’t have a resolution for a tough champion like Buchanan. Duran did mentioned that it was one of the toughest fight of his career, and at that time he was a rising star. Buchanan was an established champion in his homeland and abroad. It was two men going in opposite directions. It would have been nice to see one more scrap between the two.