There is always tension when he is approached by neighbors from the old days, when the Buchanans lived in a prefabricated house built mainly of asbestos sheeting in a housing project out on the east side of Edinburgh. A man who lived across the road in Mountcastle Crescent at that time made a great show of ribbing Buchanan recently while he was making a personal appearance. "You've done quite well for yourself," the man said. "All those kicks on the arse I used to give you must have done some good after all."
Buchanan spun to face the voice. His eyes are dominated by large black pupils that leave only a minimal rim of blue-gray irises under fair, smudgy brows, and those round and widely spaced eyes stare over the irregular curve of his nose with an intensity that can be intimidating. "What did you say?" he asked. "You never kicked me. My dad would never have let you. And now I wouldn't even let you talk about it."
Even while he spoke of the incident recently, in the lounge of the neat middle-class house he owns on a breezy suburban hill within sight of the huge, girdered silhouette of the Forth Bridge, Buchanan's voice choked and his eyes dampened with anger. He lay back on a leather chair opposite an aquarium which he has built into a wooden unit in the middle of the carefully furnished room, one of the last jobs he did with his carpenter's tools. He wore a sweater and slacks over a slim, straight body conditioned to permanent hardness and his stockinged feet were resting on a round glass coffee table. His wife Carol, an attractive brunette with the rosy complexion and firm figure to promote health foods, was preparing to entertain the stream of relatives who would pass through on the way to his evening training session. Outwardly they were as relaxed as the domestic group in a television commercial. But Buchanan was looking inward, to a childhood when he walked eerily alone through the Northfield housing project, a 9- or 10- or 12-year-old boy, exposed and dwarfed by the spaces the planner had laid out for his benefit, divining hostility in every footfall behind him, every face he saw ahead.
He speaks of that time jerkily, in the lilting tongue of the east of Scotland, which shares a glottal stop with the working-class speech of Glasgow but is less harsh and, even among city dwellers, faintly rustic. Words like "laddie" and "didnae" proliferate. "I could write a book about the years between 6 and 15," he said. "Maybe I would call it The Chip on My Shoulder. Carol is no' the only one who says I've got a chip. Maybe they're right, but Eve got reason. The things that happened then, the things that were done tae me, they've left something inside me that will always be there. I didnae have a hard time in the same way as somebody like Rocky Graziano. But I came through it in another way. Nearly all the laddies of my age aboot oor place had older brithers, but there was only me and Alan, and he's three years younger. I had to fight my own battles. The boys roon aboot didnae like me, and neither did their faithers. They were always on at me. I felt some kind of a misfit. I think they didnae like me because I could staund up for masel'. My Auntie Joan had given me a pair of boxing gloves when I was 8½, and from the time I went tae the Sparta Club I was always being pushed intae fights. Boys would challenge me, but they were always a foot bigger and two stones heavier. I wouldnae back doon, so I had to fight every ither day.
"When I think how many people looked doon on me, degraded me, I cannae believe in forgive and forget. Once I was gaun hame with a bag o' fireworks and the big boys set aboot seven or eight of the boys my own size on to me, and they knocked me off my bike and gave me a kicking. I would be aboot 9 at the time, but I can remember the names of every one of those boys. Another time, a woman came and told my mother I had been wetting on her front doorstep, and when my mother asked when I had done it the woman said midday. I had been miles away in Broxburn with my mother all that day.
"Now all these people are breaking their legs to get to talk to me, but I've no time for them. I remember how they made my life hell. I think of this in the ring. Sometimes I think I want to look doon on them, but really all I want is that they should nae be able to come along and knock me out of the road. I've never had a real friend outside the family, certainly nane of my own age, nobody I could rely on. In a fight I was always on my own."
In his professional fighting, too, there has lately been a tendency to consider himself alone, for he has grown steadily more remote from his manager, Eddie Thomas, a tough and gregarious Welsh miner who was never off his feet in a welterweight career that brought him the championships of Britain, the Empire and Europe and a victory over Billy Graham. Thomas had already made a name as a manager by taking a world featherweight title with Howard Winstone, a left-handed virtuoso from his home town of Merthyr Tydfil. Thomas took charge of Buchanan the moment the Scot stopped accumulating amateur honors and guided him to 33 straight victories as a pro, the longest winning sequence British boxing has seen in modern times. Buchanan, however, was considerably put out when the money he had counted on earning after his marriage did not materialize. He complained that Thomas, who has a running feud with the interests that control the big London productions, was confining his activities to the private clubs—such as the venerable National Sporting Club at the Café Royal, where there is any amount of gilt but precious little bread.
In July 1969 Buchanan handed his Lonsdale Belt back to the British Boxing Board of Control and said he would rather be a carpenter again than a British champion at the rate he was earning. This move was pleadingly opposed by his father, a short, small-boned man whose gray, combed-back hair and sharp features give a vulpine impression that is immediately canceled by the sentimental friendliness of his nature. When Tom Buchanan's wife died in October 1969 the event appeared to trivialize the troubles of his elder son. Ken returned to the ring only to lose for the first time, to Miguel Velazquez in Spain. The fight was held in Madrid, where a foreign boxer needs an opponent's death certificate to win a decision, but though most neutrals thought Buchanan had won, there is no doubt that he fought below form. "He had got used to the subdued atmosphere of the clubs and suddenly there were 14,000 Spaniards screaming at him," says his father. An even more telling disadvantage may have been the fact that Buchanan, no longer training in South Wales under Thomas' supervision, lost track of his weight and fought for the European lightweight title at 130 pounds.
Rather surprisingly after that setback, the world championship fight against Laguna was secured. Buchanan was given a fair shake, and he made full use of it. Yet even in this sweet moment there was something to nourish his assumption that the world takes pleasure in misusing him. The British board, whose policy is to side with the World Boxing Council rather than the World Boxing Association, refused to recognize him as champion. If the Board had been more reasonable, he would not have flown over the pole to Los Angeles in his kilt this week to seek final clarification of his title against Mando Ramos. Ramos is a banger, and Buchanan is taking a big risk for the $100,000 he expects to collect.
He completed his preliminary work last month in the ballroom of a road-house a mile or two from his home, and he trained with obsessive, insular purpose. Watching from a row of wheelchairs—placed in front of tables crowded with customers drinking pints of brown beer—was a group of severely handicapped children from a nearby school in which Buchanan has taken a keen interest. He also works readily on behalf of old-age pensioners. But his charitable inclinations stop short of Eddie Thomas.