Reassessing the 'world's worst boxer'

Peter Buckley's final fight.
Peter Buckley of England receives an award for fighting in his 200th bout on April 5, 2003 Manchester, England ((Getty Images/John Gichigi))
If Muhammad Ali is "The Greatest," it stands to reason there must be a boxer who can claim the title of "The Worst." That honour may belong to Britain's Peter Buckley.

A 39-year-old prizefighter from Birmingham, Buckley turned to boxing as a teenager to straighten himself out after running into trouble with the law. He recently wrapped up a 19-year professional career after a remarkably durable 300 fights, which for Buckley have been an almost ceaseless exercise in futility.

British boxer Peter Buckley celebrates after his 300th and final fight on Oct. 31, 2008. ((AFP/Getty Images/Andrew Yates) )

Going into his last match, Buckley had suffered a staggering 256 defeats while racking up only 31 victories and a dozen draws. But as he prepared for his last fight, Buckley shunned the "World's Worst Boxer" tag, which the British press has been only too happy to bestow.

"It's bullshit, man," he said, " I wouldn't be sitting here having my 300th fight if I was the world's worst boxer. They would have pulled the plug on me a long time ago."

As he sees it, many of the fights he lost were close and could have gone either way. "Sixty or 70 of my fights were half-point decisions," he says. "If they had gone my way, my record wouldn't look as bad. Boxing people know the proper score."

'The professor'

Buckley's right, of course, when he talks about boxing people knowing there is more to his record than meets the eye.

"He's had more fights than anyone in recent years," says Danny Flexen, a writer with Boxing News, a British boxing weekly. "Sure, he's lost the majority, but Buckley's about so much more than that.

"He's there to teach prospects how to fight, how to pick holes in his defence. He's not there to win fights. He's there as a teacher, if you like. I mean, his nickname is 'The Professor' and it's very apt."

Peter Buckley (left) fighting Baz Carey during a lightweight contest on April 5, 2003 at Manchester, England. ((Getty Images/John Gichig))

Buckley spent his 19 years in the ring as a journeyman. He was known as someone promoters could call in to fight anytime anywhere. That call would sometimes come just hours before a fight.

At times, the calls came so often Buckley would show up at one bout still bruised from his last outing.

"A journeyman is a hard, hard way of making money and I have to take off my hat to them," says Nick Hodges, a trainer and promoter who has watched Buckley fight for many years. "Without those guys, boxing would fall down. It's not a foregone conclusion that just because you're a journeyman you're not any good."

The final bout

Buckley's 19 years in the ring came to an end last week in a rundown arena on the outskirts of his hometown of Birmingham. His light welterweight bout against Matin Mohammed was one of the undercard draws leading up to a championship match in the super flyweight division.

As the two men stepped into the bright lights of the ring for their four-round contest, the stands were half-empty. But an entire section was filled with Buckley's family, friends and fans. The cheering started even before the bell and only grew louder as the fight progressed.

Buckley was on the defensive for much of the fight but managed to land a few good blows. Mohammed managed his share of shots as well.

Between rounds, the fighters retreated to their corners as women in tight body suits adorned with the name of a chain of strip clubs paraded through the ring holding up round cards.

By the end of the fourth round, both Buckley and Mohammed were drenched in sweat, their faces reddened from each other's punches. Then came the final bell.

It was a close decision but the judges called the fight for Buckley. In his last ever professional fight, the man known as "The Professor" scored a win, 40 points to 38.

The crowd went wild. Buckley raised his arms in victory. To mark the end of his long, tenacious career, Buckley was awarded a crystal cup and an honourary championship belt. Then he was hustled out of the ring to make way for the next fight.

'A great journey'

In his locker room afterward, Buckley practically buzzed with adrenalin. With his belt and his crystal cup next to him, he wiped perspiration from his face and nursed a small cut on his nose.

He said he was more nervous than he thought he would be when the opening bell rang. But he thought he fought well and was happy to go out on a win.

As he caught his breath and cooled down, Buckley reflected on the end of nearly two decades as a human punching bag.

"It's been a great journey. I wouldn't change a single minute of it. I mean, all the losses, I wouldn't change a minute of any of it," he said.

As for the future, Buckley says he hopes to stay in boxing, perhaps as a trainer. But his fighting days are over.   "If the phone rings with a fight, it ain't happening," Buckley says. "I said I'd go out on 300 and I'm going out a winner."   Buckley is also going out with his place in British boxing records assured. He retires with 300 fights, 256 losses, 32 wins and twelve draws, which is said to be the worst on record.

He knows he will never be called the greatest. But even if he is, on paper, one of the worst boxers ever, Buckley ends his career with the respect of his peers and with something that for him has been exceedingly rare. A win.