I CANNOT possibly ignore the recent death of Ken Buchanan in this column. I have stated before that I think that Ken was the finest purist that the UK has produced since the war. Ample justice has been paid to him in his recent obituary and so I would like, instead, to concentrate of one of the many fine victories that he had on his way up the boxing ladder.
I have always been attracted to a contest in which one older and more experienced protagonist, slightly on the wane but still with a lot to offer, is matched with an up-and-coming fighter of real promise in an even fight. A good example of this would be Dave Boy Green and John H Stracey in March 1977 when the Chatteris banger was just too good for the ex-world champion from Bethnal Green. Another good example is the match between Buchanan, then only 22, and Maurice Cullen, the British Lightweight champion making his fourth defence, which took place at the Anglo-American Sporting Club in Mayfair, London in February 1968.
Maurice Cullen was another natural boxer, and one of the finest men to have come out of the North- East, a region with a rich boxing history. I was at the unveiling of his statue in his native Shotton a number of years ago and it was clear, from the number of people who turned out for the occasion, just how fondly remembered and respected he still is. Cullen had won the belt outright in his third defence when he beat Terry Edwards at the New St James Hall, Newcastle, and he had defended it for the fourth time with a victory over Vic Andreetti at the same venue in 1967. Lewis Ritson won the same belt outright, in the same city, just a few years ago.
When the two men were matched, Buchanan had won all 23 of his contests and his most recent win had been over Spike McCormack over the full 12 rounds in a final eliminator at the National Sporting Club and he could not have been more ready for the step-up in class against Cullen. Maurice was eight years older than Buchanan and had been around since the late 1950s when, as a young coalminer, he turned professional after an amateur career that saw him win only the North-Eastern championships. He came from fighting stock, however, with brother Terry and father, Mick, both preceding him as professionals.
In his most recent contest Maurice had fought at Madison Square Garden, New York, where he oustcored the Puerto-Rican, Mike Cruz over 10 rounds and, like Buchanan, he was more than ready for the bout. In its preview, BN fancied the more experienced Cullen, stating that “in what must be a duel of left hands we must stock with the champion”. Most observers felt the same, expecting the bout to go the full fifteen, and to be a masterclass is boxing skills. The bookies had Buchanan as a 3/1 underdog.
Ken had other ideas. He had to weather an early storm when Cullen dictated proceedings with his ramrod left jab, but then he unleashed one of his most explosive performances. At the end of the fourth he decked Cullen, right on the bell, with a combination. By the sixth Cullen’s face was marked and Ken had found his range as he smashed Cullen to the canvas on two more occasions with big right-handers. Cullen fought back bravely in the following rounds but then he was floored twice again in the ninth round and then finally knocked out in the eleventh with another left-right combination. Cullen had given everything, and he did not give up his title without a real fight, but the young Buchanan was a revelation, and this bout represented his first big step on the way to superstardom. What great fighters these two men were and how badly missed they will be by their respective communities.