Alex Arthur hailed Ken Buchanan as a trailblazer for Scottish boxers as hundreds of mourners turned out in Edinburgh to bid farewell to the late former world champion.
The funeral procession began in Leith and meandered its way past the former site of Sparta Boxing Club and the Ken Buchanan Statue on its way to St Giles’ Cathedral, where a memorial service was held for the 1971 undisputed world lightweight champion who died earlier this month aged 77.
As well as Edinburgh-born world super featherweight champion Arthur, Tommy Gilmour, Jim Watt, John H Stracey, Barry McGuigan and commentator Steve Bunce were among the boxing personalities who turned out on a bright but cold day in Scotland’s capital to pay their respects to Buchanan.
“He’s not just a legend in boxing, but also in public, the fact he has a statue says everything,” 44-year-old Arthur told the PA news agency after leaving the service.
“You could see the turnout he got, the number of people that came to witness this and see him off as the legend he was. He did things that might not be done again in boxing and in sport.
“There’s a perception that once boxers are finished, nobody wants to know them any more but everybody still wanted to be part of Ken’s life, and I think that shows what kind of character he was.
“He was a massive inspiration to us all (Scottish boxers). The young ones have got a word nowadays – the OG, the original gangster – and Ken is the OG, he was the first one that did it. It was him, then it was me, now it’s Josh Taylor and hopefully there’s going to be more to come.”
Former featherweight champion of the world McGuigan told how some sparring sessions with Buchanan, who had just retired, early on in his own career helped set him on his way in the sport.
“I’ll never forget it, I got hit that often I thought I was surrounded,” said the 62-year-old. “He was fabulous. It was the best education I ever had. Those rounds were invaluable and set me on course to go on and win a world title.
“We became lifelong friends. He was such an inimitable character. He had a uniqueness about him. He’s one of the greatest fighters the UK has ever had and certainly one of the best Scotland has ever had.
“I think the speeches (in the service) alluded to the fact he maybe didn’t get the respect he deserved in Scotland initially but they did embrace him in the end and that’s all that matters. When they talk about Scottish boxing, they talk about Kenny Buchanan.”
Speeches of around five minutes each were read by Bunce, journalist and friend Jim Black, and former world lightweight champion Watt. The audio of the service was played outside the cathedral via speakers for the benefit of additional mourners and dozens of curious tourists.
Bunce concluded his address by revealing details of a meeting with 32-year-old Taylor the previous day.
“Yesterday I went to see Josh Taylor and he sends his apologies to every single person in this room,” said the broadcaster. “He adored Ken. If you ever saw the two of them together, it was like a child looking at their favourite puppy.
“Josh would look at Ken and melt, whatever he was doing, whether it was eating soup or talking about boxing. Josh would just sit silently by his side.
“Josh can’t be here because he’s training for a fight in New York, at the Garden, a place Ken came to dominate and be loved in.
“Josh can’t be here and Ken can’t be there (at the fight) but Josh told me he’s going to wear a patch of Ken’s tartan on his shorts when he he fights at the Garden on June 10. That will do for me, Josh Taylor.”
Journalist Black paid tribute to his friend for remaining true to his working-class roots.
“Life may not have always been easy or kind to Ken but we remember him today as a fine human being, a loyal friend, a good man who was never too proud to return to his trade as a carpenter when his fighting days were over,” he said.
“Ken would be the first to tell you he was far from perfect – none of us are – but he was a true man of the people who was happiest in the company of his own kind.
“Generations to come will study the career and achievements of Kenneth Buchanan MBE and realise what a truly great champion he was.”
Watt, three years younger than Buchanan, told those in attendance how they went from being “bitter rivals” to “best of pals” as they got to know each other following their gruelling 15-round showdown which the elder of the two boxers won by a decision in 1973.
“He was full of fun,” said Watt, who also went on to become a world champion. “He didn’t enjoy anything more than taking the mickey out of people. I’m proud to be able to stand here and say I shared the ring with Kenny Buchanan and that I was Kenny Buchanan’s friend.”