The Southpaw Advantage?

Most boxers prefer to both fight in an orthodox stance. In other words, have his or her left foot and hand further forward. The reasoning is simple: most people are right-handed so whilst your weaker left hand is free to wear out your opponent over time with speculative jabs, you’re then free to load up the power on your more powerful right hand and unleash the shots that will win the competition.

But studies suggest that around 10% of the world is left-handed. So what happens when an orthodox boxer meets a southpaw – a left-hander who leads with the weaker right? In many cases, the southpaw fighter will come out on top.

The reason’s quite simple. The southpaw must have spent a far greater proportion of his life fighting right-handers than any orthodox fighter. On top of that much greater experience, shots will come flying in during the heat of battle from the opposite angles to the ones that the right-handed boxer is used to.

This alone has caused many boxers over the years to have hangups over taking fights against southpaws – and years ago, it wasn’t unheard of for southpaws to learn how to fight orthodox in order to be able to secure fights.

It makes sense. As with anything difficult, the more focused practice you undertake, the better you’ll become. However the story is even more fascinating.

It turns out that statistically neither southpaws nor orthodox boxers are more successful. But both southpaw and orthodox boxers stood a better chance of winning against orthodox boxers than southpaws.

And to top it off, a greater proportion of the highest rated boxers are southpaw than you would expect.

I came across an interesting study from 2013 (‘The Southpaw Advantage: Lateral Preference in Mixed Martial Arts‘). A few of the key ideas:

“Performers with a left-orientation have a greater likelihood of obtaining elite levels of performance in many interactive sports.”

“the proportion of ‘lefties’ in the general population has remained stable over 10,000 years and the stability of this effect over time suggests some consistent advantage to being left-handed. otherwise evolutionary mechanisms would have removed this polymorphism from the population. Sport may reflect an environment where these advantages are demonstrated: for instance, left-handedness is associated with a greater likelihood of obtaining elite levels of performance in many interactive sports including baseball and tennis with significant over-representations of left-handed players at the highest levels of competition.” 

Another hypothesis is that being left-handed is particularly useful in sports where the speed of reaction is important. In other words, the less time your opponent has to react to your left-handed ways, the greater your advantage might well be.

So maybe it just all comes back to one thing. Perhaps left-handedness has survived the evolutionary chopping block precisely because it makes some of us just pretty darn good at fighting.