I HAVE quite a few dealings with ex-boxers and I often find that they attach great importance to knowing how highly they were rated during their career. These days, BN only publish British ratings annually, but there was a time when this was done far more frequently. These lists would often be pinned to the walls in gyms up and down the country as an incentive for up-and-coming fighters to train as hard as possible. Their progress, over time, being measured by an improvement to their ranking.
The first rankings published in BN appeared in the summer of 1933. Prior to that, as far as I am aware, there were no rankings of any description published in the UK. The Board would nominate outstanding challengers for British title contests, but even they did not issue formal rankings.
The National Boxing Association of Great Britain started to produce rankings from 1937 onwards, but the Second World War quickly put an end to them. In 1947, BN started to produce regular ratings and they quickly became established as the best in the business. For the first few years, a BN reader, Denis Vale, produced the ratings himself. From about 1950 he was assisted in this task by a young Ron Olver.
Between 1948 to 1960, for each weight, a top 10 ranking list was produced, and the remaining boxers were categorised, according to their ability, into four further classes, from four-star down to one-star. In 1950, for instance, in the lightweight class there were 144 boxers rated. The champion and his top 10 challengers were listed, and the remaining 133 boxers were distributed across the four classes, with eight men in the bottom class (one-star) and around 40 in each of the other three.
From 1960 onwards, BN usually only published the top 10 or 15 at each weight and this position was maintained until 1974 when, once again, every fighter in Britain was rated. The decline in the number of fighters since the 1950s can clearly be seen by looking at the rankings for June 1974, when there were only 25 men listed at lightweight. By the 1980s, these rankings had become highly valued within the trade and they make fascinating reading today.
When the first lists were published in 1933, the compiler, Neville Buckley, a very well-respected BN contributor, stated that “the ratings of boxers can never be done in a manner satisfactory to all. No man likes to see the name of another above his own, no man has exactly the same point of view regarding the merits of the men in each division, and in addition, events change so rapidly that rating lists can be out of date almost before they appear in print.” He was not wrong. The letters pages of BN contain many from trainers, managers and boxers, bemoaning the position of one man when compared to another.
In Neville’s first list at lightweight, a Scotsman, Tommy Spiers, appeared as the main challenger to the champion, Johnny Cuthbert. Behind him were Jim Learoyd, Billy Quinlan and Jim Stewart. Quinlan’s name was again shown on the very next page within an advertisement for a contest he was due to have in Liverpool against Jimmy Walsh [pictured above] of Chester, who was not listed at all by Buckley. Walsh duly beat Quinlan and so, within the week, Buckley’s wise words were proven to be true and the ratings were immediately out of date. Boxing folk still argue about ratings today.