Boxing with headgear offers the user some protection but is still unsafe. Headgear offers protection against lacerations and bruises. It does not reduce the impact of punches. This means you can just as easily suffer a concussion if you get hit with headgear on.
However, there is a slight caveat to this information because you won’t see anywhere near as many knockouts in amateur boxing or sparring – both of which use headgear – compared to professional boxing. The fundamental reason for this is intentions.
With amateur boxing, the goal is to outpoint your opponent by landing more clean punches. It’s more about volume than punch significance as there aren’t as many rounds. Also, when sparring, the goal isn’t to hurt your opponent, but rather to improve your skills. This means the fighters won’t be throwing punches with as much venom. This can easily give a false impression that headgear somehow makes boxing safer because it prevents you from knockouts but that simply isn’t the case.
What Does Headgear Protect You Against In Boxing
Headgear protects you from cuts and bruises. While this may seem insignificant it is actually very important in a sport like boxing. This is because of the significance a cut can have on someone. Boxers will spar frequently and if your face is constantly getting bruised and cut you’ll develop a lot of scar tissue.
This means in a real fight, your face is likely to open up and start gushing with blood on impact because the scar tissue is weak. If you don’t properly protect your face and often receive cuts in training, this could be a genuine concern that could jeopardize an actual boxing match. A good example of this is Mixed Martial Artists Nate Diaz. While he isn’t a boxer, he does have a striking-oriented approach and definitely has a lot of scar tissue.
This means in every fight he is in, he looks like he’s been through war because of how easily he bleeds. This was particularly noticeable during his bout with Jorge Masvidal where Diaz’s face was lacerated in two areas around his eyelid. This eventually led to the fight being stopped by the doctor preventing Diaz from entering the championship rounds.
Is It Better To Box With Headgear
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to boxing with headgear. Traditionally, most fighters and coaches will recommend that you box with headgear because it protects you from cuts and bruises. However, recently some fighters and even doctors and implying that boxing with headgear could actually be more dangerous. This is because it reduces your peripheral vision which means its more difficult to see the punches coming.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to knockouts because its always the punch that you don’t see coming that hurts you. So if your peripheral vision is reduced and the headgear substantially impairs your ability to focus then it very well could be detrimental to your safety. Whenever you’re boxing you need to be completely focused yet relaxed. If you feel uncomfortable or distracted while wearing headgear, then you should try something that works better for you. Boxing with headgear that impairs your ability to protect yourself is never advisable as it can cause unnecessary concussions.
If you find yourself in this position, the best thing to do is find some headgear that works for you. I personally don’t think its worth boxing without headgear unless you’re doing light or technical sparring. You want something that will protect your face and cheeks while still leaving enough space for you to see punches clearly.
Why Professionals Don’t Wear Headgear
The professional boxing game is brutal but the lack of headgear isn’t done to make the game less safe. Firstly, in order to compete at the pinnacle of the sport you need to be at the top of your game. This means your vision and abilities need to be perfect and headgear is just another thing that would get in the way of this as it makes dodging punches more difficult. Especially when you’re dodging with narrow margins.
Secondly, the AIBA/IBA have actually been contesting the idea that headgear is protective for boxers for quite some time. They actually removed headgear for elite amateur boxers and Olympians as new research suggested that headgear would increase a fighter’s risk to suffer from acute brain injury. The reasons behind these findings are still unclear and more than likely are a culmination of physical and psychological variables.
Lastly, the lack of headgear does make professional boxing more exciting for viewers. You can see the fighter’s emotions and expressions much more clearly. The lack of headgear also makes the fighters seem more vulnerable and you’ll generally find that fighters tend to tighten up their technique and efforts when they are fighting completely exposed without any headgear.
Should You Spar With Headgear
I personally would choose to wear headgear when sparring because of the protection it offers from cuts and bruises. While everyone spars differently, you shouldn’t be trying to seriously hurt your sparring partner. This means that the punches coming won’t be as strong or fast as they would be in a match which leads to the likelihood of a knockout being much lower. While accidental knockouts still do occur when sparring with headgear, it is not nearly as common as it is in boxing matches.
However, there are some instances where you may choose to spar without any headgear. Most notably, light sparring. This is effectively the same as conventional sparring but you consciously put little to no power behind your punches for the sake of your sparring partner. The benefit of doing this is that it gets you accustomed to fighting without any headgear.
This is important because fighting without headgear means that the margins are much narrower which means you have to be more precise with your movement. You want to dodge and slip punches by millimeters in order to maintain a favorable position. Boxing without headgear will give you a much greater intuition of how much you need to move to actually avoid a punch during a bout.
To summarise, while boxing with headgear isn’t safe it certainly does have its benefits and is advisable to wear during sparring. However, in competitive environments, I see why the case can be made for headgear being dangerous. While this doesn’t entirely make sense on the surface when you analyze the intentions and nature between these two activities, its obvious to see why this is the case.
Sparring is not fighting. Fighting is so much more brutal and ruthless. You need to be completely switched on in order to not get hurt. In my opinion, anything that could detract from the fighter’s focus is detrimental to their safety. So as far as sparring goes, it would absolutely be advisable to wear headgear. However, when it comes to actual matches, it may not be the best idea. Even elite amateurs no longer are required to wear headgear.