June 26, 1972: Duran vs Buchanan

In September of 1970, Scotland’s Ken Buchanan won the WBA version of the lightweight championship by close 15 round decision over Panamanian Ismael Laguna. He would defend his title twice before taking on red-hot top contender Roberto Duran, also a Panamanian, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Duran vs Buchanan ended after 13 rounds, most of them clearly won by the challenger, with the popular Duran declared the winner and new champion; yet the bout, without question, stands as one of the most unfortunate debacles in ring history.

The action ended with Buchanan writhing in agony on the canvas, clutching his groin, his face a contorted mask of anguish. Such was his pain he could barely stand and had to be half-carried back to his corner. Moments later referee Johnny LoBianco made a snap decision to end the bout, ruling the champion unfit to continue. For reasons unknown, LoBianco proved completely unsympathetic to Buchanan’s assertions he had been fouled.

Buchanan-Duran

Some at ringside had seen the crippling low blow which eventually sent the Scotsman to the hospital, but the referee did not. And for years, despite the fact a medical examination revealed serious injury to Buchanan’s testicles, many rabid Duran fans have maintained the foul did not determine the outcome of the fight. Some even contend no foul occurred. Or that it was the champion’s fault if one did, since he dared to trade punches after the bell with the great “Manos de Piedra.” Or that the Scotsman was pretending, putting on an Academy Award-worthy performance in an attempt to get the challenger disqualified.

What did in fact take place was the following. As the final seconds of round thirteen ticked away, the two boxers engaged in a lively exchange. Moments before, Duran had almost sent Buchanan through the ropes with a pair of right hands, but the champion returned fire with four big rights of his own and a left hook at the bell. Roberto attempted to counter and, after the bell rang, LoBianco pounced on him from behind just as he drove a right uppercut into Buchanan’s groin. The referee pulled Duran away; Buchanan fell back into the ropes and then sank to the canvas.

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There can be no doubt: Buchanan was fouled and badly hurt. There was no acting involved. He was punched in the privates, simple as that, and after the bell to boot.

That the challenger was, up to the point at which he landed that low blow, clearly the better man on the night, there can also be no doubt. A veritable buzzsaw, he had dominated the action, scoring a knockdown in the opening seconds and keeping Buchanan on the defensive in almost every round. Duran set a savage pace, showing no respect for the champion, striking repeatedly with heavy right hands and dealing out alarming beatings in both the fifth and the twelfth. On the judges’ scorecards he took a minimum of eight rounds and as the fateful thirteenth began, it was clear Buchanan needed a knockout to win, a most unlikely prospect.

Duran vs Buchanan

But that said, there can also be no doubt that Buchanan was the victim of a gross injustice. Punches below the belt are not allowed. Punches after a round-ending bell are not allowed. Further, it’s a shame that a 22-year-old Duran, who would go on to establish himself as a true all-time great, had to win his first world title under such regrettable circumstances. Buchanan was one of the best boxers in the game at the time, slick and tough, with excellent stamina and a brilliant jab. The young Duran’s domination of such a capable champion should stand as one of his greatest triumphs; instead the match will forever be remembered for its sordid conclusion.

Was the foul intentional? It’s impossible to say, but there is no question Roberto had taken liberties throughout the contest, primarily in the form of head butts and low blows. A fired-up Duran dominated primarily due to his ferocity, power and the sheer volume of punches he threw, but on this, the biggest and most crucial night of his career thus far, Duran was Harry Greb, Jake LaMotta and Fritzie Zivic all rolled into one. Afterwards, most agreed: had the bout been held on Buchanan’s home turf in the UK, Duran would have been disqualified long before the bell to start round thirteen had sounded. Incredibly, he received only a single warning from referee LoBianco, ironically for punching low in that fateful final round.

buchanan duran low blow2.jpg

The performance of LoBianco became the focus of much criticism afterwards and deservedly so. Firstly, he lost control of the Panamanian and turned a blind eye to his rough-house tactics, allowing far too much holding and wrestling, Duran repeatedly grinding his head into the champion’s face. Buchanan, a stand-up boxer who worked to keep the challenger at the end of his punches, pointed out afterwards that LoBianco’s hands-off approach effectively rewarded Roberto for fouling and mauling.

“He never once protected me,” said the battered ex-champion at the post-fight press conference. “Even when we clinched and I was in the corner he allowed [Duran] to keep me there. That’s diabolical.”

But more to the point, LoBianco’s decisions at the conclusion of the match were regrettable, to say the least. The simple fact is he did not see the foul, but no referee sees every punch thrown in a fight and in this case it was impossible since he was standing directly behind Duran.  Attempting to break up the action as the bell sounded, LoBianco got to the challenger just as the low shot connected. But instead of consulting with others at ringside, an action taken by referees in similar circumstances in the past, LoBianco simply ignored the protests of Buchanan and his corner and halted the contest.

Ken down

Afterwards, the New York State Athletic Commission failed Buchanan as well. Once it was possible to look at a film of the bout, and all could clearly see that Buchanan had in fact been fouled, they should have nullified LoBianco’s ruling and ordered an immediate rematch. Why did this not happen? Various theories have been floated and one can only speculate. But it’s true that Buchanan beat a Panamanian for the World Boxing Association title; Duran was Panamanian, and the WBA was an organization dominated by Latin-American officials. By 1975, its world headquarters were in fact moved from the United States to Panama City. Did the WBA pressure the NYSAC to go along with LoBianco’s hasty and misinformed ruling? Who can say?

But no one can deny that boxers have been ordered to compete again following an unsatisfactory result. For example, consider Abner Mares vs Joseph Agbeko in 2011. After a pathetic officiating performance by the referee which saw Mares land countless low blows without any points being deducted, the IBF ordered a return. There was nothing preventing the NYSAC or the WBA from doing the same back in 1972.

Buchanan decisions Jim Watt in 1973.
Buchanan decisions Jim Watt in 1973.

A rematch never happened. Roberto would go on to dominate the lightweight division for the next seven years, establishing himself as one of the best 135 pounders in boxing history; some regard him as the greatest ever. Buchanan posted victories over past and future champions Carlos Ortiz and Jim Watt and even challenged for a world title again in 1975, dropping a decision to Guts Ishimatsu. But the defeat to “Hands of Stone” haunted him. In interviews over the years he complained bitterly of the circumstances surrounding the loss and the fact he could never secure a rematch.

“Every time I think of Duran,” he told one interviewer, “my balls hurt.”

Buchanan’s inability to put that painful night behind him led to a bizarre episode in August of 1995. His ring earnings long gone, the former champion was working at the time as a construction tradesman in Edinburgh, Scotland. One afternoon he abruptly threw down his tools, stalked off the site, and boarded a flight for New York City where, Buchanan understood, Duran was in training.

“I got off the plane half-pissed and somehow ended up in Harlem,” he later recalled. “I found myself in a bar with all these black guys wanting to know if I’d heard of this Scottish fighter called Ken Buchanan. I said I knew him pretty well.”

Faces of Boxing

He never did track down Roberto, but he later claimed the Quixotic trip helped him to overcome his bitterness.

But the demons were truly slain once and for all when Duran and Buchanan finally confronted one another, three decades after that pivotal night in Madison Square Garden. In March of 2002 Duran journeyed to England for an emotional reunion, the two men embracing and weeping at a public event attended by numerous fans, as well as younger British boxers such as Michael Gomez and Ricky Hatton. Later, in private, Duran finally acknowledged the low blow and apologized to the Scotsman.

“As soon as I heard that, I felt a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” said Buchanan.

It wasn’t justice and it wasn’t a rematch, but at least Duran did the honorable thing. Even if it was three decades too late.        – Michael Carbert 

11 thoughts on “June 26, 1972: Duran vs Buchanan

  • October 25, 2016 at 10:13 pm
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    What an amazing story. Duran was a great boxer, but being a Scotsman myself, I’ve always admired Buchanan. And it makes me feel good to know that Duran acknowledged the low blow. 30 years later or not, that’s sportsmanship! Respect to him for it!

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    • January 12, 2017 at 1:06 am
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      McLLenan I am a Gordon, I say that so there can not be confusion in this matter that two Scots can be stupid. What does a man with Duran’s haunting past re this fight rectify it?? As usual as is his MO,
      whispers to Buchanan, Hey Kenny, I guess you figured out by now, due to the picture pre “explosion”
      that my eyes were on your cup, the bell had rung, and yet pictures of my idol Laguna danced in my head. So, yes, I “pulled the trigger” Now, still being the sneaky snake that he is he unloads 30 years of tears, AHHH, ALL THE GUILT GONE, THE entire fight that will always smell launched your career on a lie, meanwhile, with no rematch, no “overturn” by the commish, no fight in his corner traitor man, Gil Clancy (you must have been so proud of yourself Clancy- cashing the easiest check of your life, and yet instead of being a man and at that reunion, giving a talk that you demand your TKObe removed and Duran receive a DQ is what men do, but there is no honor. The acceptance by the good natured, honorable fighter, was not his to accept, as the public is too stupid to even realize how fantastic Buchanan could be very very late in THE CONTRACT THAT DURAN BROKE, robbing everyone of the possibility of a fight of a lifetime. Why did he “go crazy”? Just as the writer said, in the last seconds Buchanan gave him a taste of 14 and 15- thus crazy man decides to end it, which fits perfectly on why Buchanan never got his DUE “redo” and yet everyone is a sheep. Go ask Roger Maris’ kids about the miracles of steroids and the truism, that nice guys finish last IN THIS WORLD

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  • January 12, 2017 at 1:26 am
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    By the way, why does the “owner” of the fight youtube above, after I beg him to pull off the lie, which is just the world today, as he insists that Duran, “Knocks out” Ken Buchanan. FYI in 555 rounds KB was never ever knocked out, so if you insist to perpetuate the lie after that fine article, let justice prevail, SOMEDAY, BTW after seeing a gypsy before the Buchanan fight your “cranked up” (why cranked up?) well either he was, OR HE IS JUST INSANE. upcoming champion, who , people that know, had NOT come up through the ranks “the hard way” . Back to “gypsy woman” she said he would knock out the 41-1 , later Hall of Famer , IN THE NINTH AND HAD A FIT VS THE CHAMPION, yelling and “fitting” his elder, that baby fat cheater. WHICH WHEN i GREW UP, the Champion HAD to be given respect. Well to all of Roberto’s fans, , as I said, how are you attracted to someone with so little respect , DEAR PANAMANIANS HERE IS YOUR CHAMPION, just hold on and “no mas” is coming up/If the author of the article finds fault with may account from research and using my eyes, please correct me. Be prepared, as in death, sentiment can change, the truth may
    tidal wave over RD ‘s impeccable reputation

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  • July 11, 2017 at 8:16 pm
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    This is what I see. 57:50, bell rings. 57:51 Buchanan hits. 57:52 the ref holds Duran’s arms as he throws a punch. I have seen other footage from the side and you clearly see that Duran intended to hit Buchanan but the referee held his arms from behind and made him hit him in the balls. This said, Ken should have been given time to recover.

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    • January 19, 2021 at 4:43 pm
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      Low blow or no low blow, Duran would have beat Ken either way.

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  • June 26, 2019 at 1:27 pm
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    Oh boo-hoo you crybabies. Duran kicked Buchanan’s arse. End of story. Fifty years later some are still bawling!

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    • November 2, 2019 at 8:46 am
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      I’m thinking let’s have a pro boxer punch YOU in the nuts and we’ll see how much crying you do, idiot.

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    • June 18, 2021 at 12:23 pm
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      Dude got hit in the balls! ‘No Mas’ cheated the entire fight and Panama City held the boxing offices then. Hmmmm ….

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  • January 3, 2020 at 1:14 pm
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    Many mistake the who, about this contest. Its not about Buchanan or Duran being the culprit. Duran admitted he hit Buchanan with a low dynamite blow to the groin. Its about Mr LoBianco, the ref. That night he was not Lo Bianco but the Lowest-Bianco. A useless ring manager. If the contest was to be stopped, as it should have been, and was, Buchanan should have been declared the winner. I saw it on a big screen and the Ring Magazine had excellent picture of the punch. I don’t think there was ever a more potent foul that was not seen by a ref.

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  • May 23, 2020 at 2:12 pm
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    How about the hand of God? Diego Maradonna’s famous handball. But I don’t suppose many Scots saw that.

    Reply

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