6. June 26, 1972 – KO 13 Ken Buchanan, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Duran’s destruction of Benny Huertas in his U.S. debut achieved its goal: Raise Duran’s profile to the point that he would be the challenger for one of the lightweight titles. WBC king Mando Ramos was embroiled in a controversial, and often bizarre, three-fight series with Pedro Carrasco, so, by default, WBA champion Ken Buchanan was deemed the intended target.
But the hard-bitten Scot never was an easy target for anyone. His nimble movement, darting jabs, accurate crosses and considerable fighting heart was a tough mix for anyone and the result was a sterling 43-1 (16) record that included two victories over Duran’s countryman Ismael Laguna and a Fighter of the Year award from the American boxing Writers Association in 1970. His skills fostered an unshakable self-belief that served him well when he won the belt in San Juan and defended it in Los Angeles (W 15 Ruben Navarro) and New York (W 15 Laguna II). In fact, Buchanan was fresh off a third round TKO victory in Johannesburg over the 25-2 Andries Steyn in a non-title go two months before meeting Duran at Madison Square Garden. Make no mistake: Buchanan, who was two days away from turning 27, was at the peak of his powers and would be a demanding challenge for the 21-year-old Panamanian challenger. In fact, Buchanan was installed as a 13-to-5 favorite to turn back Duran, whose record was 28-0 (24).
Buchanan-Duran was a genuine sporting attraction and the public responded by setting a new indoor record for lightweights ($223,901 from 18,221 paying customers). Buchanan’s slick boxing and Duran’s torrential pressure made for a dynamic mix and the fighters didn’t disappoint.
Duran produced instant action as he tore from his corner and decked an off-balance Buchanan with an overhand right to the side of the head. Referee Johnny LoBianco deemed it an official knockdown but others thought it should have been called a slip. One fact was beyond argument, however: Duran was the contest’s driving force and the only questions were (1) how much could Buchanan take and (2) how long would Duran’s battery last? After all, Duran had only gone 10 rounds three times in 28 fights and had yet to see rounds 11 through 15 – rounds that were proven Buchanan turf.
The youngster’s pressure and big-time power continually threatened to overwhelm the champion, but the determined Scot gallantly – and sometimes effectively – answered Duran’s charges with straight, sharp punches and a wide array of defensive maneuvers. While Buchanan’s fortitude was admirable, it was Duran who scored the vast majority of the points. Each succeeding round was a carbon-copy of the previous one as Duran charged and Buchanan countered and by the home stretch Duran had built an unassailable lead. Under the rounds system, judge Bill Recht had Duran leading 9-2-1 while Jack Gordon had it 9-3 and referee Johnny Lobianco scored it 8-3-1.
At times, however, Buchanan’s pluck grated at Duran and the youngster occasionally resorted to foul tactics to vent his frustration. No matter how much punishment Duran dished out, the proud Buchanan refused to fall. At the end of the 13th round, the challenger’s angst reached a boiling point.
The pair was involved in a heated exchange when the bell sounded. Buchanan tossed a light right at Duran an instant after the gong and the challenger, perhaps angered by the after-the-bell action, ducked underneath and drove his own right to Buchanan’s groin as LoBianco rushed in to pull him away. The stricken Buchanan clutched his groin and writhed on the canvas before hauling himself erect and stumbling toward his corner.
LoBianco had several options. He could have disqualified Duran for the low blow. He could have given Buchanan a five-minute injury time-out with the caveat that if he could not continue after that he’d lose the title. He could have consulted the judges to see if they had seen the low blow. He could have declared a no-contest due to injury, which would have resulted in Buchanan retaining the title. In the end, LoBianco did none of these things; because he did not clearly see the foul blow and because he felt Buchanan was too injured to continue he declared Duran the TKO winner.
Duran’s final blow burst a vein in Buchanan’s right testicle and he was hospitalized in Scotland for 10 days. According to Giudice’s book, the aftermath will continue for the rest of Buchanan’s life.
“Even today the liquid doesn’t get up that way and it stops and I still get a pain there every time I go to the bathroom,” Buchanan said in Giudice’s book. “I’ll have that until the day I die. I told Roberto, ‘I’ll never forget you. Every time I take a piss I’ll think of you.’”
Duran’s scintillating performance forced boxing fans to think of the young Panamanian too, for it marked the beginning of a long, winding and often brilliant journey.
Part two of this 10 list will be published on Friday
Research sources used include:
“Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran” by Christian Giudice
“In the Corner: Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art” by Dave Anderson
“The Big Fight: My Life in and Out of the Ring” by Sugar Ray Leonard
“25 Years Later: Duran vs. Moore Remembered” by Lee Groves
“A Passion Ignited: A Writer’s Thunderbolt Moment” by Lee Groves
Photos / THE RING
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for autographed copies.