Peter 'the Professor' Buckley takes the final count

'I am leaving,' says the boxer who carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Click to follow

It's a story to make grown men weep: a man called Nobby has a stable full of tomato cans, and one of the tomato cans, a professor, is retiring.

This is the news that had hard nuts all over Britain welling up last week. Peter "the Professor" Buckley is a welterweight boxer from Birmingham. His manager is the legendary Norman "Nobby" Nobbs, whose team is known as "Losers Unlimited". So proud is Nobby of his record that he once told Amir Khan: "Sign this, son, and I'll turn you from Olympic silver medallist to journeyman overnight."

These boxers are sport's hardest grafters. Their philosophy is: "have gumshields; will travel". But in this firmament, one star really stands out. Pete Buckley has fought against world champions Duke McKenzie, Naseem Hamed and Barry Jones. He has received a standing ovation from legends including Sir Henry Cooper, Frank Bruno, Barry McGuigan and Lloyd Honeyghan. In his professional career, he has fought 291 times. But he has lost 249 of them – more than any other British boxer. And now, after five years and 80 fights without a win, he is thought to be hanging up his shorts at the age of 39.

Buckley is what's known as an Opponent. He is the boxer who will fill in at short notice when one of his grander rivals drops out. "I've come in at five in the morning, flagged from a club," he once said. "Then at 11 o'clock, Nobby calls me for a show at Nottingham that evening. And I'll take it." He is always willing to fight up-and-coming youngsters – 13 of his opponents went on to become world champions. He is also available when big names need to keep their hands in.

His versatility and willingness to step into the ring earned him the gratitude of promoters and the respect of young, "unbeaten" newcomers. Less charitable sports fans call journeymen like Buckley "tomato cans" – it's something to do with leaking red fluids, say insiders. But Buckley has never been knocked out or badly hurt. He famously "went the distance" against Naz.

Buckley recently told Boxing Monthly magazine what makes a man walk back into the ring for his 249th defeat. "It really ain't just about the money," he said. "Boxing kept me out of prison."

After his father died, when he was 15, Buckley says he went badly off the rails. Now, "I've got a nice home ... and my daughter and missus have nice things. The game has allowed me to earn a lot of respect and it's increased my own self-respect. I've given my all to boxing."