A north-south divide?

Whenever you find yourself in a predominantly male working environment you can almost guarantee a few courses of conversation will, completely naturally, find their way onto the discussion table. The runaway winner for airtime amongst men is almost always sport, accompanied by outrageous claims, like West Ham will be playing in the Europa League within two seasons.
There are occasionally, however, throwaway comments that are, even if not wholly accurate or thought about at great length, compelling. One such claim that was made to me was that all of the best British boxers in the heavier weight classes come from the south, and the northerners dominate the lighter divisions. It got me thinking about how much truth there actually is in this assertion and so I began a reasonably long journey of research.
Firstly, though, it s necessary to define exactly what constitutes north and south , and this was a stumbling block that was hit in the initial discussion. Is Birmingham really up north? And what about Wales? So with that little dilemma in front of me I took the easy option of letting someone else define it for me. We ve all heard of the north-south divide which refers to economics and culture, and in terms of politics southern England refers to anything on or near the English Channel. Having got into a muddle trying like a university student to define north and south, I just went to google images and typed in Northern UK which helpfully, even if arbitrarily, drew a line across the island putting the East and West Midlands and Wales in the north, and everything below it in the south.
The other problem is defining quality of boxer. Entertaining boxers are not necessarily the best so, again, it was the easy option, and I went to BoxRec ratings. For a detailed description of how BoxRec calculates its ratings system, click here.
So with those two roadblocks sufficiently dealt with it was safe for me, ever the eager researcher, to start diving into ratings of boxers, active and inactive, and working out whether there is any truth to the north-south divide theory. (Rankings correct at March 15th)
Let s start with the current top ten ranked British heavyweights. The current number one is of course Tyson Fury, born in Manchester and fighting out of Wilmslow in Cheshire, so I think we can safely call him a northerner. Dereck Chisora, although born in Zimbabwe, has lived in London since his arrival in the UK with his family in 1999 aged sixteen. Of the other eight that make up the top ten, only three are from the north: David Price, Richard Towers and Carl Baker. The others, Sam Sexton, Matt Skelton, Michael Sprott, John McDermott and Larry Olubamiwo are southerners. If you look at what BoxRec rates as the top ten British heavyweights of all time, you ll see only four southerners in there: Lennox Lewis, Henry Cooper (who are the top two), Don Cockell and Frank Bruno, the rest are all northern boys. This is not an exemplary start for the north-south theory, but it's not terrible.
But it only gets worse when you trawl through cruiserweight and light heavyweight. Of the twenty boxers only a quarter are southerners, the highest rated being cruiserweight Ola Afolabi. What about the all-time ratings? That looks a little more palatable for die hard southerners, with the south contributing eleven of the twenty, including David Haye and Herbie Hide at cruiserweight and Freddie Mills and Bob Fitzsimmons at light-heavyweight.The highest rated light-heavyweight is Liverpudlian John Conteh, and there is a very little between Yorkshireman Johnny Nelson and Hide, the cruiserweight number two and three. So this is a fairly unremarkable result for the south considering they should have dominated these heavy divisions.
But let s have a look at the middleweight divisions; super-middle, middle, and light-middle, divisions I was particularly confident would be dominated by boxers from Essex and London. Carl Froch (Nottingham) is currently our best super-middleweight by some distance, with George Groves (London) and James DeGale (London) being the only southerners within viewing distance of him, and the rest of the top ten features only one southerner (No. 7 Patrick Mendy).It s a similar story for the middleweight division, six of the top ten are from the north, with Martin Murray and Matthew Macklin and leading the way. Darren Barker, Billy Joe Saunders, Tony Hill and Nick Blackwell are the only southerners contributing to the middleweight top ten. And at light-middleweight it s only Kent s Sam Webb and Swindon s Jamie Cox that appears in a top ten that is dominated by the north, and led by Ryan Rhodes.
Historically the south fairs a lot better in these three weight classes and is only defeated by the north by a very slim margin (16-14). Joe Calzaghe is miles ahead in the super middleweight division as you d expect, followed by Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn who are only separated by twelve points in Benn s favour. At middleweight Randy Turpin (Leamington) and Jock McAvoy (Rochdale) make up the top two, followed by Terry Downes (London) and Alan Minter (Crawley). At light-middleweight Londoner Maurice Hope storms into the lead in a division where honours are divided evenly between north and south.
How about welterweight and light-welterweight? Kell Brook currently leads the pack in a division that has eight northerners in the top ten, including Frankie Gavin and Matthew Hatton. Former world champion Amir Khan tops light-welterweight which is also made up of eight northerners in the top ten, the highest ranked southerner being British champion Ashley Theophane.
History is kinder to the south, though, with Londoners Ted Kid Lewis, John H. Stracey, Lloyd Honeyghan, Jack Kid Berg and 'Bermondsey' Billy Wells forming the top five British welterweights of all time.The north and south share the light-welterweight division equally, with Mancunian Ricky Hatton miles ahead of the competition.
Now, according to the theory, southerners shouldn t even get a look in in the lightweight, super-featherweight, featherweight, bantamweight, super-flyweight and flyweight divisions, and this part of the theory, for both active and retired boxers, was spot on. All of these divisions are completely dominated by northern fighters, with the south hardly even represented.
British number ones Ricky Burns (lightweight) is Scottish, Gary Buckland (super-featherweight) is from Cardiff, Lee Selby (featherweight) is also from Wales, Scott Quigg (super-bantamweight) is a from Lancashire, Jamie McDonnell (bantamweight) is a Yorkshireman and Chris Edwards (flyweight) is from Stoke. The only southerner at the top of the British ratings is Bristolian Lee Haskins in the super-flyweight division. Other than Haskins, southerners make up just 18% of all of those that appear in the top ten of bottom seven weight classes.
Historically the north dominates these divisions as well, contributing 70% of the boxers in the all-time top ten, Ken Buchanan (lightweight), Scott Harrison (super-featherweight) and Naseem Hamed (featherweight) to name a few. Not one southerner tops the all-time top ten for these divisions, and the boxer who runs the number one the closest is Barnet s Spencer Oliver at super-bantamweight.
Of all the current British number one ranked boxers from heavyweight to flyweight, there are only two southerners who currently ranked number one: Ola Afolabi and Lee Haskins, the other thirteen number ones are all from the north of England.
And historically? I'm afraid it's not much better for the south, Lennox Lewis, David Haye, Maurice Hope and Ted Kid Lewis, the other eleven divisions are topped by northeners.
So the north-south theory is categorically blown out of the water, and it is through gritted teeth that this southerner is forced to admit that the north wins by unanimous points decision in its battle for supremacy against the south. Fortunately, this is an easy defeat for me to accept, as my commitment to British boxing far outweighs my regional pride and we should all be supporting our fighters, regardless of where in the UK they come from, as Britons continue to offer entertainment and quality in their pursuit of accolades.
Got another theory? Contact me and let me know - I might be able to defeat you by unanimous decision as well!