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At a pipefitters union charity boxing event two years ago, big Mike Buha delivered one of his favorite boxing quotes in a way that reflected his tough-but-gentle persona.

"Just remember three things," he told young boxers. "Keep your hands up, your chin down and your rear end off the canvas."

His son, Michael Buha, of Chesterfield, recalls ribbing his father about using "rear end" in place of a more direct term. The explanation: There were women and children in the audience.

"He was a tough guy, but he was not a bully," Michael Buha said. "He was good-hearted, almost to a fault." He said trainers and other boxing figures told him his father might have been a heavyweight contender or champion if he had just been a little meaner.

During a glorious time for St. Louis boxing, Mike Buha was a champ. He rose to fame with a local team that won a national championship in 1946. He took his turn as a professional, with a record of 21-1-1, according to a Golden Gloves program from the 1960s. He last fought professionally in 1951.

Milenko "Mike" Buha, of Wildwood, died Wednesday (May 23, 2012) of complications from congestive heart failure, at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in Town and Country. He was 89.

Mr. Buha was the son of Serbian immigrants and attended McKinley High School.

He volunteered for military service the day of Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Buha was on a ship off of Normandy Beach during the D-Day invasion, and as a Navy boxer he was undefeated, his family said.

After the war, Mr. Buha returned to boxing at the South Broadway Athletic Club. He and three other men successfully represented St. Louis in the national Golden Gloves title run.

Boxing was a big-time sport then, Michael Buha said.

"It was like soccer or T-ball," he said. "Everybody boxed. There was a neighborhood club within walking distance everywhere in St. Louis."

Mr. Buha's professional career included 16 knockouts, and he sparred with Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis.

In 1952, he started his career as a pipefitter.

Michael Buha remembers his father coming home from work, then running three to five miles in his high-top brown work shoes. Workers who sometimes squabbled over jobs knew not to throw a punch at a pipefitter with Mr. Buha around, his son said.

Visitation will be at 4 p.m. Monday at John L. Ziegenhein & Sons Funeral Home, 7027 Gravois Avenue, and a funeral service will follow at 7 p.m. Burial will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

In addition to his son, Mr. Buha is survived by his wife, Marie; another son, Matthew, of Houston; and five grandchildren.