A carpenter of long standing, as well as a Scotsman, Lightweight Champion Kenny Buchanan is ever alert to one of boxing's favorite ploys—the chisel. So last week in Los Angeles when challenger Mando Ramos doubled over in pain from a groin injury suffered in training, the Scot sniffed and said, "Tae hell with that, laddie. I donae care if you coom intae the ring on one leg Friday night. But if you donae coom, forget it." The Mexican asked for a week's grace. The Scot said, and rightly so, "No' even one wee day. They'd have tae cut off me leg before I'd pull out of a fight, and maybe even then I'd still try. I give him an extra week and I'll be way past mc peak, and he knows it."
As for the city of Los Angeles, Buchanan had had it. He had not been all that excited about defending his title there in the first place. Then there was the earthquake. In Scotland, God lets the Scots move whatever earth needs moving. And there was the hotel, just off skid row, where he spent two days before demanding to be moved to another in a less noisy area. And the three teeth that required emergency filling, a cold that wouldn't quit and a sore knee injured in training, plus a hundred arguments with Promoter Aileen Eaton, the California Boxing Commission and an army of Ramos' handlers, all of which the Scot won by simply threatening to go home.
The biggest argument was over officials. Buchanan demanded and got a British judge and a neutral referee, one, he said, who could come from anywhere but California. Mrs. Eaton agreed with reluctance. "But," she said, "we aren't setting any precedent. It's going to cost me $574 to fly a judge here from England. I just hope they pick a referee from Nevada and not from Thailand." As it turned out, the California Boxing Commission picked Arthur Mercante from New York, which cost her $300. ("Mercante," said a Scot with Buchanan, "is that Mexican?")
And so, when Ramos pulled out, Buchanan began packing. That was on Tuesday, just 76 hours before the fight. Ramos has a habit of postponing fights. This was his ninth in five years. Once, probably from conditioned reflex, he postponed his wedding.
February 22, 1971
"Wait," said Mrs. Eaton to Buchanan, reaching for a telephone. "I just happen to have another challenger ready." She called Ruben Navarro, the No. 3 contender, training a few miles away in San Jacinto for a Feb. 25 fight with Jimmy Robertson.
"I donae like it," said Buchanan darkly. But Jack Solomons, the British promoter who had come along as an adviser, talked him into fighting Navarro. "What's the difference?" said Solomons wisely. "If you can't beat the No. 3 challenger, you don't deserve to be champion anyway. But first let me sec if the British Boxing Board of Control will recognize it as a title fight."
By telephone, the BBC assured Solomons that it would. "Dom nice of them," Buchanan muttered. He holds no love for the British board. After he won his title from Ismael Laguna in San Juan, the British refused to recognize him as champion. Upon Mrs. Eaton's request (she said Laguna had reneged on a promise to fight for her), the BBC had stripped the Panamanian of his title three days before he lost to Buchanan. However, the BBC ruled, if Buchanan fought Ramos for Mrs. Eaton, then it would be recognized as a title fight. Very strange, but no matter.
While Solomons was getting assurances from London, Mrs. Eaton was calling Navarro. He said sure, he'd love a title fight, even on such short notice.
"I heard Ramos was getting $20,000," Navarro said.
"You're getting $15,000," Mrs. Eaton said.
"O.K.," said Navarro, keeping in mind that in his previous 29 fights he had made a total of $55,000. Like most Mexican fighters, he enjoys life better at night, and $15,000 can uncork a lot-of bottles.
"Sure, Ruben is a playboy," said Co-manager Marty Denkin. "But he's also deeply religious. He just believes that God didn't intend man to sit home and meditate."
Although suspecting the worst, Buchanan agreed to fight. Payday for him was $60,000. "But I still think they are up tae somethin'," he brooded. "They claim he's only half fit. But a few friends say he's been training hard for a month."
At the weigh-in, the battle over officials erupted once more. Johnny Flores, Navarro's other manager, said it was Ramos, not Navarro, who had agreed to foreign officials. He demanded a new deal for his man. Buchanan's people were summoned.
Eddie Thomas, Buchanan's manager, threw up his hands. He said to Solomons, "Jack, you go talk to them. I can't take any more." Solomons went and listened. Then, raging, he stood up. It was 12:30, just 9½ hours before the fight. He began by pointing a finger at the California commissioners. "You over there," he said. "Who do you want to win? Navarro. And you? Navarro. And you and you, and you, Mrs. Eaton. Who do you want? The whole bleeding lot of you want Navarro to win. I'm sick and tired of coming down here and fighting with all of you every two hours. Let's call the blooming fight off and forget all about it."
That gets them every time.
Ignoring the latest furor, Buchanan spent the uneasy hours just before the fight playing switch, a card game, with his father Tom and two friends. He lost $2. "You all are bandits," he said. "You're cheating."
His dad grinned. "Oh, no, lad. Now let's play just one more hand for your whole purse."
Then they went off to the fight, which started when a Scot unfurled the Scottish flag and a Mexican fan reached for it, and a Scottish fist cracked against a Mexican jaw, sending the flag grabber cartwheeling down a dozen steps where he landed bleeding and unconscious in the arms of a cop, who arrested him. "That mon could have been in serious trouble," said Tom Buchanan. "When he grabbed our flag, I mean."
After several such prelims, they brought in the professionals—Navarro in white with a silver rosary around his neck, Buchanan in the brilliant Tartan colors of his clan. Buchanan came out swiftly, triggering crisp punishing jabs. And Navarro swatted him on the left ear with a right hand and knocked him down. Referee Mercante ruled it a slip. Navarro said it was a knockdown. Buchanan said it was half-and-half—"But I wasn't hurt. If I had been, I wouldn't have jumped up so quick."
And then Navarro got serious and went to work. A left to the groin and a right to the kidneys. A right to the groin and a left to the kidneys. Unused to such tactics, Buchanan lost the first four rounds. Mercante kept warning Navarro for fouling and finally penalized him a point in the sixth round. "Aw, I didn't hit him low," Navarro protested later. "If I had, he'd be on his Scotch keister." At that point, a lighted cigarette came flying into the ring, striking Navarro on the stomach. He winced and backed up. "He never could take a cigarette to the body," said a local character named The Steamer.
By this time, Buchanan had decided that the best way to keep from being hit low was to belt Navarro in the mouth, which he now was doing with vast relish. As the Mexican tired, the Scot grew stronger. And better. In the eighth round, as Buchanan assumed complete command, a bottle came flying into the ring, just narrowly missing the head of Harry Gibbs, the British judge. "I looked at it," he said. "It was a soda bottle. If it had been a Scotch whisky bottle, I'd never have forgiven them."
About then, Thomas found a strange blue water bottle in Buchanan's corner. "What the devil!" he roared. "They use every trick in the book."
"What's in the bottle?" asked Solomons, who was sitting nearby.
"Darned if I know."
"Blimey, I never even saw the thing," said Solomons. "I had better keep watch."
Navarro's superb chin was all that saved him from a knockout in the final rounds. The scoring wasn't close: Mercante and the California judge, Lee Grossman, had it 9-4; Gibbs 9-2. Gibbs then quickly abandoned his role as a neutral. "I told the Yanks he was a good one," he said. "It's great being with a victorious side for a change. You have to remember that I was with a losing army, the British 44th. When we went into Belgium to fight the Germans, the people gave us bottles of wine. But when we left running for Dunkirk, they threw them at us, the bloody beggars."
While Gibbs gloated, Navarro visited Buchanan's dressing room. "You are a fine champion and a fine fighter," he said. "There is only one man who can beat you."
"Oh?" said Buchanan, holding his groin.
"Yeah," Navarro said. "And he's standing right in front of you. Me. Only the next time I want more than 76 hours' notice."
Solomons assured Navarro that he had earned a rematch, but in London, he said, where the rules are a little different. And Mrs. Eaton mentioned something about a May bout with Ramos, for $100,000.
"Ramos donae deserve a fight," Buchanan said at breakfast the next morning. "Besides, I've got my British title tae worry about. I'm afraid they may take it away now."
"One more defense and he gets to keep the Lonsdale Belt," said his father. "It's worth about $1,250. And if you win the belt, when you retire you get a pension of a pound a week. Not that a small sum like that is important."
"Oh, no," said Solomons solemnly. "Not to a Scot."